The Mindful Pause

The 30 Second Mood Makeover

Have you ever been going about your day when all of a sudden you remembered something you needed to do and as a result become completely overwhelmed with anxiety? 

What about a loved one triggering a deeply dissatisfied feeling within you? 

Although feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, irritability - to name a few - can leave us very unsettled, there is a quick practice we can use to turn those feelings into conscious awareness whenever they arise. The magic of this simple practice is found in its simplicity and can be practiced at any time.

As we turn towards our negative thoughts or emotions, we are able to see them as transitory, rather than innate to our being. You are not your anxiety, your anger; there is a deeper self. This perspective allows us to carry on with more grace, happiness, and even more intelligence.

The Mindful Pause, which only takes about 30 seconds, is an age old technique that Niroga Institute* teaches to the students and teachers they work with in schools.

Follow these four steps next time you are in need of a quick reset to get your mood in-check during the day:

1. Take one slow, deep breath

Slow and deepen your breath to create feelings of relaxation and calm. There is a strong connection between your mood and breath: as your breath is restricted, so is your mood. When you breathe with gentle length, in comes the ability to feel more at ease.

2. Turn towards the sensations of your body

Open your attention to the sensations in your body for just a moment. Let yourself notice whatever comes up: tension, warmth, coolness, pressure, or the touch of clothing. There's no need to evaluate the sensations as "good" or "bad." Itching is simply itching. Coolness is simply coolness. 

Feel free to stretch your fingers as you inhale, and make soft fists as you exhale in order to notice your bodily sensations more. This step can take as little as 5 seconds.

3. Rest your attention on your breath

Pay attention to the sensation of air touching your nostrils as you breathe. With gentle curiosity, watch the flow of changing sensations at the nostrils. These sensations anchor you in the present moment.

In this step, you can choose to keep your breath deep and slow, or just let your body breathe however it wants to. And just like the previous step, this can be a very short amount of time. You might feel like staying with it longer, but that’s up to you.

4. Re-engage with the world, without hurry

That’s right - carry on! But see if you can maintain that calm, grounded feeling you just created. Don't reach for your phone or speed off to your next activity. If you can, take a few seconds just sitting or standing there quietly, and then move at a more leisurely pace.

Because mindful pauses are so quick and discreet, you can do them anywhere, anytime.

The important part is not “fixing” our negative emotions. In fact, it isn’t actually completing the mindful pause itself; it’s remembering to do it in the first place. Small changes can build momentum to face ourselves and the others with greater steadiness.

We encourage students to incorporate mindful pauses throughout the day by linking them to specific transitions, like when we get home from school or work, before we eat a meal. This keeps it fresh in our minds so that we can call upon our mindfulness practice during times when we may really be in need of a mood makeover. Happy pausing.


*This post was written in collaboration with Niroga Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities through professional development and direct service programs in Yoga and Dynamic Mindfulness.

What are We Feeding?

With all the energy we expend, are we aware of where it’s going? Can we pause to note energy well spent and energy sent to draining causes? Are we giving our energy to things that deeply matter to us?

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Learning to Fall

Every week, a student attends my restorative class with her mom, coming to yoga straight from figure skating practice. She’s nine. The average age of the other students is maybe 35. When I asked her recently how the skating was going, she replied that she “fell A LOT tonight.” She smiled. “But,” she noted, “that’s good - it means I’m doing the harder stuff.” She went on to explain that actually the first thing the skaters are taught is falling. When she began skating a couple years ago, the first lessons were focused on how to fall safely. 

I listened. How wise. Practice falling. Face that fear head on first, and then when it happens, which it inevitably will if we’re really living, we may be a bit better prepared. That makes sense. But... I don’t like to fall. I like to play it safe, I like to plan, I like to work slowly and methodically. I will check, double check, triple check, and then check just one more time that things are set up just so, to ensure that I don’t fall. These tendencies have served me well. Then I thought of when I have fallen, and I began to acknowledge the worth in tumbling down. If we practice falling, what is possible?

