I can brush my teeth with my eyes closed, and I can brush my teeth while standing on one leg, but brushing my teeth with my eyes closed while standing on one leg is proving a challenge.
Why, you might ask, would I even try?
It was my assignment on Day Two of The New York Times 30 Day Well Challenge, a series of exercises designed to build healthy habits in under six minutes a day in the areas of exercise, mindfulness, relationships and food.
The New York Times
In theory, I subscribe to the Times for news. In reality, the news is so dismal that after reading the Daily Briefing, I click straight to the mini-crossword, Sudoku, Sets, and New York Times Cooking. So, when this 30-Day challenge crossed my screen, I saw another opportunity to get my money’s worth out of my subscription without actually reading about the degradation of all three branches of the federal government.
Making New Habits
I learned the hard way that even “permanent” teeth don’t last forever. As a result, I figured out that spending two minutes twice a day brushing my teeth was worth twenty-four hours and twenty minutes a year. Yet even with a timer built into my electric toothbrush, I can sometimes do a rushed and shoddy job.
Meanwhile, many of the articles I do read are about the benefits of meditation, including a recent Op-Ed with the bullying headline: You Should Meditate Every Day.
Farhad Manjoo, a long-time tech columnist, acknowledges that meditation is something of a current fad. Nevertheless, he builds a case for meditation as an antidote to “the caustic mechanisms of the internet” which he blames for “eating away at my brain, turning me into an embittered, distracted, reflexively cynical churl.”
I can relate.
Technology Threatens Concentration
Technology threatens my concentration and is a source of continual frustration. Often, I long for the phone of my childhood, the one solidly attached to the wall where I could always find it. And if I wasn’t home when it rang, I remained blissfully unaware that I’d missed a call. Back in the day, I never pulled over to peck out a text. I penned long, thoughtful letters on linen stationary with a fountain pen and sent postcards “just to stay in touch.”
Don’t get me wrong: I love technology most of the time; I just don’t want to be connected to it all of the time. Nor do I want to interrupt what I’m concentrating on to check a device for every incoming email, text or call. In short, I want to be more mindful about what I’m doing in the moment.
I know meditation can help. I’ve tried meditation innumerable times. Without a doubt, the mornings I’ve meditated I’m more focused; the evenings I meditate, I sleep better. Once, I meditated every morning for three consecutive weeks, followed by a three-month hiatus. Another time, I tried meditating while sitting up in bed and fell asleep.
So brushing my teeth mindfully appealed as something I could consistently do.
Brushing My Teeth
After all, I had a robust habit of brushing my teeth morning and night. Moreover, I already keep my eyes closed while brushing so I don’t have to watch myself foam at the mouth.
Thanks to the Times’ wellness program, I now have permission to keep my eyes closed and instructions to stand on one leg. This combination has turned brushing my teeth into both a mindfulness and a balance exercise.
So now I brush my teeth mindfully: with my eyes closed while standing on one leg. I focus on the sensations of the present moment: the bristles tickling my gums, the taste and smell of mint, the buzz and beep of the brush forcing all other thoughts out of my mind. And I try to stay upright on one leg, which is surprisingly difficult with my eyes closed and forces me to be more mindful than simply attending to ordinary oral hygiene.
Go ahead: give it a try and tell me how you make out.