We often go through our days rushing full speed ahead, as though trying to reach some imaginary finish line—the end of the meeting, workday, or class. We strive for that post-dinner relaxation time, when the dishes are done and there’s nothing else left to do. Throughout it all, we remain relatively unconscious. Maybe we tune in to the breath and the present moment once or twice while yawning or stretching, or perhaps if we are lucky, carving some time out for a yoga class or seated meditation. But sometimes our days simply do not afford us the luxury of an hour-long break, even though the mental noise in our heads is at times unbearable. The tragedy is that even while immersed in those activities that we label mundane or unpleasant, we’re still living our lives. So we might as well be fully here rather than always chasing the “somewhere else.” We only need to be aware of what is happening in the mind and in the body to fully experience the beauty of the present moment. Though it takes practice, over time reminding ourselves to carve out moments of peace and stillness in the middle of a busy day will become second nature. Here are just a few simple ways to start.

1) Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

When you wake up in the morning, before opening your eyes, take a few deep, conscious breaths. Breathe fully, sending the air deep into your lungs. Stretch your arms overhead, point your toes, and yawn. Savour this moment, before the day begins. Use this time to set an intention for your day, or to simply give thanks for being awake and alive.

2) Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.“—Thich Nhat Hanh

If you work in an office chances are your days are a blur of telephone calls, emails and meetings. Sometimes there isn’t enough time to take a lunch break. But there’s always time for a few deep breaths. Set a reminder or a recurring task in your calendar. When it pops up, close your eyes and breathe. Three full, conscious breaths is all it takes to reset your mind.

3) If you drive, walk, bike, or take the bus to work, use your commute as your quiet time. Turn off the radio, put away your headphones, and just be there, experiencing the moment. Pay attention to what you see, what you smell, where your mind tends to wander. If you simply cannot stand to have the radio off, switch it off at every red light and shift your attention to the breath instead. You’ll likely arrive at your destination calmer, quieter and with a clearer vision of what you wish to accomplish for the day.

4) Practice mindful walking. On your way to the washroom, the water cooler, the corner store, or to and from your car, slow down. Walk with purpose, simply for the sake of walking. Breathe in and out and experience the sensation of your legs moving, your feet touching the ground, the air going into and out of your lungs. You are alive, and you have two legs, and you are free.

5) Do you hear the phone ringing? Don’t answer it right away. Let it ring once or twice before you react. Use this time to take a deep breath, and become aware of your tendency to rush to answer when you hear a phone ringing. Are you waiting for an important phone call? Letting it ring once before answering will not make a difference. Relax your breathing. Smile. The person on the other end will hear the smile in your voice and it may set the tone for your entire conversation.

Our days, no matter how hectic, give us many opportunities to pause, even for just a few seconds. Sometimes five seconds of conscious breathing can make all the difference. It brings more oxygen to our brain, it activates the relaxation response in the body, and it can help to clear our head and set the tone for the rest of the day. It can also be the difference between reaching the end of the day feeling drained and frustrated, or feeling tired but calm. We don’t need anything special; our breath is enough.

image: Andrea Castelletti via Compfight cc