Mindfulness Can Help You Stop Rushing and Feel Like You Have More Time

The first book on meditation that I ever read was Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. The book had lots of practical tips that served me well when I started a meditation practice in earnest, but the text wasn’t quite as plain as it claimed to be. Gunaratana kept talking about how meditation can help you create space between you and your thoughts. I understood this as a concept but I had no clue what it meant in practice. In fact, the idea itself seemed counterintuitive, since my initial experience with meditation felt like being smothered by my thoughts, instead of creating space around them.

Even so, I pressed on because my mind had been running for so long that it felt like a relief even to take a brief pause just to watch the wheels spin. By the time I worked my way up to 10 minutes of meditation a day, I noticed a variety of space emerge in my life that I had never set out to find: I stopped rushing so much. In particular, I noticed my tendency to rush regardless of whether I was dealing with real time constraints.

For example, I used to be in a big hurry every time I went to the grocery store, racing around and grabbing items as if I were on a game show. Rather than prizes, this habit had usually only given me frustration when I had to stand in line or got caught behind someone walking too slowly. Soon after I started meditating, however, a magical voice from nowhere said “What’s your rush?” as I was briskly walking past the gliding doors. At the time, my daughter was just over a year old so time to myself—even running errands—was a rare and precious thing. I slowed down, strolling through the store with ease, gazing with interest at the lovely produce, and even chatting at check out with the clerk. I came home in a good mood, rather than a bad one.

Now, this isn’t to say that my tendency to rush doesn’t come back. It comes back to me all of the time. On one meditation retreat, I realized that I was rushing even in my meditation because I would force myself back to focusing on the breath the second I noticed my thinking. In addition to making me laugh heartily at myself, this also helped me realize that giving myself the time to see what thoughts had emerged would let me have the insights that vipassana (aka “insight meditation”) was supposed to produce.

Not only can rushing make us less aware of our lives, it can also cause us to behave less ethically. This was demonstrated by a famous study of seminary students who were told that they had to give a lecture across campus on, of all things, the Good Samaritan story from the Bible. Some of the students were told that they were late and others that they had plenty of time to get to their talk. The students were set up to pass a victim in need of assistance and, by a wide margin, the students with time to spare stopped more often to help. The conclusion from this is clear: time constraints—even pretend ones—can cause us to forget our higher ideals (and perhaps be totally oblivious to irony too).

This truth of this study is borne out by my life experience. In my small grocery store example, one of the other things that happened was that a petite woman asked me (I’m 5’11’’) to grab a product off a high shelf for her. Do you think she would have felt comfortable doing so if I looked stressed out and grumpy? Probably not. In that case, the absence of rushing on my part freed me up not just to feel better myself but also help someone else. This happened to me in more significant ways as my practice evolved. I was more likely to ask how other people were doing, to check in on friends I hadn’t seen in a while, or to plan ahead so that I had the ability to work fun and meaningful events with friends and family into my schedule. Over time, the reduction in my rushing made me feel less like I had no time, so I realized that, in fact, I had the time to do things I enjoyed, such as writing, or cooking or going to meditation retreats, even while practicing law and raising a family.

Now, if you are a litigator like me, you may think that rushing is somewhat predestined by the aggressive and deadline-ridden nature of our law practice. But, even here, I have found that being mindful of rushing is beneficial too. I try not to delay responding to emails to keep cases moving, but I give myself time if I need to craft a response. I definitely give myself time if the email is at all aggressive and irritating, as emails from lawyers can sometimes be. I also take the time to be sure clients are on board with case management and that they feel supported and like their voice is being heard in the process. In addition, because I am more aware of how stressful time constraints can be, I am more proactive about managing cases and deadlines with clear communications so that the work gets done with as little human misery as possible. Sometimes there is no way around a hard deadline and you just have to work like hell to get the project done, but that only makes it all the more necessary to develop a habit of paying attention so that you don’t fall into the all too human habit of treating all deadlines that way.

In the years since I started meditating, I have experienced the space that Gunaratana promised in numerous different ways. Though it seemed to have little to do with my copious thoughts, reducing my tendency to rush may have been one of the most important. It provided me with the space that only time can provide to notice how I was living my life, and I was shocked to see that a small adjustment in how I behaved could produce such a significant change in my law practice, personal happiness, and relationships.

