Does this sound remotely familiar?
“I’m way too busy to practice mindfulness.”
“I have so many things to do that I’ll forget about them if I pause and practice.”
“Not today, but tomorrow for sure!”
I often feel this way myself. As a mindfulness teacher and a parent, time seems hard to find. And yet I practice daily outside of teaching. How? I’ll share a few secrets.
There’s this wonderful zen saying I often use to encourage my students to meditate even when they’re having a hard day…
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
What it means is that you’ll benefit the most when you practice during those tougher days. So, you’d think that as a mindfulness teacher, I would walk the talk and take my own advice.
I try just like any other practitioner. I sometimes manage to do that extra 60 minutes, and it is wonderfully beneficial, but most times I don’t.
Full disclosure: mindfulness teachers don’t always live up to their ideals or teachings. Big surprise there.
The Secret: keep it simple
We often make practice a bigger deal than it needs to be.
During those harder days, we can make practice simple.
Practice is always worth the effort, especially during rough times.
So, here’s my secret for keeping my sitting practice alive when I can’t manage to do 60 minutes or even 20 minutes.
I do one of the following practices and feel content for keeping up the practice … and obviously benefit from it too. After a short exercise doing some more feels a lot easier.
My favorite 3-minutes-or-less mindfulness techniques
All of the exercises listed below are suitable for adults and youth. “The Take Five” exercise is super nice for younger children as well.
1. Three-Minute Breathing Space
When practice is really hard for me, I like to use guided sessions.
That’s okay — in fact, it’s great — and way better than skipping practice altogether.
The 3-minute Breathing Space is used in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in a professional setting and is currently studied for its many benefits. It is one of the most durable practices utilized by participants after therapy has ended and a favorite of mine.
It has three simple steps. Do each step for a minute.
1. Investigate. What is your experience right now? Sit still with your eyes closed and note what you experience. What thoughts are present? Can you notice any feelings? How about sensations in your body? Simply observe without the need to change anything.
2. Narrow your focus on the breath. Bring your attention to your breath in the body.
3. Widen your attention to the whole body. What sensations are present now?
Start with a guided version of the 3-Minute Breathing Space to make it easy for you. Try it for a time, and soon you’ll be able to practice without the guidance. Let the brilliant Zindel Segal guide you through it:
2. TUZA – 3-Minute Mindfulness Practice
The idea of this core mindfulness practice is to help bring awareness back to the breath and anchor attention in the present moment. Mindfulness Without Borders calls it TUZA, which means “to slow down and chill” in one of the local dialects in Kigali Rwanda.
It’s super simple, and again, with some practice, easy to do on your own.
Here’s a guided audio version of Tuza:
If three minutes feel like too much …
3. The Take Five Exercise – One-Minute (or less) Mindfulness Practice
How about a minute or less?
The Take Five exercise is great as it can be used on the spot when we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
The exercise anchors our awareness quickly back to the present moment.
The idea is to use the five fingers to count each breath cycle.
Simply make a fist of your preferred hand and open one finger at a time when you’ve completed a breath cycle (one in breath and one out breath). See if you can notice the pause between the in-breath and the out-breath.
When you’ve opened your palm fully, you know you’re done!
You can do this when you’re about to lose your temper, with your hand hidden under the table if you wish, or at a meeting before your presentation to find your centre.
Here’s a link to a kid-friendly version. And you can find a guided version of Take Five for you to try out below:
I eat fast. I know, it’s not healthy or mindful.
The last few weeks my two-and-a-half-year-old son has stopped me during meals: “Daddy, eat slow.”
After the curt prompt, he takes his time to demonstrate 5 mindful breaths (the Take Five exercise), and I’m required to repeat after. So is mommy.
So we all end up doing a few mindful breaths. I always crack a smile when this happens and end up enjoying my meal and the loving company even more than I first realized.
The above story is just one perk of practicing with one’s family.
It has been said that the essential ingredient for a successful meditation or mindfulness practice is to have friends who practice with you.
Those of us raising families may not have time for many friends, but we do have our family. When we practice with our partners and children, our practice becomes more solid, and the other members of the family benefit as well.
Mindfulness practice together with your child will make your own practice more interesting. When you teach and do together, you are more inclined to dig deeper.
In conclusion: learn to do short sessions that whet your appetite for longer exercises, and find friends and family to practice with.
I hope you find these ideas helpful and find space for your practice.
May you be happy and healthy!
If you are new to mindfulness with children we recommend that you read our guide: How To Practice Mindfulness With Children – The Essential Guide
Chris Bergstrom is the co-founder of BlissfulKids.com and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator, and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also an executive consultant, and has taught meditation for more than 10 years.