Mindfulness Tool Belt

The funny thing about our lives is that when we are in the greatest need for mindful awareness…it tends to evaporate!  Its when we become increasingly burnt out or rushed that falling back into old habits becomes seductive. Remember the last time frustration snuck up on you? It wasn’t until an hour later you realized stress had clouded your judgment.  Becoming flooded with emotionally challenging cortisol is biology’s way of setting you up to fight, fly, or freeze. It is a normal experience that we all face.  But it isn’t the only option available to you;  You can over ride the system with a mindful breath. The next time you feel triggered or rushed, practice implementing the subtle shift of bringing you conscious awareness back to breath. Hopefully this shift was able to hold off the inertia of a stressful emotional response. For many of us, we need a stronger dose of mindfulness.  Mindfulness exercises like the ones below can be the extra aid when it feels like your thoughts are beginning to spiral out of control.  The purpose of these tools are to establish mindful awareness by dissolving negative thought patterns in moments when were likely unaware or operating automatically.  They can also be used as an emergency meditation to pause, see what is arising in the moment, and regain a sense of compassionate.

Step 1: Set a 3 minute timer and start to become aware, by:

Deliberately adopt a different posture. Start with the question, what is my experience right now?

  • What thoughts are going through the mind? From a place of compassion acknowledge thoughts as mental phenomena as best you can.
  • What feelings are here? Turn towards feelings of discomfort without trying to make them different
  • What body sensations are here right now? Utilize a quick body scan to notice any sensations of tightness or bracing with the same attitude of acceptance.

Step 2: Gathering and focusing attention

Shift the spotlight of awareness to the sensation of breathing.  Start with focusing on the abdomen rising and falling.  Or try paying attention to the sensation of the nostrils as breath goes in and eventually goes out.  Notice the process of a complete breath as a goes through the cycles of inhalation and exhalation.  When the mind wanders to something else, gentle bring it back to breathing.

Step 3: Expand attention

Expand the field of awareness around the breathing so that it includes the entire body as a process of breathing.  Let your attention rest in whole body breathing.  This may feel like noticing your face, hands, the chair or feet when standing.  When sensations of discomfort or tension appear, gently acknowledge them as you would an old friend.  When they subside return to the breath, the sensation of sitting/standing, and the whole body in the moment.

If you find yourself feeling like things are going more slowly than you had expected or magnitudes of frustration are still present.  That’s okay, it isn’t a mistake.  The mind is doing its best. Mindfulness accepts that some experiences are unpleasant.

Gratitude you can count on one hand

Begin to cultivate an appreciation for the small things in your life.  Call to mind five things that you are grateful for today, one for each finger.  Use two hands if you’d like! The purpose of this exercises is to bring to mind the previously unnoticed elements of the day.  If you find this exercise challenging, you’ve struck gold!  Actively recalling small gratitudes is hardwiring your brain to pay closer attention and interrupting autopilot thinking.

Try this guided gratitude meditation for an introduction to a technique to support your mindfulness practice for the next time you need a little extra support.


Raising arms breathing exercise

Step 1: Start by standing.  Feel what it’s like to stand straight with your knees in  a slightly bent position. Focus on keeping your head positioned over your shoulders and imagine the top of your head is being pulled by a string up toward the sky.

Step 2: Close your eyes (if you can do so safely). Notice sensations in the body. Pay attention to the weight of your body.  Notice what begins to show up.  Sensations in the shoulders, neck, belly, it can be anywhere.  Maybe the feeling of your feet while supporting your skeletal system. Acknowledge areas of tension without the hidden agenda of trying to relax or be different.

Step 3: When you’re ready, move your arms upwards in front of you as you breathe in and back down again as you breathe out. Notice the physical sensations in your arms and hands as you do this about ten times.

The next time you breathe in, raise your arms in front. Then, as you breathe out, open your arms outwards. As you breathe in, bring your arms together in front of you again. As you breathe out, bring your arms back down to your sides again. Do this about ten times if you can.

Raise your arms above your head and feel the stretch. See how far you can comfortably reach. Hold that stretch until you begin to feel some discomfort and see if you can stay with the feeling of discomfort for a few moments before bringing your arms down again. Repeat if you wish. Keep breathing as you do so — no need to hold your breath! (2)

Step 4: Close out this exercise shaking your arms and legs for about a minute and then stand upright again. Feel the sensations throughout your body.  Notice if anything is different without judgment or expectation.

The Power of Moments

For those interested in the path less traveled, mindfulness, as a way of life can seem intellectually salivating but practically daunting.  Many experts who affirm the benefits of mindfulness have decades of practice under their cushion. Many have gone on extended retreats and dedicated thousands of hours to silent practice.   An assortment of the most interesting scientific studies have been done on monks who have 40+ years of daily meditation practice. We can surmise mindfulness is a lifelong pursuit with incredible upside to our experience of happiness and joy and the way in which we relate to grief and suffering.  However, some tools to insight are more attainable than others.