If, like me, you are someone who tends to rush, the first step is to notice when it arises. Notice what it feels like in your body when you rush. Notice the thoughts that emerge. Over time, you will see patterns and then the next step is to start to ask yourself whether the perceived time constraints are real. If they are, you can learn to take a deep breath and offer yourself compassion as you face the task. If they are not, take several deep breaths and offer yourself care by slowing down. Then simply repeat these steps over and over again for the rest of your life, congratulating yourself for crises averted and forgiving yourself for any mistakes. We cannot control how much space or time life gives us, but we have some control over how we perceive it. Meditation can help us remember this and that is one way it can make us free.

If you need a quick reminder to help you watch the rushing, check out our quick mini video here:

10 Simple Ways to Enjoy Your Meditation Practice More

Many people talk about the benefits of meditation to encourage people to try it. I agree that the science is compelling, but sometimes the point can get lost when we emphasize meditation’s wholesomeness. It can be like trying to convince a child to eat vegetables by telling them how healthy they are. I mean, making them smell, look, and taste good may achieve the same objective without all the fuss, right?

Meditation can be just like vegetables. We can work so hard to get the benefits that it can be easy to forget that the practice itself can be enjoyable. Indeed, in my own practice, it wasn’t until I learned to let myself relax and have some fun that the most profound benefits started to emerge. Even so, it can be hard for new meditators to let their meditation practice feel good because they may be preoccupied with learning to “do it right”, searching for signs of progress, or waiting on feelings of peace of emerge.

With a few small tweaks and a little bit of intentionality, you can bring a bit more joy, comfort, and fun into your practice. Here are 10 strategies that I have used over the years to make my meditation practice more enjoyable. I think they may help you too.   

1. Find Your Time Sweet Spot

Let go of the idea that there is some ideal amount of time that you must strive for in meditation. Instead, it’s better to find the period of time for sitting practice that works for you. At the beginning, just explore by building up a tolerance for sitting for periods of time. Once you do that, explore further by noting when you reach the point of diminishing returns. When you know your sweet spot – the time that feels productive and helpful to you – stick with it and just commit to doing that and feeling good and don’t beat yourself or worry about whether it’s enough. If you later find yourself wanting more, then go for it but there’s no need to push before then.

2. Create a Supportive Space

You don’t have to sit when you meditate, but if you do a good posture is critical. It can help you avoid pain while you sit for extended periods and even help you breath easier. Investing in a cushion or bench with a hearty fill can be an excellent way to ensure that your body has the support it needs when you practice. If you have specific conditions in your body that affect your posture, you can try using extra cushions or a rolled up towel to offer more support and comfort too.

3. Control Your Temperature

I am always cold so one of the best ways to make myself feel safe and comfortable is a cozy sweater. The same idea can work for you when you meditate. Put a soft throw blanket on your cushion to wrap around yourself or place on your legs. If you are the sleepy type, you may need a fan or open window instead, but you could wear your most comfortable clothes to meditate to achieve the same comforting effect.

4. Stretch First

To do a sit of 30 minutes or less, you don’t need a full yoga session to prepare for mediation. Still, a quick stretch can wake up your body and release some of those last-minute jitters before you try to meditate. I find that stretches of the hips, low back, and side body most helpful since that area works hardest sitting on a cushion, but you can play around with different stretches and poses and see what works for you.

5. Follow Your Nose

Smell is one way to bring yourself into your body when you meditate. If you want to get fancy, you could use incense but that is way too much for me. I prefer to light a nice candle, use a soothing scent mist, or just put on some nice-smelling lotion before I start. Focusing on sensory input, including smells, is one way to meditate so it could be a great way to ease into your practice.

6. Add Soothing Sounds

If you use guided meditations for your practice, know that there are all kinds of teachers and styles out there. Notice who and what you like and why and let yourself just enjoy the guiding and where it leads. If, like me, you prefer the spaciousness of meditation without guiding, you can still add in some nice sounds. I use a timer with ambient nature sounds on the Calm app and most meditation apps have a similar feature. You can also play some soothing music to support your practice. I have found that sound helps me focus when my kids are being noisy in the house (even though it rarely competes with their volume or drowns them out entirely).

