Neglecting meditation can cause angst and anxiety on top of everything else going on in our lives. Yet, it's often the times we've strayed from our practice that we need our reflective skills most.
The good news is: You don't have to sacrifice your entire practice. There are ways to weave mindfulness into your day that support you in staying connected to your discipline. Amid chaos, you can create clarity and refresh your routine, even when you find it challenging to maintain your daily regimen.
Below are some methods of maintaining your mindful self throughout the day. This list can help you nurture your intentions and alleviate the added stress of simply thinking you're not as disciplined as you would like to be. After all, meditating daily leads to lasting changes in your brain, so securing the links to your practice can only benefit you more in times of a lapse—like now.
The answer is right under your nose, literally. Continuing to engage those deep breathing skills you've honed over the years is a valuable and effective way of supplementing your sitting routine. Chances are, if you find it challenging to sit regularly, all is not right in your world. Breathing invokes the relaxation response that aids your mind, as well as your brain and body, in coping with whatever you're facing. Try Alternate Nostril Breathing to calm down quickly.
2. Read a few pages.
Reading about meditation may not get you back on the mat, but it might keep you grounded. If you feel too distracted to sit in awareness for 10 minutes, take a few moments to read a passage related to your path. Several great books on meditation feature short chapters (just two or three pages long), which can help you reflect on your ideals or reignite your passion for practicing. Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go There You Are, Pema Chodron's Comfortable with Uncertainty, and The Pocket by Thich Nhat Hanh, are easy reads that can help you synthesize and clarify your intentions. They might even inspire you to sit down and do nothing.
3. Try a moving meditation.
For anyone with a monkey mind, exercise is an ideal way to fuel your focus. If you're an avid practitioner of Tai Chi or Qigong (Chi-Gong), keep up your routine. Yoga, running, cycling, swimming, and walking also complement a contemplative life. As you move, focus on your breath or observe your environment with fresh eyes. Finding our way to a physical activity when we are under stress is easier than simply sitting down. So let it be.
4. Cultivate mindful characteristics.
Just because you find it difficult to sit, doesn't mean it's all over and you're no longer on the dharma path. You are and you can continue to cultivate those characteristics. Be purposeful. Be intentional. Exercise compassion. Lean into loving-kindness, especially with yourself. Be generous. Move into suffering, especially someone else's. Follow the Eight-fold Path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, right mindfulness.
5. Walk willfully.
It does not require big changes to try this eye-opening jaunt. Walking meditation is as equally beneficial for nature lovers and avid climbers as it is for those of you who feel a "necessity" to move. You can reacquaint yourself with the ground and your feet as well as with the natural world, if you’re able to do it outside. Be wary of combining this exercise with another activity, like running errands. Don't detract from your intention of being by combining it with more doing.
6. Channel water’s calming effects.
Practice presence in the shower. If the shower is one of those places where you enjoy thinking or being creative, perhaps have a sit in some suds. Breathe, foster presence, or observe your body in the hot bath. Add some essential oils to quiet or stimulate blocked or overactive chakras. Read from one of the books above or chant one of your favorite mantras. A bath may also lead to you feeling relaxed and initiate a drop in temperature which will induce your sleep signals—an added bonus if you’re having trouble sleeping.
7. Engage in chores intentionally.
Insert awareness into your everyday activities like washing dishes or cooking. After all, one of the goals of engaging awareness is to implement the skill consistently in your day-to-day life. Wonder at the warm water massage your hands receive while you wash dishes. Feel the texture of the vegetables as you chop them.
8. Tailor your routine for transport.
In the car, on the subway, in the airport — you can use several methods to cultivate clarity while on the move. Focus on the here and now by concentrating on the breath or use alternate nasal breathing, guided meditation or visualization to give you a sense of ease and interconnectedness. If you're someone who is always on the go, then you may need to alter your altar routine to suit your lifestyle, as opposed to doing it the other way around.
9. Slow down.
Change your routine. If you have errands to run near your house or work, ride your bicycle or walk. Changing your routine by slowing it down encourages you to be more observant. Add time to your day by waking up 15 minutes earlier or shutting down your computer sooner. Try your reflective ritual at a different time of day which may motivate you to return to it, albeit in a fresh way.
10. Take your practice to work stop, drop and meditate.
Who knows? That could be your new, impromptu approach to your mindful practice. Take a few reflective minutes—when you first sit down at your desk, after or before a meeting, at the beginning or the end of your lunch break. Prior to sending that email or answering that question your colleague is badgering you about, take a power pose, visualize a desired outcome, clearly outline your purpose and intention — do what it takes to preserve your contemplative outlook.
11. "Be" with your child If you have children, engage them in "just being" as well.
Take a few minutes to breathe with your toddler, chest-to-chest or side-by-side. Sit in silence with your child for a few minutes before bed or in the morning before school. Remind your kids to breathe—actually inhale and exhale—when they get frustrated, anxious, or overstimulated. Intentionally introducing mindfulness to your children aids you in staying connected to your own ideals. Focus on your breath while sleep training or during bath time. You can even do yoga with your child, provided you follow safe and appropriate measures.