I got a massage the other day and was reminded of the first thing you learn in Mindfulness 101: if you’re feeling lost, find your breath.
I’m not a person who gets massages. I’ve always thought they’re for rich people who have the time and money to pay someone to touch them.
But just before New Year’s I fell down my rain-soaked back porch stairs. My glutes (read: ass) seized up. My lower back developed a bruise that looked like the sky in Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” It was time to pay for professional help.
The massage therapist noticed that I held my breath when she gently pushed into the bruise.
“Focus on your breath,” she said. “Breathe through the pain.”
Oh yeah, I thought, I can do this. I do it all the time during meditation.
How’d I forget? Well, it’s easy to when we’re not practicing, when we’re at work, with family—in everyday life. My mind wanders when my mom calls, my boss emails, someone cuts in line at the grocery store, and, apparently, when I get a massage.
This time of year is especially mindless and forward thinking. New Year’s resolutions. Diets, workouts, goals. Trump is trying to start a war. Australia is on fire. Murder rates are climbing. If you feel scattered and overwhelmed, you’re not alone.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writes that “breathing is a stable solid ground that is always there for us to take refuge in. Whenever we are carried away by regret about something that has happened or swept away in our fears or anxiety [about] the future, we can return to our breathing and re-establish ourselves in the present moment.”
That’s mindfulness meditation in a nutshell. Notice when your mind has been carried away. Let go of the thoughts. Come back to the air entering your nostrils or your lungs expanding. Over and over again.
As my new massage therapist says, breathe through the pain. Focus on the next breath. And the next breath. And the next breath.
“We don’t need to control the breath in any way,” Thich Nhat Hanh writes. “We simply encounter it, just as it is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With the gentle energy of mindfulness it will naturally become slower and deeper.”
If focusing on the breath doesn’t feel comfortable, put your attention on one part of your body. Feel your hands, feet, or legs. Relax and feel the sensations.
No matter what’s happening right now, your breath and body are bread crumbs back to the peace and freedom of the present moment.
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