You’re driving down the highway, coffee mug in one hand, listening to the news on the radio and shuttling your kids to school. You’re thinking about work, your kids are asking you questions and your phone is ringing. This is your daily life. Then at a stop light you notice the car in front of you has a bumper sticker with the words “Be Present.”
Practicing Mindfulness Meditation
Be Present. More and more, as we multi-task and juggle projects and struggle to balance work and school, we’re simply not present.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Ferris Bueller said that years before we even had smartphones and social media to distract us. It’s actually pretty good advice.
Research has shown that people who multitask are less effective in their work and have an overall lower productivity. Multi-taskers have been known to make more mistakes. Research also suggests that scientists are learning that mindfulness meditation can have a measured effect on the brain. Researchers say that practicing mindfulness has a myriad of benefits.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future; according to Psychology Today.
The creator of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), MIT-educated scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, theorized that mindfulness training could help patients refocus their attention so that, although they might still have chronic pain, they could change their response to the pain and reduce their overall suffering. Participants in his study reported that their pain levels had decreased significantly through mindfulness meditation. Others found that although the pain remained, they were better able to handle the stress of living with illness.
Mindfulness training benefits:
- Improve health
- Lower blood pressure
- Decrease cortisol levels
- Ease anxiety, stress and depression
- Increase immune response
- Affect the brain, counteracting what happens to our minds because of stress.
- Improve memory and focus
How to practice mindfulness:
- Mindfulness meditation – Set a timer for 20 minutes (you might start at 5 minutes and then build up to the full 20). Then sit still, focus on each breath, and specifically notice the sensation of the air moving in and out of your lungs. Is it shallow or deep? Fast or slow? While you’re focusing on breathing, pay attention to any thoughts that come to mind, but try to let them go. If you notice when your mind is thinking, say to yourself “THINKING” and then go back to the breath. Note that it’s absolutely normal to have a multitude of thoughts running through your brain at any given time as your mind wanders. The trick is, if you can recognize that you’re thinking and take note of what the thought is, you’re becoming mindful and that’s the first step toward mindfulness. Some experts recommend ten minutes per day for a week; building up to more time as you become more comfortable.
- Mindful waking – Other exercises in mindfulness include exercises such as walking slowly around a room. Notice how your heel meets the floor, where the rest of your foot steps and how it feels. Or eat a food such as a raisin, but do so mindfully. Notice the wrinkles, notice its smell. When you put the raisin on your tongue, notice the taste, feel and texture before you begin to slowly chew. This idea of Grounding helps you to stay in the moment. When we pay attention to what we are touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing we are instantly pulled back and can better live in the present.
Whether you’re overwhelmed with your daily life or simply want to take a break from the constant distractions of smartphones and social media, practicing mindfulness is worth a try. The benefits of mindfulness are huge and all it takes is a little bit of focus and breath to help reduce stress and simply be present.