Research shows how embracing mindfulness meditation can stave off stress and stress-related health problems
When Buddha was asked, “What do you and your followers practice?” he answered, “We sit, we walk, we eat.” Perplexed, the questioner asked, “Doesn’t everyone sit, walk and eat?” “Yes,” replied Buddha, “but when we sit, we know we’re sitting. When we walk, we know we’re walking. When we eat, we know we’re eating.”
This is the essence of mindfulness: the “witnessing” of the present moment and our place in it, often referred to as “paying attention on purpose.” When we learn to focus on the here and now, we’re less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets about the past.
Heaven is indeed here on earth in the myriad ways we devote our spirit to the minutiae of our daily lives. Whether eating a meal, sitting in a traffic jam, deep into work mode or caring for an ailing loved one, be mindful of every nuance of the experience. Mindfulness will enhance your appreciation of the simplest, most everyday experiences. Every moment becomes an opportunity to channel our attention toward healing, life-affirming choices.
When you’re not mindful, life is less satisfying. You’re usually somewhere else, striving for what’s missing, but in fact, you’re what’s missing. Imagine being with a group of friends as a beautiful sunset unfolds. Everyone drinks in the glorious view, while you let the moment’s richness pass you by. In a balanced life, mindfulness prevents those moments that are the fabric of our lives from going by in a blur. We learn to savor each moment, much as we did as children, when the days and moments seemed deliciously long. Remember those?
Fully present, our lives change dramatically. We see the fullness of what is, rather than what’s lacking—engendering a profound sense of gratitude. Being fully present also conveys the knowledge to make choices about stressful situations. And as we become skilled at observing our thoughts, breathing with them, allowing them to happen without arguing or interacting with them, we become more accepting of them. This results in fewer distressing feelings and increases our ability to enjoy our lives.
The medical establishment has now weighed in on this as well, with numerous studies showing how mindfulness meditation can stave off stress and stress-related health problems. It helps in the treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, as well as cognitive decline, and has been shown to ease anxiety, PTSD, depression, along with chronic pain, sleep problems and more.
Mindfulness triggers remind you to pay attention, be present and be at peace. Choose a word, phrase or activity to trigger mindfulness if your attention has lapsed. Continually returning to awareness of the moment allows your daily activities to take on a meditative quality. You can perform any action with awareness. Every time you do even the smallest action, take a deep breath, noticing how your muscles relax. You can also mentally use a phrase or image to shift your awareness, such as Be Here Now, a classic mindfulness-inducing phrase (also the name of the renowned book by Ram Dass).
Instead of habitually grabbing the phone when it rings, take a moment to roll your shoulders down away from your ears, take a deep breath and smile before picking up the phone. This simple process can be amazingly transformative. Your calm energy and friendly smile will travel across the phone lines, guaranteed!
Your daily ablutions can also be mindfulness rituals. When taking a shower, step inside, be fully present with the core of your being and breathe deeply. Face the shower and feel it rain on your skin. Imagine all tension streaming from your skin’s surface and down the drain. Being fully present during any and all personal care rituals is a delightful way to begin or end your day. This is truly “conscious” care of self.
MARY BETH JANSSEN is a certified mind-body health educator for the Chopra Center for Well Being and author of five books. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.