Ruth's Tricks: Mindfulness Exercises

Trick #1: Relaxing the Body

Dr. Doty shares the first mindfulness exercise he learned from his friend Ruth, recounted in his memoir. Download the exercise.

  1. Allocate both time and a place to do this exercise so that you will not be interrupted. 
  2. Do not start if you are already stressed, have other matters distracting you, have drunk alcohol, used recreational drugs, or are tired. 
  3. Before beginning sit for a few minutes and just relax. Think of what you wish to accomplish with this exercise. Define your intention.
  4. Now close your eyes.
  5. Begin by taking three deep breaths in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth. Repeat until you get used to this type of breathing so that the breathing itself is not distracting you.
  6. Once you feel comfortable breathing in this manner specifically think about how you are sitting and mentally imagine that you are looking at yourself. 
  7. Now in your mind focus with intention beginning with your toes and extending to your feet relaxing your muscles.  Feel how it is almost like they melt away as you continue to breathe in and out. Only focusing on your feet and toes. When you begin, it will be easy to be distracted or have your thoughts wonder. When this happens simply begin again relaxing the muscles of your toes and feet. 
  8. Once you have been able to relax your toes and feet, extend more  proximally and repeat the exercise relaxing your calves and thighs, relax the muscles of your abdomen and chest, think of your spine and relaxing the muscles of your spine, your shoulders and then your neck. Relax the muscles of your face and scalp. 
  9. As you are able to extend the relaxation of the muscles of your body, notice that there is a calmness overcoming you. That you feel good. At this point, it is not unusual to feel sleepy or fall asleep. That’s okay. It may take several attempts to get to this point and be able to hold this feeling of being relaxed. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. 
  10. Focus now on your heart and think of relaxing your heart muscle as you slowly breathe in and out. You will find that your heartbeat will slow as your body relaxes and your breath is controlled. 
  11. Imagine your body, now completely relaxed, and experience the sense of simply being as you slowly breathe in and out through your nose. Feel the sense of warmth. Many will feel that they are floating and be overcome with a sense of calmness. Sit with this feeling and continue to slowly breathe in and slowly exhale out.  
  12. With intention remember this sense of relaxation, calmness and warmth.
  13. Now slowly open your eyes. Sit for a few minutes with your eyes open and just be with no other intention or thought.

Breath and relaxation are the first steps towards taming the mind. 

Trick #2: Taming the Mind

Dr. Doty shares the second mindfulness exercise he learned from his friend Ruth, recounted in his memoir. Download the exercise.

  1. Once your body is relaxed (Ruth’s Trick #1), focus on your breath.
  2. It is common for thoughts to arise and for you to want to attend to them. Each time this occurs focus specifically on your breathing. Some find that when they actually think of their nostrils and the air entering and exiting that this brings their focus back. 
  3. Other techniques that assist in decreasing mind wandering are the use of a mantra, a word or phrase that is repeated over and over, or focusing on a candle or single object. By doing so it is impossible to  give those wandering thoughts attention. In some practices, the teacher gives the mantra to the student who tells no one else the mantra. Find that which works best for you. Everyone is different. 
  4. It will take time and effort. Don’t be discouraged. It may take a few weeks or even longer before you start seeing the profound effect of a quiet mind. You won’t have the same desire to emotionally engage in thoughts that often are negative or distracting. The calmness you felt from simply relaxing will increase because when you are not distracted by internal dialogue the associated emotional response does not occur. It is this response that has an effect on the rest of your body.
  5. Practice the above exercise for 20-30 minutes per day. Make the time.

The reward for patience is clarity of thought. 

Trick #3: Opening the Heart

Dr. Doty shares the third mindfulness exercise he learned from his friend Ruth, recounted in his memoir. Download the exercise.

  1. Relax your body completely (Ruth’s Trick #1).
  2. Once relaxed, focus on your breathing and try to empty your mind completely of all thoughts.
  3. When thoughts arise, guide your attention back to your breath.
  4. Continue to breathe in and out, completely emptying your mind.
  5. Now think of the person in your life who has given you unconditional love, or conversely, who in your life have you given unconditional love.
  6. Sit with that feeling of warmth and contentment that unconditional love brings, while you slowly breathe in and out. Feel the power of unconditional love and how you feel accepted and cared for even with all your flaws and imperfections. 
  7. Think of someone you care for and with intent, extend unconditional love to them. Understand that the gift you are giving her is the same gift that someone gave to you and will make others feel cared for and protected. 
  8. As you are giving that same unconditional love to one you care for, think again how you feel when you have been given unconditional love and acceptance. 
  9. Again reflect on how it feels to be cared for, protected, and loved   regardless of your flaws and imperfections and think of a person to whom you know but have neutral feelings. Now with intention extend the same unconditional love to them. As you are embracing them with   love, wish them a prosperous life with limited suffering. Hold them in your mind and see their future. See their happiness. Let yourself be bathed in that warm feeling.
  10. Now think of someone whom you have had a difficult relationship or have negative feelings. Understand that oftentimes one’s actions are a manifestation of one's pain. See them as yourself, a flawed, imperfect being who at times struggles and makes mistakes. Think of the person in your own life who gave you unconditional love. Reflect on how that love and acceptance impacted you. With intention give that same  feeling of unconditional love to that person who is difficult or whom you have negative feelings.
  11. See everyone you meet as a flawed imperfect being just like you who have made mistakes, taken wrong turns, and at times have hurt others. Yet, who are struggling and deserve love. With intention give them unconditional love. In your mind bathe them with love, warmth and acceptance. It does not matter their response. 

What matters is that you have an open heart. An open heart changes everything. 

Trick #4: Clarifying Your Intent

Dr. Doty shares the fourth mindfulness exercise he learned from his friend Ruth, recounted in his memoir. Download the exercise.

  1. Sit in a quiet room and close your eyes. Think of your goal or what it is you wish to accomplish. It does not  matter that the details of the vision are not fully formed. It is important that such a goal or vision is one that does not involve harm to another or bad intent. While this technique could help you  accomplish such a goal, it will ultimately result in pain and suffering to yourself and make you unhappy.
  2. Relax your body completely (Ruth’s Trick #1). Once relaxed, focus on your breathing and try to empty your mind  completely of all thoughts. When thoughts arise, guide your attention back to your breath.  
  3. Continue to breathe in and out, completely emptying your mind.
  4. Now think of your goal or wish and see yourself as having accomplished it. Sit with the vision as you slowly breathe in and out. 
  5. Feel the positive emotions associated with accomplishing your goal or having achieved your wish. Experience how good it feels to have taken a thought and turned it into reality. Sit with the positive feelings as you see yourself having accomplished your goal. 
  6. Once you have seen yourself having accomplished the goal and sat with the positive feelings, now begin to add details to the vision. Exactly how do you look? Where are you? How are people responding to you? Add as much detail to the vision as possible. 
  7. Repeat one to two times daily or more for 10-30 minutes. Each time begin with the vision of yourself having accomplished your goal. Sit with the feelings. Each time as you look at the vision add more details. It will start fuzzy but the more times you do the exercise the more the vision will become clearer and clearer.
  8. With each time you do the exercise you will find you are editing the vision as your unconscious mind begins having clarity of the intent. 

It is with clarity of intent that vision becomes a reality.