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Not his busy schedule.

Not the bad-and-worse morning news.

Not the day’s coming political combat, or the endless scramble for campaign funds.

Instead, Mr. Ryan focuses on breathing. On recognizing his thoughts and emotions. On inhabiting the moment. His heart rate slows. His body relaxes. External noise and distractions slip away. He feels calm, centered and focused.

This, in a nutshell, is mindfulness — a purposeful awareness of one’s self in the present, fostered by meditation.

“I notice a difference when he doesn’t do it,” said Jacquelyn Calderone, Mr. Ryan’s girlfriend.

At first glance, Mr. Ryan seems like an unlikely advocate for an exercise that has deep roots in Buddhism. A five-term incumbent from an Ohio district that includes Youngstown and part of Akron, the 38-year-old congressman is a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound former high school football star and a lifelong Catholic.

Mr. Ryan is quick to point out that mindfulness is not a religious practice, but rather a secular mental technique that can be effective regardless of spiritual beliefs. He compares it to his grandparents praying the rosary — and also to the athletic feeling of being “in the zone.”

“Your mind and body sync up into a flow state, without a lot of mental chatter,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s like standing over a putt. I think I’m going to miss every time. And I do! But good golfers just do it.

“I’ve heard from CEOs of major corporations and members of Congress talk about their spouses getting mad at them when they’re home, because they’re spaced out and thinking about work. It’s so easy for all of us to have our mind on the last meeting or the next one. Mindfulness helps you to be where you are when you’re there. When I’m interacting with constituents who are suffering, that matters.”

Mr. Ryan jokes that his football background led him to mindfulness — as a “quarterback who never had a really good offensive line,” yoga was all his beat-up body could manage. In reality, however, Mr. Ryan was stressed: frequent travel, perpetual campaigning and an increased workload following the 2006 Democratic capture of the House left him irritable, distracted and on the verge of total burnout.

While playing with his infant nephew, Mr. Ryan realized he was in the moment — focused and aware — and that he was almost never like that at work, or even when spending time with the rest of his family.

Two days after the 2008 elections, Mr. Ryan joined a group of a few dozen business leaders at a five-day mindfulness retreat conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a leading mindfulness advocate.

Held in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, the retreat had a few simple rules:

• No reading, writing or working on computers.

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