If you were rushing through your morning commute in Washington, D.C. and heard a world-class violinist performing in a subway station, would you stop and listen?
Would you even notice?
In 2007, The Washington Post arranged an unusual sociological experiment: They asked Joshua Bell, an internationally acclaimed violin virtuoso, to pose as an everyday busker in a D.C. subway station. Bell even put out his violin case for tips.
The results were surprising. During Bell’s 45-minute performance in the station, only seven people stopped what they were doing to listen for at least a minute. Twenty-seven people threw money into Bell’s violin case, most of them tossing cash in as they walked by. Over a thousand people hurried past Bell’s performance, completely oblivious.
This experiment shows how much we’re missing in our lives, because we’re rushing from place to place, or we’ve got our heads buried in our screens, or we’re trying to knock out all the tasks on our daily to-do lists as fast as humanly possible.
As a yoga therapist, I know how important it is to pay attention to where we’re placing our attention. That’s why I’ve shared a quick meditation that can help you practice mindfulness. I start all my courses and classes with this exercise, and you can do the same with your students and clients.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Learning how to be more mindful and present is the number one way you can increase the quality of your life, and this meditation is so fast and easy that you can weave it into your life virtually effortlessly.
Take a minute or two throughout your day to pause and go through these steps to practice the art of being present. It’s all about cultivating our own spiritual practice, so we can appreciate a lover’s sparkling eyes, or the sound of a child’s laugh, or the fact that we live in a jaw-droppingly beautiful world.
You can close your eyes or keep them open if you prefer. You can sit in a chair, or in a meditation position if you want to, but you want to sit with a nice, tall, erect spine. Place your hands in whatever way feels comfortable to you.
Then take three full breaths to begin, flushing up and down the entire spine. Inhale from the base to the crown, then exhale from the crown to the base.
Visualize your inhale like a volcano. Lava rises up the central channel, then pauses at the top. Then your exhale is like a French press or a waterfall, pouring down and out, clearing any tension or anxiety.
Take three breaths using that visualization – four to six counts on the inhale, and four to six on the exhale.
In the next three breaths, center yourself in your heart center, and orient yourself to see the world through your heart (not the mind or body).
Inhale for six counts, placing the attention at the heart center. Pretend you’re blowing up a balloon and really filling your heart center, the back of the lungs, and the back of the shoulder blades.
Pause for a moment to hold in that expanded space. Then exhale for six counts.
Take three breaths like that, filling your heart center.
Once you’re anchored in your heart, do a quick scan of your body, and observe what you can. Tune into what’s happening mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Do a quick sensory exercise, to tune into what you feel:
Take another deep breath, and notice your emotional landscape.
How are you feeling today? What’s your internal weather pattern right now?
This isn’t the time to judge. Simply observe what’s happening, with an open heart. Are you happy? Anxious? Nervous? Excited? Resentful? Insecure?
Simply name what you’re feeling.
Put both hands on your heart, and think about something you’re grateful for. This could be something in your inner world or outer world.
For example, I’m grateful that I have a garden right outside my office. Watching the plants reminds me of the growth cycle and the ebb and flow of life. I’m grateful that observing my garden teaches me to be more patient.
This is a beautiful, simple mindfulness meditation you can use on your own, or with your kids, or you can teach it to your students or clients.
Practicing mindfulness regularly helps bring us back an abundance mentality, so we notice how precious life really is.
I know many of you struggle with so many things in your daily life – from relationships to careers to finances to health problems – and the last piece of advice I want to give you is just to be gentle with yourself. Be forgiving, and be gentle. Life is too short and too precious to do anything else.
Every moment is a blessing – and this practice can help you pause during your day and keep your eyes wide open to the beauty of existence.