The cultivation of joy is a vital part of mindfulness practice. Joy helps us to be more fully present to life, and it also gives us the motivation we need to embrace and transform our suffering.
Here is a practice for cultivating joy that you can use anytime and anywhere. You can do the entire practice in just eight breaths, or you can spend a few minutes on each exercise before moving on. Each breath has a single word to help you remember how to focus your attention.
1. With the first breath, bring your awareness to the sensation of your breathing. Pay close attention to the physical sensation of your breath as it moves in and out. Follow your in-breath and out-breath from the beginning to the end. The word to say to yourself during this breath is breath.
2. With the second breath, bring your attention to all of the sensations in your entire body. Allow your awareness to completely fill your body, and notice what you find. Some sensations will be pleasant, some unpleasant, and some neutral. See if you can allow yourself to feel these sensations without trying to change them at all. Pay special attention to any tension, heaviness, or agitation. The word for this breath is body.
3. With the third breath, actively release all of the tension, heaviness, and agitation in your body. You can imagine that it is being washed out of you with your out breath. The word for this breath is release.
4. With the fourth breath, say to yourself “May you have ease and lightness of body and mind.” See if you can say this with your heart filled with love and generosity toward yourself. You are wishing yourself well, and sending compassion to your body and mind. The word for this breath is love.
5. With the fifth breath, notice if there are any cravings or aversions present in you. Is there any part of you that wants reality to be different than it is right now? Is there any way that you are not accepting or fighting against things-as-they-are? Just notice any cravings or aversions and let yourself feel them without trying to make them go away. They are not your enemy. They are a part of you that needs love and caring. The word for this breath is cravings.
In every moment of life, there are infinite reasons to suffer and infinite reasons to be happy. What matters is where we’re putting our attention.
6. With the sixth breath, become aware that everything you need to be happy is already present in this moment. All of the conditions that are needed for peace, joy, and freedom are already here. In every moment of life, there are infinite reasons to suffer and infinite reasons to be happy. What matters is where we’re putting our attention. Let’s no longer ignore the positive conditions that are available in this moment. Problems do exist, but they are not all that exists. For this one breath, focus on everything in life that is good. We are no longer regretting the past or worrying about the future. We are here and present to the miracles of life. The word for this breath is letting go.
7. With the seventh breath, become aware that you are alive. As you breathe, feel the energy of life moving through you. With this breath, we recognize the miracle of being alive. We become fully awake to the experience of being alive in the present moment, and we see what a precious thing this is. If you had just a few minutes to live, it would be so clear that 24 hours of life is incredibly precious. Let’s not ignore this truth. The word for this breath is alive.
8. With the eighth breath, become aware of all of the beauty within and around you. As soon as we let go of our desires and wake up to the present moment, we see that reality itself is indescribably beautiful. All of our senses—our sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mental perception—deliver this beauty to us like a precious gift. All we have to do is enjoy. The word for this breath is beauty.
So we can practice the eight breaths to joy like this:
- Breath (In/out)
- Body (In/out)
- Release (In/out)
- Love (In/out)
- Craving (In/out)
- Letting go (In/out)
- Alive (In/out)
- Beauty (In/out)