In today’s fast paced world, we are often tasked with managing many different situations at once. As humans we have the ability to hold multiple thoughts in our mind at one time and process information about one activity while actively involved in another. Although this amazing ability is often quite helpful, many of us may have noticed, and research supports, that this kind of multitasking can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety.
This is where adopting a daily mindfulness practice may be useful. Mindfulness has been found to be helpful in reducing not only stress and anxiety but has also been successfully used as a component in treatment for depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder,
Psychosis, chronic pain, and other health and mental health conditions. I use the following definition from John Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, to describe mindfulness:
“Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the
unfolding of experience moment to moment.”
Unlike our usual habit of letting our mind wander from subject to subject, when engaging in mindfulness, you consciously chose one thing on which to focus. Further, when mindful, you are focusing on what is happening in that present moment. You aren’t worrying about what needs to be done tomorrow, nor are you ruminating about losses or problems from the past. People find that when they are focused on the present, that they feel less stress, anxiety, and sadness. Another very important piece of mindfulness is taking a non-judgmental stance. There is no right or wrong, good or bad way to practice mindfulness. If you attempt to practice mindfulness then, you are in fact successfully doing mindfulness!
Read the following mindfulness exercise and then give it a try:
- In a calm and quiet environment, find a place to sit comfortably. You can set a timer for 60 seconds if you’d like.
- Close your eyes and continue to breathe as you normally would
- Take a breath in and notice how it feels to breathe. Notice the way the air feels as it moves in through your nose, down your throat, and as it fills your lungs
- As you begin to exhale, observe the way the air feels warm moving out of your lungs and back out in the space around you
- Notice the difference in the way your lungs feels when full of air versus empty
- Observe your stomach expanding with each breath
- Notice the way your shoulders rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale
- Continue to observe the way it feels to breathe until your timer rings or as long as you’d like
You may find that while practicing mindfulness exercises your mind will want to distract you with other thoughts. If you notice your mind wandering, gently and non-judgmentally redirect your attention back to your breath each time this happens.