This 3-Part Exercise Is Like A Mindfulness Pushup — Here's How To Do It
When our attention isn't focused, and our mind is wandering, we're not truly present. While training the brain to become more mindful takes practice, according to neuroscientist and professor of psychology Amishi Jha, Ph.D., there's a simple, three-part exercise that can help.
The "flashlight" step of this three-part exercise might sound familiar if you've ever engaged in a mindfulness practice, Jha says. It's essentially mindful breathing, and to get started, you'll want to sit comfortably with good posture and close your eyes.
The object of this practice, she says, is to pick a target for your attention and then keep your attention focused there. "The reason I call it the 'find your flashlight practice' is because we're going to think of our attention like a flashlight and direct it willfully toward something," she adds.
The target in question will be breath-related sensations. "Maybe it's your chest or abdomen moving up and down [...] or the coolness of air on your nostrils," Jha says, adding, "Whatever it is, clue into what is prominent and then really set the intention to have the flashlight of your attention be right there."
She notes this is not breathwork, and you don't have to try to control the breath. "You're not doing anything to your breath—you're taking an observational stance," she explains.
The second part of this practice is called "the floodlight," and it refers to noticing where your mind is in a broader way. Jha says it's the opposite of the flashlight—it's a way of checking in with where your mind is at any given moment.
"This is the capacity of attention," she explains, adding, "One way we pay attention is by focusing, but another way we pay attention is through this floodlight metaphor, which is paying attention in a broad and receptive stance, just like a floodlight."
With the "floodlight" aspect of this practice, you're able to notice when your mind begins to wander away from your flashlight, which brings us to the third and final step.
As Jha explains, "the juggler" refers to our executive functions. In business, she adds, the executive's job is to oversee tasks, which is what "the juggler" does here. "We can think of this as sort of the goal maintenance system of the mind," she says.
So, when you're shining your mental flashlight and your floodlight catches your mind wandering, what do you do? Bring it back, Jha says. "When you notice that your mind has wandered, gently return it. That's that taskmaster of executive control saying, "get back on task," she adds.
The bottom line.
Altogether, this practice allows you to not only pay attention to the breath but get back on track and redirect your brain's resources in doing so. "It checks into all three systems of attention," Jha notes, adding when we consistently practice, it can help strengthen our focus, reduce our mind wandering, and even boost our mood. Not a bad deal for a practice that only takes a few minutes of your day.
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Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.