7. Pair with Your Favorite Activity

If you haven’t picked up on this already, many of these tips are about associations. By putting something you love with meditation, it may be easier to come to love meditation itself. The same idea applies to activities. If you struggle to carve out a specific time, you could also add it on to other activities. Make meditation your cool down after your favorite workout. If you take a bubble bath, try focusing on the breath for a few minutes and I bet you’ll find it easy to relax. Make a nice cup of tea or coffee and just sit with it for a few minutes and notice the warmth and taste of the drink. And, while my babies are now too big for this, I loved—loved—meditating while rocking them in the rocking chair.

8. Find a Friend

Most of us meditate alone to work it into our busy schedules. But, if meditation retreats taught me anything, it is that support from fellow meditators really helps. It is easier to settle when meditating in a group, even when that group is convened on Zoom. It’s also nice to talk about meditation with people who know. Meditation groups abound online or you could check out your local Dharma or Zen center or yoga studio for meditation classes or group sits. So, even if you sit alone most of the time, it might help you mix it up if you find a friend or group to sit with every now and then.

9. Don’t Should on Yourself

Be wary of the term “should” as you talk or think about your meditation practice. Instead, focus on why you want to meditate and what about the practice makes you feel good. At the beginning, it may be small and have nothing to do with being a better person. When I first started, I kept meditating because it helped my stress headaches go away. This was small but it was enough to show me that my practice was helping me so that I didn’t lose motivation. Focusing on feeling good may also help you avoid guilt and self-judgment on the days that you miss or skip meditation, which overall will make your practice not only more enjoyable but also most sustainable.

10. Give Yourself a Pat on the Back

We all know that positive reinforcement is highly effective, but most of us still are sparing with it when it comes to ourselves. Don’t be stingy with praise when it comes to meditation. Close each session if you can with a brief recognition of yourself. Even if you sat for 1 minute, acknowledge that you had the discipline to do the 1 minute. This will not only help engender positive feelings about yourself, but also help you keep front of mind the reasons you started meditating in the first place.

Meditation certainly engenders and includes discipline. It is a training of the mind, the body and the heart. But that training doesn’t have to painful to be effective. Indeed, if you are starting a meditation practice because you want all the benefits that those scientific studies promise (a happier, healthier, less stressful life), then it makes sense to bring things into your meditation practice that make it more enjoyable, comfortable, and even easier. I hope these strategies help you feel good in and about your practice, but more than anything I hope that they remind you that you deserve to feel good in and about your life.

If you want to try out some of these ideas for yourself, check out our Rocking Chair meditation. It incorporates the imagery and movement of a relaxing rocking chair to help you sync up with the rhythm of your breath to find ease and take a break.

Just Learning to Say “This Is Hard” Can Change Your Life

My favorite unintended side effect of my mindfulness practice is that it gives me all kinds of opportunities to laugh at myself. I don’t mean mock myself in a cold or cutting way. Rather, I mean laugh out loud at how silly this thing I call my self can be. To be sure, there are times when my practice has called on me to go and find my inner child curled up on the floor in the dark recesses of my mind and stroke its hair and tell it that it’s beautiful and things will be alright. But some of the time, the only logical response to myself is to just say “Girl, I love you, but you are a goofy” and laugh.

My journey to learn to say “this is hard” is one of those things. Yes, you got it right. I’m not talking about enlightenment here or some vision quest type situation. I am telling you that I struggled for years (read: decades) to learn to (a) observe a difficult personal experience; and (b) acknowledge in the present moment that the experience was difficult. We are talking very basic stuff right here. But hallelujah when I finally learned to do this it was like I had worked a miracle.

Like most lawyers I’ve struggled with perfectionism most of my life. I’ve been the “smart” girl in school and the “good” girl in my family. And somewhere along the way, that got confused with the idea that I had to be innately good at anything I ever did. When I started practicing law and raising kids, I really struggled because—newsflash—those things are hard. As a new mom and lawyer, I was still in the mode of pretending like things were “fine” and that I was “on top of things” and, through gritted teeth, that it was all a “piece of cake.” How did that work out for me? Terribly. I totally fell apart and that’s when I turned to meditation to put myself back together.