Four years ago, when I was re-evaluating my life after the deaths of two people very close to me, some major shifts began to stir in me. I looked at my fears with steady vision; I looked at my deep passions with even clearer eyes. I realized that a fear of the limits and lack-luster that come with clinging (and thus living within others’ constricting expectations, rules, and constructs) was greater than a fear of falling, of being ungraceful, of causing a bit of upset and upheaval. I began to accept that letting go of control needed to be practiced more often and more thoroughly than had been my pattern.

I fell. I fell out of line, fell a bit out of control, and abruptly left a long-term relationship that did not fit my spirit. I allowed myself to fall in love. I fell into the sport of climbing (which I had never thought I could do!), a practice where falling (safely) can be part of growth. And, feeling quite ALIVE, smiling that the world caught my fall with such a loving embrace, my yoga practice began to deeply take root. This is when my personal practice found clear inspiration and discipline and led me to the school where I would begin my trainings. 

After falling in various ways, I was feeling so vibrant; lo and behold, I did not smash to bits upon impact! After some settling and readjusting, there was a deep grounded sense that came after falling; I was standing firm on fresh ground. After all, I was caught and held by my own self respect, nurturing communities, and clear purpose and direction. In falling, the old is released, creating space to bring in new energy. 

If we practice falling in small ways, within a safe container, we gain strength physically, emotionally, spiritually, so that when those bigger falls come, those we can’t plan for or anticipate, we can fall with greater grace and stand a better shot at getting back up a better version of ourself. 

Oh, all this talk of falling gets me thinking of the expansion that is possible for me right now if I just loosen my grip a little... And I still don’t like to fall. It’s not pleasant. There is risk involved. I’m a safety-first, slow-and-steady kind of gal. But when my student brought up the importance of falling (of the growth that’s possible if we fall and get back up), I was reminded that a part of surrender, a vital practice, is letting go, and sometimes when you let go, you are going to fall. And when you do fall, who knows what beautiful possibilities will catch you. 

What Path are You Walking?

Following Dharma

What path are you walking? This question is simple yet expansive, one worth asking daily, a kind of check-in to be sure we’re in tune. Lately I have a strong sense that overall, I am walking a path that is truly meant for me, that my life is aligning beautifully as I put in efforts that reflect my deepest values. I was reminded of this recently as I picked up a book I hadn’t visited in a while, with no intention, just opened it up and was smiled upon by one of my favorite passages. That book is the Bhagavad Gita, a text full of grand reminders.

The Bhagavad Gita is one of the central texts of yogic philosophy, one that tells the story of the Warrior Arjuna and Lord Krishna. Arjuna is struggling internally as he faces a battle he does not want to fight, and Krishna counsels him, imparting wisdom and working to convince him to examine and carry out his true purpose. The verse below is a shot to the heart that touches on the topic of deep purpose, one’s life path, one’s dharma:

Chapter 3, Verse 35:
It is better to perform one’s own dharma imperfectly
than to perform another’s dharma perfectly. 
It is better to die in one’s own dharma, one’s own path...
Following another’s path is perilous.

This path, dharma, is rich and layered. As Stephen Cope puts it: 

Yogis insist that every single human being has a unique vocation. They call this dharma. Dharma is a potent Sanskirt word that is packed tight with meaning, like one of those little sponge animals that expands to six times its original size when add water. Dharma means, variously, “path,” “teaching,” or “law.” For our purposes … it will mean primarily “vocation,” or “sacred duty.” It means, most of all—and in all cases—truth. Yogis believe that our greatest responsibility in life is to this inner possibility—this dharma—and they believe that every human being’s duty is to utterly, fully, and completely embody his own idiosyncratic dharma.

So, what is your dharma? Not what someone else told you that you could do, should do, might do, couldn’t do, wouldn’t do. Not what is safe or what is easy. Not what society says is successful. Not what you’re guilted into or expected to do. Not what would shock or show them. What is your heart’s deepest truth, your calling, your dharma? 

No matter what route we take, life will be difficult at times, sacrifices have to be made, hurt happens. But if we are on a path that we know to be true, if we are in relationship with our highest self, stretching every day into purpose, that hard work can be done with a smile, we can rest knowing it’s worth it, we can find a welcoming home within the self. 

Once you realize your particular dharma, commit to it with full heart and dedicate your energy to following it. Then, let go of attachments to outcome. What path are you walking? Walk your path, take action mindfully, and when balance calls for surrender, let it go.