Incorporating mindfulness into your busy lives brings peace of mind and body
By Angela Wilson
It only took 10,000 years or so, but the ancient principles of mindful meditation are finally being embraced by mainstream society as a means to cope with everyday stress, appreciate each moment and stay emotionally and physically healthy. No longer the seemingly secret domain of those who sat in lotus positions chanting their mantras, people from all walks of life are incorporating the basic tools of mindfulness into their busy lives.
Mindfulness isn’t a complex concept. As described by one leading teacher, mindfulness is simply being aware of what’s happening right now without wishing it were different. It’s enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will). It’s being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t). Mindfulness is the ability to pay total attention to the present moment with nonjudgmental awareness, taking the good with the bad, and moving forward.
While simple in practice, the physical, cognitive and emotional benefits of mindfulness can be quite beneficial. Physically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure and helps to activate our relaxation response. Cognitively, it has been shown to boost attention and reduce the tendency to become stuck or preoccupied with every little twist and turn in life. Emotionally, mindfulness improves resilience to stress and helps control impulsive reactions.
One good metaphor for the way mindfulness works is like that of the gas and brake pedals in your car. Our inclination these days is to step on the gas and drive our lives at 100 miles per hour, never braking until it’s time to go bed, at which point it’s impossible to decelerate. By consciously practicing some simple mindfulness techniques during the day, we put the brakes on stress, are more likely to enjoy the ride and leave some extra fuel in our tanks.
A few easy mindfulness exercises you can build into your daily schedule:
Breathing to Relax: This is something you can do no matter where you are – at your desk, in a meeting or somewhere else on the job. No one needs to know. Inhale slowly for a count of four. Exhale for a count of six to eight. Repeat five or six times. You may quickly notice how this breathing technique helps you feel more relaxed.
Practice the Pause Meditation: Pausing during your day can help reduce stress and increase focus. One easy way is while washing your hands. Feel the water on your hands. Notice its temperature, texture and speed of flow. Feel the soap, smell it, notice your hands being cleansed. Take a few deep breaths.
Release tension from your hips: Using a chair, it only takes a few minutes. In a sitting position, lean forward slightly, place the ankle of one leg onto the knee of the other leg and lightly stretch. Switch to the other side. A variation, sitting forward more, is to extend your leg, heel on floor, and stretch.
Mindful Eating: Before you begin your meal, take a moment to look at and smell your food. Eat slowly and really taste each bite. Try eating in a quiet space without a lot of distractions like TV or the internet. Give thanks.
Mindful E-Mailing: Create boundaries and rules around the amount of time you spend on e-mails, as well as the time of day you are e-mailing. Be conscious of the tone and wording of your e-mails, resisting the impulse to fire off an e-mail in the heat of the moment.
Just a few touches of mindfulness practice each day become a powerful personal investment in our physical, mental, and emotional health.
Angela Wilson is a licensed mental health counselor and health educator with Berkshire Health Systems.