Want to reduce your stress levels? Be. Here. Now.
“This magnificent refuge is inside you.
Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway.
Be bold. Be humble.
Put away the incense and forget
the incantations they taught you.
Ask no permission from the authorities.
Close your eyes and follow your breath
to the still place that leads to the
invisible path that leads you home.”
St. Theresa of Avila
You may have noticed that I’m writing this blog post one day later than I normally would. Yesterday, with coffee in hand and feeling slightly smug that I had managed to carve out an entire day to write, my website went down.
Fast forward several hours after lot of panicked phone calls and hand- wringing, I stopped and took a breath. There was nothing I could do for at least a few hours. It was a beautiful spring day outside and I had two choices: I could let an annoying chain of events ruin my day, or I could put on my runners and go for a walk.
I decided that a good goal for the rest of the afternoon was to be mindfully present outside in that beautiful day. Choosing to be present meant that I got to go out and enjoy all the newly bloomed magnolias and cherry trees that have magically punctuated our seemingly never-ending winter.
A few years ago, I rediscovered the field of mindfulness. Through my professional and personal life I have used many different types of meditation or relaxation techniques. I have to admit, in my early career when I was required to lead breathing and relaxation training sessions as part of my job, I wasn’t a big believer in the either process or the possible benefits. But after many years of teaching guided relaxation, I found I also really benefited from the sessions.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Meditation, breathing exercises, and guided visualizations are all great tools but mindfulness seems to be the most practical way to integrate inner calm with your outside life. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a well known scientist and the pioneer of mindfulness research, defines mindfulness as, “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.”
Since the relative obscurity of Kabat-Zinn’s early work in the late 1970s, mindfulness has exploded on the healthy living scene and has since been used successfully for different applications from stress reduction and managing pain related to cancer treatment, to reducing food cravings in obese women. Even though mindfulness research is still in early stages, mindfulness-based interventions have shown promising results.
The appeal of mindfulness for many people is that unlike traditional meditation, mindfulness practice allows you to take in everything around you by using all your senses to keep your focus in the present moment. This means that mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and at any time. In fact, the more often you are practicing mindfulness, the more often you are fully present in your own life.
Mindfulness is not one more thing that you need to add to your wellness regime, because it is inherent in all of us. We just need to learn how cultivate it.
Think about how many times during the day you are caught up in your thoughts and worries about the past or the future. Most of us can have times during our day-to-day lives that we can be overwhelmed with our thoughts.
Practicing mindfulness provides your brain an escape from those worries and mental planning loops and allows you to be available in the only moment you truly have: the one that is happening right now.
What Can I Do?
So, if you’re anything like me, you probably want a system to help you to practice mindfulness more often and shift from a mindfulness practice to a more mindful life.
Here are some ideas to help you get started:
1. Start with your breath. Sometimes you can’t control racing thoughts, feeling anxious, and physical reactions to stress, but you can control your breath. And calming your breathing can help control the mind, anxiety, and physical responses.
Begin by just bringing awareness to your breathing. Notice how the breath enters and leaves the body. Try counting along with your inhale and exhale, gradually working on lengthening the time that you are breathing in and breathing out.
2. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere – try starting your practice where you are the most comfortable. For you, this may be a comfy chair, but I practice mindfulness most often while walking. I bring awareness not only to my breath but also to the way my feet feel contacting the ground, how the environment looks around me, the smells in the air, and the sounds of the day. All of this gives my mind a much-needed respite from the constant stream of thinking and planning.
3. Be prepared for your mind to wander. Having a wandering mind during mindfulness practice is completely normal. If your mind wanders, gently guide it back to awareness and try again to be present in the moment. This is truly the essence of cultivating mindfulness.
4. Create mindfulness “snacks” during the day. Starting with something like, “I will try to practice mindfulness for the next five minutes,” is much more attainable than trying to be fully present all the time. This allows you to practice more often and string together more fully present moments throughout your day.
5. Extend your mindfulness practice into your other healthy living efforts. Being mindful during meals can prevent overeating, and being present during an exercise session, believe it or not, can make your session more manageable and enjoyable.
To best integrate mindfulness into physical activity, remember these important points: focus on the process rather than the outcome; think about the movement of your muscles and the senses involved in performing the activity; bring awareness to your breathing; and be aware of your postural alignment whenever possible.
So, I invite you to give mindfulness a try. If you have any tips for a more mindful life, please leave them on our Facebook page.
Your sister in health,