Meditation is sometimes presented like magic but it’s actually much more like those times when you are running out the door looking frantically for your car keys and your spouse or child says “you are holding them.” Learning to say “this is hard” is a car key situation for me. It was right there all along and I was too busy trying to look like I knew what I was doing to see it. By learning to sit in silence, I saw my thoughts, I felt my body, and let my emotions have a voice. I suddenly started to see that—holy crap!—all kinds of hard stuff happened to me all the time. I would struggle to focus, I would have nasty voices in my head saying mean things, my foot would fall asleep, my knee would hurt, and my ego would be bruised and battered because I wasn’t the stoic meditator I had set out to be.

Do you know what all of this taught me? That just saying “this is hard” really, really helped. When I acknowledged the hard stuff, I was able to stop struggling against it. I could stop pretending it wasn’t there. I could stop putting on a brave face. By just letting go of that, I saved so much energy and opened up so much space. That extra energy and space left room to just experience the situation. Many times I would see that the situation passed on its own and that I didn’t have to do anything. On other occasions, I saw clearly what I needed to do to care for myself. For example, if my foot fell asleep, maybe I might just wiggle my toes or move my leg. In the case of an attack of the nasty voice in my head, I might just focus more on my breath or hold my own hand as I watched it rage in my mind like a child throwing a tantrum on the floor.

After I practiced this enough in meditation, I noticed it started to happen on its own in my life. When I notice my own struggle during a workout, admitting that my situation is hard helps my inner cheerleader come out and say “you got this!” When my daughter throws a real live tantrum on the floor, it helps just to take a breath in and internally say “ouch.” These moments of recognition are often enough to steady me so that I can respond with some semblance of calm. In my law practice, acknowledging when things are hard helps me manage my schedule to make my days easier or ask for help from a colleague on a tricky problem or when dealing with difficult opposing counsel. In other words, letting myself admit that things are sometimes hard was the necessary first step for managing my life and law practice more effectively.

This is why I have to laugh at myself because the thing I was running from my whole life is what I needed all along. It was so simple and so small that I kept overlooking it, so the only way I could see it was to stop everything, sit down for a while, and do nothing. When I did, I finally let the truth of life come raining down: that life is hard and pretending it’s not makes it harder. So, when life is hard, just admit it if you can because saying “this is hard” is the first step of self-compassion. But, if even that is hard for you, laughing at yourself is always an option too.

You Can Meditate Even If You Can’t Sit Still

“I wish I could meditate,” people often tell me, “but I can’t sit still.” To be sure, meditation is associated with stillness. One of the most ubiquitous symbols of mindfulness is the statue of the Buddha. He sits there with that half smile, perfectly still, looking totally unbothered and it can make some of us—mere mortals who have yet to attain enlightenment—think we can’t do the same. I’m here to tell you to forget that idea. You are allowed to move when you meditate.

Look, you don’t need my permission or anyone’s permission when you start a meditation practice. It’s YOUR practice. Do what works for you. But, as a recovering perfectionist myself and as a lawyer trained to never take an action without solid authority, I know how easy it is to forget that. In fact, I needed my meditation practice to learn even to notice what felt good to and worked for my body. With that in mind, I made this permission slip for you in case you want proof positive that a meditation teacher has authorized you to move during meditation. Share it with your friends and family and anyone who ever questions you or gives you side eye for moving during your practice.

Now, of course, you may think “but isn’t moving during meditation bad?” and wonder why I am giving this permission out so freely. My answer to that is that the classic lawyer response: “it depends.” Movement during meditation is generally something to be avoided because the point of meditation is usually to calm and settle the mind. If the body is moving, it is harder to do that and it may be nearly impossible for a new meditator. As such, the general advice and the strategy I use in my own practice is to try to find a posture I can hold for a solid period of time and avoid moving where possible.

But, this strategy has limits. Beyond stillness, the other way to calm and settle the mind and body is to comfort it. That means your physical comfort as you meditate supports your mental stillness. Thus, if something is making you uncomfortable during you practice, the wise and skillful thing may just be to move to take care of it. This means you can (and maybe ought to) scratch that itch or wiggle that leg that has fallen asleep.

Once you practice long enough, you start to realize that there really are no distractions from your practice; there are only new things that arise that become your practice. In reality, when a desire to move arises, it isn’t a zero sum game. Instead, if you remain mindful during the situation, it’s really a choice of what mode of practice you want to employ. You can choose to sit with the experience and stay with the physical sensations in the body and watch them arise, move, change, and fade away. That’s practicing body awareness, equanimity, compassion, and also exploring the temporary nature of life. Those are great skills and experiences to have in your life. But, if you choose to move, you practice body awareness, mindful action, and compassion. Those are also great skills to have.

