SIMPLES STEPS TO REDUCE STRESS AND ANXIETY IN YOUR LIFE
What is mindfulness? And what does it mean to you?
Mindfulness is the act of being here now. It is focusing your attention on what you are doing and your surroundings. Your mind is neither in the past nor is it in the future, which I refer to as, “creating fantasies that haven’t happened yet.” It is living in the present moment.
John Cabot-Zinn defines mindfulness as:
- Paying attention ‘on purpose’
- Rooted in the present moment
Let’s break this down:
- On Purpose: Mindfulness involves the conscious and deliberate direction of your attention. So, another way of saying “on purpose” is “consciously.” We are living more consciously, more awake when we pay attention in this way.
- In The Present Moment: Mindful attention is completely engaged in the present moment experience. We let go of tension caused by wanting things to be different than they are and we accept the present moment as it is.
- Non-Judgmentally: When practicing mindfulness, we aren’t trying to stop or control our thoughts. We simply pay attention to our experiences as they are without labeling or judging them in any way.
WHAT DOES LIVING IN THE PRESENT EVEN MEAN?
Let’s take an example. Have you ever gotten in your car to go somewhere, and when you arrived realized you don’t remember how you got there? Or, you walk into another room or upstairs to get something, but once you got there, you forgot what it is you wanted?
MOST OF US HAVE!
These are common examples of mindlessness—another term for being on auto-pilot or programming, where we’re not fully conscious of our actions.
We lose ourselves in auto-pilot most of the day. Every day, we’re programmed to live in our heads rather through our experiences.
One point I stress in my yoga classes is to let go of thinking about how a pose should look and begin to experience how it feels. Noting what a yoga pose feels like allows you to go within for the experience instead of looking outward, and enables you to be in the present moment.
When you are living in the past, you don’t have enough presence; you are loaded down with too much of your past: guilt, regret, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and non-forgiveness.
At the same time, living too much in the future weighs you down with unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry, and all forms of fear.
Whether you spend your time living in the past or in the future, you’re a spectator in the stands watching those who live in the present moment on the field, playing the game we call life, full on!
Ideally, you want to be in the now, when you focus on the present moment, so you participate instead of watching and cheering.
That’s great, but where do you even start?
If you don’t know where to begin, here are 6 mindfulness exercises that are 1-minute or less you can do:
- Before you sit down to eat a meal
- In the shower
- When you wake up in the morning
- Sitting in your car just before you walk into work
- Sitting at a traffic light
- Standing in line anywhere
- Anytime you feel you need it, at home or at work
1. Count your breaths. As you inhale, silently think 1, exhale 2, Inhale 3, exhale 4 …all the way to 10. Repeat three times.
2. Yawn and stretch for 10 seconds every hour. Fake a yawn to trigger a real one, and say “ahh” as you exhale. Notice that your thoughts are interrupted and you are brought into the present moment. Stretch your arms slowly for 10 seconds, noticing if there’s any tension or tightness in your body. Bring “ease” to the spot without judgment. Take another 20 seconds to notice what you feel and then return to what you were doing.
3. Stroke your hands. Lower or close your eyes. Take the index finger of your right hand and slowly move it up and down the outside of your left fingers. Once you have mindfully stroked your left hand, change index fingers and left your left one stroke the edges of the fingers on your right hand.
4. Do a short body scan. Rest your attention on different parts of your body, starting with the top of your head and moving toward your toes. As you notice each one, focus your attention there and consciously relax that part of you. In a minute you should be able to scan your scalp, eyes, cheeks, mouth, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, arms, belly, legs, and feet.
5. Mindfully eat a raisin (or piece of chocolate). Take a raisin or a piece of chocolate and mindfully eat it. Slow down, sense it, savor it, and smile between bites. Purposely slow down. Use all your senses to see it, touch it, smell it, and sense it. Then gently pop it into your mouth and really savor it. Savor its texture, its taste, how it feels in your mouth. Let it linger and then swallow it. After you have swallowed it, let your lips turn up slightly and smile. Do the same thing for each raisin you eat or bite you take.
6.Mindful breathing for one minute. Lower your eyes and notice your breath. Is it going in and out of your nostrils, or do you feel the rise and fall of your chest and stomach? Place your hand on your stomach to feel the rise and fall of it with each breath you take. Focus on your breath and feel the movement of your belly. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath.
Just like weightlifting builds muscle if you’re disciplined and have a consistent practice, mindfulness meditation when practiced, increases the amount of time you spend living in the present moment.
SO ….wouldn’t NOW be a good time to start your mindfulness practice?