A sneezing fit is probably one of the most emphatic ways of interrupting a meditation. This happened to me a little earlier. I was deeply engaged in a breathing meditation, following my breath into and out of my nostrils, when I felt that telltale tingling at the tip of my nose. I knew where it was heading - there is nothing quite so compelling as a sneeze. The nose starts a tingling, the world momentarily stops spinning, the head leans back - and bamm! It hits you like a train.

It's the start of the cold and flu season so sneezing fits are only to be expected. I've been in this situation so many times before that I've lost count, but today I decided to play things a little differently. Instead of a sneezing fit interrupting the meditation, I made it a central feature of the meditation. Sneezing itself became the meditation. So next time you feel compelled to sneeze why not follow these ideas for meditating on your snuffles?

Here goes:

  • Focus your attention on where the sensations seem to be the most powerful and compelling. This may be on the tip of the nose or deeper inside, or perhaps near the upper lip or the back of the throat. There may be one sensation or a whole bundle. Consciously observe them. Try not to judge, describe or alter them in any way. Allow the feelings to be themselves and to do whatever they wish.
  • Your mind may become completely wrapped up in the sneeze. You might find feelings of distaste, embarrassment, annoyance, or even fear bubbling up. Accept your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Allow them to be just as they are. Gently shepherd your awareness back to the raw sensations of sneezing.
  • If the feelings begin to ebb away, consciously follow them as they dissipate. Again try not to judge or alter anything in any way.
  • If the feelings begin to build, follow them as they spread. The head may roll back of its own accord, twist to one side, or remain static. Every sneeze is different. As best you can, try not to change anything at all. With full awareness accept your body's sensations and reflexes.
  • As consciously as you can, follow the sneeze as it builds to a crescendo and then dissipates. A second or third sneeze may start to build. Again, try to consciously accept whatever happens.

This sneezing meditation can be adapted to any scenario your body might conjure up. Aches, pains, cramps.... they can all act as work benches for the meditative mind.

Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World' by Mark Williams and Danny Penman is published by Rodale.

For further information you can visit the Frantic World website.

About the Authors

Mark Williams Ph.D.

Mark Williams, Ph.D., is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, and Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

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