The key with both of these things, of course, is to first maintain awareness of your experience. When you do that, you can choose the next course of action and whatever action you choose becomes your practice. Then you can simply return to the breath or whatever focal point you have selected for that session. Now, of course, if you lose awareness and just scratch that itch or wiggle your leg unconsciously, what then? I think you know the answer here: this is still practice. When you realize what you’ve done, you notice it, return to your focal point, and try to avoid mentally bludgeoning yourself in the process.

In short, you can move when you meditate. You don’t need to be a statue. You can find stillness (and wisdom and compassion) even when your body and the world won’t let you sit still. That is life. Don’t fight against it; practice with it. The wisdom, the lessons, and the benefits of meditation don’t come from trying to live up to a standard. They come from learning to move through life with greater compassion, awareness, and ease. You can learn that from sitting still in your meditation practice and moving on occasion too. Give it a try.

For more information about ways to respond to when the urge to move arises, check out the 1-minute video and slide deck on our Learn to Meditate in Less than 2 Minutes page.

How to Find a “Quiet Place” When Meditating in a Full House

The stress of a global pandemic has made interest in meditation skyrocket. Unfortunately, part of the stress of the pandemic is living in close, sometimes cramped, quarters with our loved ones and four-legged friends. Almost every guide to meditation tells you to start your practice by finding a comfortable position in a “quiet” spot with minimal distractions. But how do you do that in a house full of other occupants?

Earbuds, ear plugs, or white noise machines can help and turning off notifications on your phone is a must. Many meditation apps also have ambient sounds or light music to support a practice. But these options are anything but foolproof and they certainly don’t help when a relative walks into the room or, in the case of my four-year-old and miniature dachshund, plops down unannounced on your lap. Indeed, the absence of quiet can wreak havoc for a meditation session. But does it have to derail a meditation practice?

I say it doesn’t, as long as you keep perspective on the type of quiet that you are seeking. When I started my meditation practice years ago, I tried sitting practice in every remote corner of my home, including the basement and my closet, to avoid the impromptu shrieks of my toddler or the incessant barking of my dogs. I remember the frustration I felt whenever my husband unwittingly walked in on my meditation and callously disrupted my carefully but tenuously balanced “calm”. In those early days, I thought silence was calm and so was frustrated when silence was hard to find.

At some point along the way–after tolerating enough disruptions and just sitting through them–I started to see that the distractions weren’t so . . . distracting. When I heard my daughter’s voice call out while meditating, I just sat still and watched it affect me. I remember on one occasion my daughter saying something silly and noticing, in meditation-induced slow motion, a wave of laughter wash over me. It was beautiful, albeit fleeting, and if I had reacted with my customary effrontery I would have missed it. And, having had hundreds of attempts to practice calm when my dogs interrupt my quiet by barking, I now barely even react to their barking (at least when I’m meditating).

In other words, my advice to you on “finding quiet” is to give up or at least to not cling so tightly to the notion of quiet. It is hard, if not impossible, for most of us to find a quiet spot to meditate where one won’t be disturbed. But meditation is not truly about silence or erasing all distractions. Instead, the practice is about the way we respond to distractions and to ourselves as each new distraction arises. In this way, the struggle isn’t to find a perfectly quiet place, but to accept that you will never find a perfectly quiet place. As such, the only option is to cultivate quiet.

How do you cultivate quiet in a world that won’t shut up? Using supports such as music or guided meditations can help block out noise. In addition, scheduling your meditations at times when you are likely to avoid interruptions can help. If that is difficult to do in a single block of time, it might also help to try short chunks of time interspersed strategically throughout your day.

But when all of these options fail, and trust me they will, the only remaining answer is to sit and remain quiet even when the world isn’t. In other words, you try to find the quietest place you can, limit disruptions to the extent you can, and, with all the grace and kindness you can muster, you practice living with the noises and disruptions that are left.

It will be maddening at first and you may consider giving up. You may wonder to yourself, “Why am I even doing this?” My answer to this is, I hope, a bit more satisfying. You are doing it because, much like meditation, life is a combination of doing what we can to control things and accepting the rest we can’t. Each time we remain quiet in the midst of noisiness, we practice calm in the midst of the chaos that is our lives. In simpler terms, things get easier with practice because meditation is practicing ease.

