Brief Mindfulness Meditation Strategies
(Excerpt from Teach Yourself Resilience by D. Robertson)
“Mini-meditation” techniques such as the “Three-Minute Breathing Space” (3MBS) in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are employed to provide an opportunity for rapid-frequentpractice throughout the day and in a variety of settings. We can think of this as injecting a short burst of more profound mindfulness in-between ordinary daily activities. In MBCT the aim is to do this at least three times per day, at prescribed times, or as an acceptance-based strategy when unpleasant experiences arise. However, you might choose to do it more often, perhaps even for a few minutes during every waking hour, for a couple of weeks. It’s natural to think of the shift in focus of attention involved as narrowing briefly on to some anchoring point or “centring device” such as the breath and then widening to the present moment and the task at hand, as a way of concluding the exercise and continuing, mindfully, with daily activity.
The following brief exercise incorporates elements from several mindfulness and acceptance-based therapies:
1. Begin by stopping whatever you were doing, stepping out of “autopilot”, and becoming awareof what you’re experiencing in the present moment, particularly any unpleasant thoughts or feelings you may have the urge to struggle with or avoid
2. Gather or focus your attention on the sensations of your breathing, in the present moment, as you’ve done in longer mindfulness meditation exercises, while also willingly accepting any unpleasant feelings, by imagining your breath flowing throughthem, creating a sense of space around them and observing their properties in a detached way
3. Conclude by expandingyour awareness gradually, throughout your body as a whole, and finally back to your environment and any tasks at hand, in the present moment, before slowly and mindfully resuming any activities you’re engaged in
If it helps, give yourself verbal instructions like, “Even though I don’t like these feelings I’m going to actively accept them and observe what happens…” or “Let go of the struggle and accept…” You may also find it helpful to repeat a short word of your choosing (e.g., “one”), in your mind, each time you exhale. This can serve the dual purpose of acting as a “centring device” for your attention while also functioning as a cue-word to help you rapidly recallthe state of mindfulness from previous exercises.
You can practice this briefly, for about ten seconds, or turn it into a longer meditation, perhaps lasting 10-20 minutes, if necessary. Remember, your aim isn’t to get rid of the unpleasant experiences but rather to let go of the struggle and willingly accept them instead. However, people often do find, as a kind of side-effect, that unpleasant experiences may reduce as a result of acceptance strategies like this.
Brief Mindfulness Script
Step One: Mindfulness of the Here and Now
Pause for a few moments to become more mindful of yourself. Notice how you’re currently using your body and your mind, right now, in the present moment. Take a step back from your thoughts and allow yourself to acknowledge and accept any unpleasant feelings you might be having, such as tension, pain, or anxiety. Be aware of yourself as the detached observer of your thoughts and feelings. Throughout life you’ve experienced literally millions of different thoughts and feelings and observed many different things. Your current thoughts and feelings are transient, just what you happen to be experiencing right now, sooner or later your attention will move on to other things, and then sometimes it may return to these experiences again.
For now, just be aware of what you’re currently experiencing, from moment to moment, without evaluating it, analysing it, or interpreting it. You can have your eyes open or closed, be standing or sitting, it really doesn’t matter. Just allow yourself to pause and become mindful of your experience for a few moments. If your mind wanders, that’s fine, just acknowledge the fact and bring your awareness patiently back to the exercise you’re doing.
Step Two: Grounding Attention in the Breathing
Now gradually narrow your focus of attention on to the sensations of your breathing. Don’t try to change your breathing, don’t try to stop it from changing, just breathe naturally. Accept what your breathing feels like and make room for it to do whatever it wants, let go of any desire to change or control it. Notice the sensations of your breathing, the rise and fall of your belly, perhaps movements in your chest, or even your shoulders. Become aware of even the smallest sensations that accompany your breathing, feelings you may not have noticed before. Keep paying attention to your breathing to help ground your attention in the reality of the present moment.
If you’re aware of any unpleasant feelings anywhere in your body, just allow yourself to accept them patiently and let them come and go as they please, or to remain the same. Let go completely of any struggle against them and instead study them from a more detached perspective. Combine awareness of the breath with awareness of the body by imagining your breath continually passing right through that part of your body where the unpleasant feelings are happening. Use your breath to centre your attention on that part of your body for a while. As you breathe in and out, continue to actively accept those sensations and allow yourself to fully experience them. Let go completely of any struggle against them. Make room for the feelings to run their course, or come and go freely by imagining a sense of space opening up around them. You are not your breath, you are not those sensations, you are not your emotions or even your thoughts; you’re the detached observer of all of these things, viewing experiences from a distance as they come and go without struggle.
Step Three: Expanding Awareness throughout the Body
Now gradually begin to expand your awareness beyond those sensations. Continue to be aware of your breathing and any part of your body that you’ve been attending to but, in addition, allow your awareness to begin spreading through the rest of your body, throughout the trunk of your body, your arms, your legs, your neck and head. Become aware of your whole body as one, and continue to accept any unpleasant sensations you’re experiencing but also begin to notice what else you’re experiencing, more and more, progressively widening the sphere of your attention. Not trying to avoid or control unpleasant experiences but rather expanding beyond them.
Now gradually spread your awareness out further beyond your body and into the room around you, where you are and what you’re doing right now. Continue to notice how you’re using your body and mind as you look slowly around you. As you finish the exercise and begin interacting with the external world and perhaps other people, take that sense of mindfulness and self-awareness with you into your environment and any tasks at hand. If you continue to notice any unpleasant sensations, that’s fine, just accept them, let go of any struggle against them, and gently expand your attention beyond them to the world around you and the way you’re interacting with life as you move into action.