Take Pauses Throughout the Day

Throughout my time practicing meditation, one of the hardest things to do is remain mindful THROUGHOUT the day. 

I believe that the real work lies in IMPLEMENTATION into daily life. Finding ways to incorporate mindfulness themed exercises into my day to bring me back to the present moment.

One practice that I’ve seen recommended by multiple meditation teachers is “Pausing”. Taking time to stop whatever it is that you are doing, take a few deep breaths, and then go back to what it was you were doing before.

Tara Brach refers to this as the “Sacred Pause”. When you are feeling angry, anxious, or overwhelmed, try to catch yourself in the moment, take a few deep breaths, and take a minute to acknowledge whatever feelings you are experiencing. Pause for a bit to connect with your breath and body, instead of falling into the trap of blind reaction.

Thich Nhat Hanh uses this in the context of smiling. He finds simple ways to remind yourself to be mindful throughout the day. For example if you see a red light, remind yourself to smile, take a deep breath, and relax. Or if you hear a horn honk. Or when you notice you’ve been lost in thought. Taking time throughout the day to simple stop, smile, and breathe 😃

Andy Puddicomb from Headspace uses this principle in the concept of “transitions”. He likes to remind people to pause before moving from one activity to the next. So say for example you’re sitting and about to get up and go to the bathroom, pause for a few seconds, take a few deep breaths, and then mindfully transition into standing, instead of mindlessly just standing up. Or if you’re finished with a task at work and moving into the next, take a minute to pause, take a few deep breaths, and then move forward into your next task.

The pattern of all of these is to simply pause. Intentionally take time throughout the day to remind yourself to breathe, smile, and relax. Creating small windows of mindfulness throughout the day that take a minute or less. Pausing to smell the flowers and observe how you are thinking and feeling.

People often tell me that they don’t have the patience to sit down and meditate for 10-20 minutes at a time. That’s fine.

Instead, can you  take one deep breath? Just ONE deep breath for me? Yea, chances are, you can do that.

Every time you pause throughout the day, it’s a meditation. If you catch just ONE breath today, that’s one more than the day before. Tomorrow can you get two mindful breaths? Great!

Start small and work from there, and before you know it you’ll be able to take 10 breaths at a time, multiple times per day.

How do I do it? Lately I’ve been doing a combination of the Andy Puddicomb Technique and a mix of my own.

1) Set reminders on my phone to take ten deep breaths

I scheduled reminders on my phone to remind me to take ten deep breaths. Every day, at 11am, 3pm, and 7pm, I receive a push notification telling me to take 10 deep breaths. Whatever I’m doing, I pause, and do it.

If I can’t because I’m in a conversation, I’ll leave the notification on my phone so that I remember to do it later. Does it work all the time? Not always, but if it gets me to do this just 1x/day, it’s already an improvement from my previous habits.

2) Transitions and intention setting

I like what Andy Puddicomb discusses with simply noticing a transition is happening. If you’re transitioning from sitting to standing, standing to sitting, phone call to moving back to your computer, taking a breath before or after you finish eating. There are so many transitions we experience on a daily basis, and so many opportunities to be mindful of them.

When you put your leg to the floor, feel the foot on the floor. Feel how you activate your muscles as you stand up. Feel your body standing and notice your posture. Take a deep breath, and THEN move to whatever activity you were planning on doing next.

This exercise helps us to stop constantly living in the future. Many times we’re so focused on what we need to do next or where we need to go. Taking a pause between where you currently are, and where you plan on going, allows you to experience the present moment. It’s a tough practice to implement, but so valuable.

3) Say “grace” before meals

I like the concept of “grace” despite being a jew. It’s a great opportunity to stop, take a few deep breaths, and be grateful for the food you are about to eat. I like to close my eyes and think about my gratitude for the meal I am about to eat. Think about who cooked my food, and how I wish them happiness and kindness. I think about how the meal will provide me with nutrition to help me be strong and healthy. Then, like everything else, I breathe a few times deeply. THEN, I open my eyes and start to eat my meal.

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These techniques have helped me to be more mindful throughout the day. It’s also reduced my stress and anxiety levels and made me more productive. I have more clarity and calm to handle my emotions, and I can move through the day with less blind reactions.

If I’m moving the needle in the direction of spending more time with my breath, I’m happy. If I spend 1% more of my day paying attention to breath, it’s a win. Hopefully over time I can begin to even out the scale, but for now I’m just working on finding the ability to pause 😃  

Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!

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Also published on Medium.

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