If you want more quiet in your life, you have to practice quiet. So, when that guided meditation tells you to find a “quiet place”, go ahead and laugh at it for being unrealistic. Laugh at yourself for being impatient. Laugh at your kids and pets and family for being too loud. By all means, laugh whenever you can. But then go look for that quiet place because I think you can find it.

For more practical tips on finding quiet when you meditate, check out our 1-minute video and handy slide deck on our Learn to Meditate in Less than 2 Minutes page.

Loving-Kindness Meditation Explained in Valentines

There is some incredibly promising research emerging relating to loving-kindness (metta) meditation. This practice, in which meditators send themselves and others well wishes, has been shown to impart incredible benefits, including stress reduction and improvements to relationships. It has even been shown to make people who do it consistently behave more ethically.

Despite this, loving-kindness practice is one of the more difficult kinds for meditators in the West and especially lawyers to practice. Culturally, many Americans aren’t used to wishing themselves well. They may feel like they are being selfish or worry that the practice is sappy. Us skeptical lawyers who are trained in law school that we need to analyze problems without reference to our feelings may see the practice as a waste of time.

But it occurred to me that many of us are used to sending out nice cards for no real purpose every year. That’s what Valentine’s Day is all about. As kids in school, we didn’t just send those to sweethearts but to friends and classmates and usually even our teachers. I tried to avoid giving them to kids I didn’t like in my class but my mom wisely and firmly encouraged me not to be stingy.

So, I thought it might help to briefly explain loving-kindness practice to you in those terms. As the slideshow below indicates, loving-kindness practice is sort of like sending out Valentines from your mind and heart. The practice starts with you, then moves on to others, including a loved one, mentor (teacher, benefactor or supporter), a neutral person, and then difficult person. As you bring these people to mind, you offer them warm phrases, such as “may you be at peace, may you be happy, may you be safe, may you be at healthy.” If these phrases don’t work for you, you can select anything that does, such as “I hope you are healthy and safe.” If you are really struggling, you can even try “I hope you have a nice day.”

At the end of the practice, you move from individuals to groups, expanding from your family and friends, your community, and even the world. While this sounds very silly and highly ineffectual, it is amazing what happens when you experience it. During the practice, one is generally instructed to focus attention in the area of the heart and notice the feelings that arise there. I have done this practice many times and literally felt my heart expand and open. While it is true that wishing someone well doesn’t change anything on its own, warm sentiments towards someone can affect your behavior and research shows that they do when it comes to loving-kindness practice.

This practice can be uncomfortable at first, so don’t push or judge yourself if you feel resistance or don’t feel anything at all. The point is to cultivate warm feelings and let your heart grow, so give yourself time to let that happen. In addition, don’t stress about the individuals you select for practice. At first, pick easy ones. Select a loved one who is easy to love, a benefactor to whom you feel genuine gratitude, and don’t start with your sworn enemy (read: opposing counsel you can’t stand) as your first difficult person. Eventually, though, you may find that you can expand out to new people and broader classes of people.

Most meditation apps have loving-kindness practices, but they may call use words like “kindness”, “compassion” or even the traditional phrase “metta” to indicate them. Several of the meditations on our Resources page also feature loving-kindness type practices including the Body Breath Heart, Responding to Nasty Emails, Loving-Kindness for Business Networking, Calm Work Performance Anxiety meditations, and the meditations for Caregivers and Gratitude.

Because the world right now could certainly use it, I hope you will give loving-kindness practice a try. And this Valentine’s Day, I wish that you all may be happy, healthy, safe, and at peace.

If you want to try a loving-kindness practice out, check out and register for the Valentine’s Day Loving-Kindness Meditation on February 12th at 1 PM EST on our Upcoming Events page.

Mindfulness Basics: Emotions Are Feelings in the Body

I have a love-hate relationship with the month of February. I love it because my birthday and Valentine’s Day fall right smack in the middle. Associating things with chocolate and pink cupcakes tends to help improve my view of them. But February is also right smack in the middle of winter. It’s almost always grey and super cold where I live and I am restless and ready for spring.

To try to make it a bit more fun, I am going to accentuate the positive and view February as a month of love. To that end, the basic tip for this month is this: emotions aren’t in your head; they are in your body.

