When I was introduced to meditation and embodiment, I knew it was working because I’d be at work and suddenly I’d notice that my shoulders were creeping up. I had never noticed that before—I’m sure I walked around with my shoulders up around my ears for most of my life. Just tuning in allowed me to start to drop my shoulders down. When the shoulders would drop, my belly would soften. I’d start to have access to the story, and I could start to unplug from it. That grip, that trance that I was in, would start to release.
We can start to use these embodied experiences as a clue that something needs our attention. We need to pause, take a breath, and add some time and space into whatever is happening. Our nervous system is designed to activate and deactivate as needed, depending upon our environment and the circumstances that are happening. But the effects of ongoing stress, systemic injustice, relational ruptures, and loss can cause our system to get stuck. The continuity of mindfulness allows us to see and feel those patterns, so we’re working with the intellect as well as the body.
Because continuity of mindfulness is more about practicing out in the world, rather than offering a meditation, I’m going to offer a series of short pause practices, or mini practices, that can be scattered throughout your day. For all of the practices, feel free to work within your range and within your body’s capacities.
The hardest thing about this will be to remember to do them, so maybe you can set a couple of alerts in your phone. You can also use mealtimes, bathroom breaks, or your commute to just take one or two minutes to check in, work with the nervous system, and bring yourself back.
The First Pause Practice: Where Is My Mind Right Now?
Believe it or not, I used to work in the fashion industry, which is a very fast-paced environment. In one of my first interviews, they outright said to me, “You’re only as good as your last collection.” There’s not a strong sense of safety and well-being in that industry, and it was really easy to get caught up in all of that drama. I was caught regularly, feeling off for large chunks of my day, so I started to do this pause practice, asking, “Where is my mind?”
When I was going into the office, I found it useful to do this pause practice on the subway platform. I’d be waiting for the train, and I’d just notice: Where is my mind right now? Am I having a fight with somebody in the future? Am I defending some choice that I’ve made? Am I worrying about whether something is selling or not? Where is my mind right now? By pausing, I’d notice that all of my stress was in the future or the past. Right here, nothing was actually happening. The pause called me back to the present and invited me to settle.
There’s no need to change your position to practice pausing. Just start to tune in: Where is your mind right now? Notice what’s present. Are there any images? Any words? What’s the general flavor of your mind in this moment? Are you noticing a sense of hope, a sense of exhaustion?
Can you feel the impact of all these thoughts on the body? Is there a tightness in your shoulders? What’s your belly like right now? Check in with your eyes. Are they leading your body? Are they resting back? Where is your mind? You can start to let your eyes travel around the space, noticing textures, colors, and sounds. Maybe bring in a little bit of movement.
These practices are meant to be short. They’re meant to interrupt that trance and invite us back. Stress and activation cause our attention to collapse in on our problems, triggering a state of overwhelm. This practice of “where is my mind?” helps us to remember that we’re more than that problem. We can start to expand our awareness and release tension by observing different sights and sounds. This releases tension and invites us back into the present moment. Part of coming back to that present moment is this sense of agency of “I can.”
The Second Pause Practice: Extending the Breath
The second pause practice is extending the breath and noticing the effect. The breath is one of the few ways that we can directly impact our autonomic nervous system.
Take a breath in, and slowly breathe out through your mouth. As you’re breathing, you can also add a hum or a sigh. As we’re adding that hum or that sigh, notice the resonance in the throat, in the heart, or down in the belly. As you do this, observe any sensations of settling and letting go. If you’re around people and it would be weird to make a sound, you can simply inhale and exhale through the mouth, softly pursing the lips almost as if you were going to whistle. You don’t have to make a sound.
As the breath empties out and comes back in, keep noticing: how does this voluntary action impact the involuntary response in the body? What’s different now?
The Third Pause Practice: The Butterfly Hug
Our third pause practice is called the butterfly hug. Most people find this practice soothing, and it’s great as a simple settling device before walking into a meeting that you think may be difficult or after a stressful interaction. You can even try it before bed to settle the system.
Take your hands and cross them. If you can put your thumb prints together, you can do that, but if that doesn’t work, just cross your hands. Then, place your hands with the thumbs at the nape of the neck and let the fingers extend out to the collarbones. You can start with some bilateral stimulation by patting your fingers against the collarbones on alternate sides. Experiment with the speed and the heaviness of the thump, noticing how your body responds. Then, gradually let the hands slow, come to a stop, and notice what’s different now.
The Fourth Pause Practice: Staccato Breath
Our fourth pause practice is called staccato breath. This last one is for clearing and energizing when you need a bigger tool to shift the energy or mind state that’s present. Take three to five quick inhales through the nose and then one exhale, a little bit forceful, through the mouth. Try doing about three or more cycles of this practice. What you’re looking for is a sense of a shift—of being cleared out, being reset. Notice what’s different.
Continuity of mindfulness allows us to course-correct throughout our day. We become familiar with the places where we get caught, and over time, we start to pause more naturally. It’s a little reset—a breath here, a breath there. We can check in with that embodied presence, with the thoughts that are cooking in the mind, and then we see what’s needed, perhaps calling on some of our internal resources or external resources to help invite that ease back in.
Adapted from Kathy Cherry’s Dharma Talk, “The Wisdom of the Body: Connecting with Your Inner Resilience”
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