Mindfulness has become a buzzword for all kinds of methods that involve slowing down, practicing being present and meditation, often with breathwork. Out of the many renditions of mindfulness, one practice that can be remarkably effective even if you don’t believe you have the time or the focus to be mindful is utilizing a mindfulness bell.
In Zen Buddhism, a bronze bowl that can be rapped with a wooden striker is used to initiate and signal the end of meditation. It is a beautiful practice, and one that can be adapted and integrated into everyday life in a manner that I have found particularly helpful–especially in work spaces.
Using a mindfulness bell app on your smartphone is, ironically, one of the easiest and most effective means to helping you cultivate more mindfulness in your day-to-day life. Most apps allow you to set a timer for how often you would like the mindfulness bell to sound. Once set up, it chimes–almost like an alarm–to remind you to stop, pause, and breathe. Take a moment to relax your body, focus on breathing deeply, re-center yourself.
A few years ago, I was working with a acupuncturist who advised me of something I had never noticed before.
“I think,” he said, “that you have a tendency to hold your breath when you are concentrating.”
He was right. It is actually somewhat surprising, but many of us subconsciously hold our breath if we are stressed, angry, or just intensely focused. Adding to this, many of us tend to breathe ‘vertically’ using primarily our chest muscles and not ‘horizontally’ from our diaphragm and this creates generally more shallow breathing.
I was introduced to the concept of a mindfulness bell in therapy. Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has written extensively on mindfulness. He describes the chime of the mindfulness bell as “the voice of someone who loves us very much and wants us to be happy and peaceful.” Although people use mindfulness bells in different ways, I found the following to be most effective for me.
First, I downloaded a mindfulness bell app (there are several) and chose one that used a low, hollow-sounding chime. I set the app to ring every 30 minutes during the day. It would chime once to bring my attention to the bell and stop my work, and then again. At that point, I would breathe deeply in and out, focusing only on my breath for a minute. This is not easy to do in the midst of a busy workday, but I found that pausing for just a few moments each 30 minutes actually helped me feel less anxious. In addition, I found I could focus better and prioritize my work more effectively.
You can set a bell to whatever intervals work best for you, but incorporating a mindfulness bell that automatically chimes more frequently than every hour was a lot more helpful. I was surprised at how tense I became even with these frequent intervals!
Mindfulness isn’t an easy practice and exists in many different forms. Incorporating practices or habits of this nature into our daily routine has the potential to make a tremendous improvement in our lives--if we keep at it. It’s also no surprise to me that cultures that emphasize the practice of mindfulness also tend to have a strong affinity for tea. Both mindfulness and drinking tea force us to stop what we are doing, to pause. Although it can feel indulgent, pausing more frequently and with greater intention can help improve focus, empower our ability to prioritize what is actually most important in our lives, and help to lessen anxiety about the future that we cannot control. The very act of attempting to be 'present' in our lives can give us the great gift of living in the moment, freeing us to be our best selves.