“What?” You may be thinking. “I know when I am mad or sad or happy or whatever my mind if churning and churning and thinking away.” Of course it is. That’s because your mind and body work together and they do so almost instantly and usually without our knowledge.

But, if you slow down and actually watch, you will see that emotions play out in the body. If you can let them do just that, they don’t last nearly as long as they do when your mind gets involved to keep them churning. The most common places that you might see emotional reactions arise are in the area of your heart, belly, face, neck, shoulders, and hands, but with additional study you may see more subtle reactions elsewhere.

So, if like me, you have a range of emotional reactions to the month of February, you can learn a lot about yourself this month by trying to locate and just watch those reactions play out in your body. Once you learn to get in the habit of looking for emotions there, then you might get more comfortable sitting with those feelings, and that’s when the magic can happen. When you can just let the emotions be there in your body, you can learn to care for them and respond to them instead of reacting based on them. And, for lawyers and professionals, that’s huge.

How have you learned to notice emotions in your body? If you want to work on this a bit more, check out our Upcoming Events page. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we have a loving-kindness meditation on February 12th that will explore loving-kindness practice in a fun and accessible way.

Mindfulness Basics: How to Find Your Breath

Breath practice is what many people think of when they think of meditation. The instructions seem simple. You are supposed to focus on your breath and return–ideally without mentally flagellating yourself–to the feeling every time your mind wanders. But as soon as you sit down to get started, you may be greeted by the somewhat disturbing recognition that you have no idea how to find your breath.

This may be shocking since, presumably, you’ve been breathing your whole life. You may think, “how can I not find my breath? I just had it a minute ago.” You may feel as foolish as that time (or in my case all those times) you rushed into the grocery store for a quick purchase and realized you didn’t pay attention to where you parked your car. Sigh.

In truth, this may be a collective sigh. Many of us have trouble finding our breath, or at least settling on a focal point that works for us, at first. In my view, if you notice that you aren’t quite sure what it means to focus on your breath, that’s actually a good sign. It means you are starting to slow down and you’re noticing things you never noticed before. It means you are starting to ask questions about experiences you previously ignored or overlooked. That’s one of the critical benefits a meditation practice can offer, so you should be encouraged by it instead of discouraged.

Beyond this, the reason it might be hard to find your breath is that there isn’t any right answer. When you are told to focus on your breath, most teachers mean to focus your attention on the sensations of the breath coming in and going out. The sensations are the thing and not the thoughts or judgments about it. Different teachers, however, recommend different focal points. Some traditions instruct students to focus on the tip of one’s nose to feel the flow of air in and out. Others recommend focusing on the feeling of rising and falling in the chest or belly as the air fills your lungs. Which should you choose?

My recommendation is to start with the place that calls out to you the strongest and stick with it. When I started meditating, I focused on my nose because one of the first books I read about meditation recommended that. I struggled immensely with this. For me, the sensations of the breath just weren’t very strong at the tip of my nose. When I finally went to a Zen retreat, I asked the teacher and she said she focused on her belly because she wanted “to get as far away from her head as she could.” I liked that answer a lot and tried focusing on my belly. Voila! Problem solved. My practice got much easier and my mind started unconsciously settling on my breath as I went about my daily tasks.

Does this meant that the belly is a better focal point than the nose? Not in my opinion. What it means is that the belly is a better focal point than the nose for me. For anyone new to meditation, I recommend focusing on the area that is strongest so you can get your practice started without much struggle. In the early stages, the important thing is to establish a habit and do what helps you focus and doesn’t discourage you. Once your habit is established and you know your mind and body a little bit better, you can branch out and explore. In fact, if you use guided meditations, you will probably end up doing this automatically because some teachers will direct you to focus on different aspects of the breath.

Breath practice is an excellent place to start when you are first learning to meditate. It is infinitely scalable so you can start with sessions as short as 1 to 2 minutes and grow your practice to lengthier sessions over time. In addition, the breath is an ideal focal point for meditation because it is always “with” you. Lawyers today lead busy, active, and mobile lives, but no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can pause for a bit of mindfulness during your day to calm yourself and refocus on the most important issues in any given moment. Once you have developed a comfort level with breath practice, you can use it to begin exploring other types of mindfulness practices that can help you in your practice and in your life.