Chip and Dan Heath offer a few clues in their book “The Power of Moments.”  These brothers note that memorable experiences hinge on peak moments as defined as ‘short experiences that are both meaningful and mentally sticky’. The practice of bringing meaning into our lives is a worthy pursuit. A mindful approach to creating meaning can look like understanding the experiencing self and remembering self. Psychologist like Daniel Kahneman are quick to illustrate how our experiencing self differs from our remembering self. For example,


“…Psychologist Daniel Kahneman and a team of researcher conducted a study in which participants were subjected to two different versions of a single unpleasant experience. The first trial had subjects submerge a hand in 14 °C water for 60 seconds. The second trial had subjects submerge the other hand in 14 °C water for 60 seconds, but then keep their hand submerged for an additional 30 seconds, during which the temperature was raised to 15 °C. Subjects were then offered the option of which trial to repeat. Subjects were more willing to repeat the second trial, despite a prolonged exposure to uncomfortable temperatures. Kahneman concluded that  subjects chose the long trial simply because they liked the memory of it better than the alternative (or disliked it less).

The peak–end rule describes a mental shortcut in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. The effect occurs regardless of whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant.” (3)


Chip and Dan believe it is the defining moments that give businesses, relationships, and everyday experience the meaning that we find fulfilling.  They tell us that If we pay more attention to making these events extraordinary, emotionally evocative, and meaningful for those experiencing them, we will increase the chances that these events become some of the most memorable moments of our lives. The Heath brothers organize defining moments into four categories: Elevation, Pride, Insight, and Connection


Moments of elevations are the peaks of life.  They are engaging and full of wish, wonder, surprise, and joy.  These are moments of intense sensory perception.  They are exemplified by the thrill of a roller coaster or that exquisite meal.These are moments that up the ante. Moments of elevation are created through contributions of time and energy. They meet our need for challenge and growth while providing space to stretch and take on risk. Moments of elevation stand out on the graph of our life in stark contrast to the mundane and okay.


Are moments of commemoration for accomplishment and shared experience. These are moments that capture us at our best, moments of achievements or recognition (think award ceremonies or praise from a mentor) strategies to deliver pride include recognizing others and investing in their success.  A small investment yields a huge reward in the long run.  Moments of pride can look like multiplying meaningful milestones by reframing long-term goals into periodic finish lines to create compounding joy. The Heaths encourage practicing courage by preloading our responses in advance, so we’re ready when the right moment comes.


Moments of insight deliver realizations, transformation and breakthroughs.  They can be a catalyst to growth and discovery. A moment of insight can come to us in the form of putting our necks on the line and risking failure. In the experiences of failure there is also learning, Heath and Dan describe these as peak insight moments that serve as the price tag to reminds us ‘this is what it could amount to choose this experience again’. Moments of insight echo the wisdom that our mistakes serve as our greatest teachers.

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

~Joseph Campbell~

To produce moments of insight for others, we can help them to “trip over the truth” by revealing a clear insight that is compressed in time and is discovered on their own. These are moments that rewire our understanding of our world (think epiphanies). Insight doesn’t come from explaining or offering solutions, it happens when we have an ‘aha’ experience of the problem that ignites the spark of creative insight. The insight is our own  understanding from a new angle.  Every great story has a breakthrough or insight that shifts the protagonists point of view. It’s when we see the clear nature of the problem or challenge that we viscerally feel compelled to act.


Moments are moments that bonds us together.  These are moments that deepen our ties to other people, sometimes in personal relationships and sometimes in groups. They can form naturally when groups struggle together towards a meaningful goal or when individuals synchronize to a shared reaction.  To be part of group with shared meaning and the feeling of ‘we are in this together’ is visceral. Ritual and rites of passage cement our desire for personal contact in a meaningful way.

Connection Disconnection
At the Dinner Table

Pass the Salt

Dysfunctional Family Dinner


How Music Bonds Us Together

Street Music that Connects Us

People in subway train, wearing headphones

  Rites of Passage

Bull Riding-Life or Death

ManKind Project


Two Faiths One Prayer

Blessing of The Bikes


Put a Face to Human Suffering



That’s All For Mindfulness!

If you didn’t already check out everything, visit the links to the pages at the top. Don’t forget to see the collections of books, links, videos, etc on the “Resource” pages.

Works Cited:

  1. Williams, Mark G., et al. Mindfulness: an Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Rodale Books, 2012.
  2. Alidina, Shamash, and Joelle Jane Marshall. “Mindful Movement Meditation.” Mindful Movement Meditation, Dummies, www.dummies.com/religion/spirituality/mindful-movement-meditation/.
  3. Peak–end rule. (2017, November 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:31, January 26, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Peak%E2%80%93end_rule&oldid=808454376