We live in a society where more than 1 in every 4 Americans say they have a great deal of stress in their life. Stress is normal and is a necessary part of one’s daily life. Stress is a feeling that’s created when we react to particular events. It’s the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness.
How do you handle stress? When stress feels overwhelming does it paralyze you with anxiety, worry, fear or helplessness? Or does it manifest in depression, keeping you from letting go of the past? Can you instead bring your focus to the present, to ground you in the moment?
The practice of mindfulness, founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune in to what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Here are a few key components of practicing mindfulness that Kabat-Zinn and others identify:
- Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
- Notice—really notice—what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
- Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.
- Tune into your body’s physical sensations, the tightness in your shoulders and neck and shallow breathing.
Beginning a Mindfulness Practice
Put aside three minutes each morning to ground yourself for the day and simply notice what is happening in your life in the moment. Pay attention to how you are. Don’t do anything about your concerns but to pay attention to what is happening in your heart and mind right now.
How are you doing, really? What feelings do you notice? (Anxiety, fear, sadness, apathy, hopeful, gladness, loved) What bodily sensations do you notice? (Heaviness, tightness, constriction, light, calm, warmth) Bring your focus on your breath. Is it shallow or full? Allow your belly to expand and contract. What bodily sensations do you feel from awareness of your breath?
Remember to put all judgment aside and simply notice your breath, feelings and sensations. Let the past be over and done with, and let what has not yet happened be off in the future. You can also put one hand on your belly and the other on your heart. Notice the feelings you have, if anything, from the physical contact.
This practice is about experiencing your body and mind in the present moment while paying attention to your breath. May this three minute exercise be the beginning of a more purposeful and fulfilling walk.
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