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A meditation teacher's 4 tips for calming down and refocusing in just 30 seconds.

Mindful pauses are great 'spot treatments' for times when you feel stressed but have lots to do.

A meditation teacher's 4 tips for calming down and refocusing in just 30 seconds.

Anxiety really sucks.

It was early 2015, and I was fresh off a seven-month silent meditation retreat in the Arizona desert. After months of meditating for nine hours a day, I was in a state of deep peace, and I felt like I could stay that way forever.


This is me (right) doing a Buddhist ceremony with my teacher, Culadasa, in a yurt. Photos provided by Jon Krop, unless noted, and used with permission.

Then I moved to New York City.

Maybe you can guess what happened next: The city kicked the hell out of my zen tranquility almost immediately.

My retreat had provided me with perfect, artificial conditions — silence, solitude, no real responsibilities — and life in the city was the polar opposite. I needed to find a job. I needed to find an apartment. I'd started a relationship with someone, and it was falling apart. It was just too much. I felt overwhelmed, and then the anxiety hit me hard: a feeling of being doomed, trapped in an intolerable situation.

Was I really doomed? Of course not, but that's why anxiety can be so difficult.

Anxiety takes a tough but manageable situation and convinces you that it's unbearable and unfixable, a disaster.

I tried to use my new-found meditation skills to relieve my anxiety, but it didn’t work. Instead, I felt betrayed by my own meditation practice; after all that training, I couldn't handle basic, everyday life?

Then I remembered two pieces of advice:

“Discomfort avoidance is the common thread that binds all anxiety problems together.” — John Forsyth, Ph.D., and Georg Eifert, Ph.D., psychologists specializing in anxiety

"Short moments, many times.” My meditation teacher, the Tibetan master Tsoknyi Rinpoche (and a zillion other Tibetan masters; this is very old advice)

These two insights combined revealed my solution: I needed to turn toward my difficulties and not flinch away from them. (Yeah, I know, easier said than done.) I also needed a bite-sized way to do that so I could deal with my anxiety right away in the moments it arose.

That was when I started using this thing called a "mindful pause."

A mindful pause is meditation but not in a scary, "oh my god, how can I wipe my mind clear for 30 minutes" kind of way. Studies show that meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, and even in 30 seconds, the mindful pause lets you experience that firsthand. One study even found that meditation shrinks the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for stress, anxiety, and fear. Hell yeah.

Basically, the mindful pause is a great "spot treatment" for times when you feel stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed but have lots to do.

It involves taking 30 seconds to tune into your own body, and you can do it anywhere. You can be sitting, standing, lying down, whatever. Plus, no one will even know that you're meditating. When you're spinning out into an anxiety loop, sometimes you just need to interrupt the process. Inserting a pause gives you the opportunity to collect yourself.

Here’s how it works:

1. Take a deep breath.

Take a slow inhale, filling your lungs from bottom to top. Inhale into your lower belly and then fill upward through your mid-torso and chest.

This will help you take advantage of the well-documented connection between breath and mood. By slowing and deepening your breathing, you can actually create feelings of relaxation and calm.

2. Turn toward your body.

Open your attention to the sensations in your body. Let yourself notice whatever comes up: warmth, coolness, tingling, pressure, or the touch of clothing. There's no need to evaluate the sensations as "good" or "bad." Itching is simply itching. Coolness is simply coolness.

If you notice a complex array of sensations: perfect. If all you notice is the feeling of your butt on the chair: also perfect.

If you notice sensations that seem connected to stress or anxiety, those are especially good to pay attention to. Maybe it's a twisting in your gut or a tightness in your chest or warmth on your face. If you can stay with these bodily sensations and watch them, rather than taking the bait of anxious thoughts, you can let tough emotions pass without taking too much heat. It's like playing in the ocean: When a wave is coming, and you try to plant your feet and resist, you get knocked over. Then everyone points and laughs. But if you dive straight through the wave, it's no problem.

Just keep swimming. Photo via iStock.

This step needn't take longer than one in-breath or out-breath. Stay with it longer if you like, but it can be that quick.

3. Rest your attention on your breath.

Pay attention to the sensation of air touching your nostrils as you breathe. With gentle curiosity, watch the flow of changing sensations at the nostrils. These sensations anchor you in the present moment.

In this step, there's no need to deepen or slow your breath at all; just let your body breathe however it wants to. And just like the previous step, this step can be as short as one in-breath or one out-breath. You might feel like staying with it longer, but that’s up to you.

4. Carry on with your life!

The last step of the mindful pause is to simply re-engage with the world, without hurry.

These days, I don't wake up in a meditation yurt. But taking a 30-second pause helps me get as close to that yurt as I can in the busy city.

Open your eyes if you closed them ... and carry on with your day. But see if you can maintain that calm feeling and groundedness you just created. Don't lunge for your phone (I know, I know) or speed off to your next activity. If you can, take a few seconds just sitting or standing there quietly, and then move at a more leisurely pace.

Because mindful pauses are so quick and discreet, you can do them anywhere, anytime.

You can use the mindful pause at your desk, on public transit, in line at the grocery store, in a box, with a fox...

The hardest part isn’t actually completing the mindful pause itself; it’s remembering to do it in the first place. I like to remember my mindful pauses by linking them to specific moments that occur on a daily basis: when I first sit down at my desk every morning or before I turn on my computer.

I also used to fall into the trap of using the mindful pause as a way to resist my anxiety. I'd do the four steps then think to myself, "What the hell? My anxiety is still here! The stupid thing didn't work."

But the trick is to accept that tough feelings, like anxiety, will come and go. When they’re here, they’re here, but that doesn’t need to be a problem. By turning toward our emotions and watching them, even for 30 seconds, we can find real relief.

Taking mindful pauses has changed my life.

There’s the tangible stuff: I got the hang of life in NYC (as much as anyone can — this city is bananas). I found the apartment. I found the job. Well, jobs, because these days I’m both a lawyer and a meditation teacher. I even get to merge my two worlds and teach meditation to my fellow lawyers. Believe me, we need it.

For now, I'm just trying to channel my meditation instructor's zen during my every day life as a New Yorker.

But best of all, I now have a way to work with my anxiety. When I start to spin out, I can keep my footing. The mindful pause lets me bring the calm and clarity of my desert retreat into the chaos of the city.

I highly recommend it.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."