Have you ever tried to sit still for one minute to completely quiet your mind?
This is incredibly challenging, specifically in this high-speed and digital world, to slow down and connect with our own thoughts and just be.
The problem according to Dr. Donna Rockwell is that we spend most of our time, either “bemoaning the past or catastrophizing the future,” which in turn creates depression, anxiety, and discontentment.
We spend very little time in the present, instead much of our lives is spent in our own heads disconnected from where our actual bodies are.
And we know that being present makes us much happier, connected, and kinder people. So how do we become the kind of people that engage in our own lives - living each moment fully?
By developing a skill called mindfulness.
Mindfulness expert, Jon Kabat - Zinn has described mindfulness as "paying attention to the present moment with intention, while letting go of judgment."
Mindfulness simply means awareness. Noticing our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and anything around us that is happening right now.
Why does this matter? Because learning how to gain mastery over one’s internal sensations and emotion, sensing, naming, and identifying what is going on inside is the first step of changing it. Neuroscience backs this up and shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves - zero judgement, simply noticing.
BENEFITS of MINDFULNESS
The benefits of mindfulness are incredible and too extensive to cover in one blog post, but here are a few of my favorites:
Mindfulness boosts our immune system making us better able to fight off diseases, everything from the flu to cancer
Mindfulness helps improve our concentration and reduces the obsessive thinking that contributes to high levels of stress
Mindfulness helps people regulate their emotions by helping them understand, tolerate, and deal with their emotions in healthy ways
Mindfulness helps us to alter our habitual responses by taking pause and choosing how we act
Mindfulness helps us develop self-compassion which in turn makes us more compassionate toward others
Because mindfulness presents an effective method to get to know oneself, to reduce stress, and to live in the present moment, cultivating mindfulness is a powerful practice - a super power in fact!
And as a therapist, cultivating mindfulness is perhaps the greatest gift I can offer the clients I work with. In a sense, it is a gift of time, the permission to slow down and be present, to experience life as we live it and to discover who we really are in the process.
Mindfulness can be simple and even fun (it's fantastic to do as a family). If you have a few minutes try these mindful activities as a way to get started:
First, check in with yourself...on a scale of 1 to 10 where is your current stress level?
Look around the room and notice 5 things that start with the letter P
Take 9 deep breaths in a box pattern; 4 second inhale, 4 second hold, 4 second exhale, and 4 second pause (it can be helpful to imagine a box as you are breathing).
Imagine a safe place. This can be a place that is real or only exists in your imagination. Take a moment to get as much detail in your mind as you can about your safe place; you can do this by using your 5 senses, what are you smelling, seeing, etc. Notice what emotions you're feeling. Notice where you are feeling them in your body. Take a moment to enjoy the safety and the peace in this place.
Check in with your stress level again - where would you rate that level now? Notice your body. Does it feel different? The same? More relaxed?
As J. Mark G. Williams states, mindfulness is an invitation to “get out of our heads and learn to experience the world directly, experientially, without the relentless commentary of our thoughts. We might just open ourselves up to the limitless possibilities for happiness that life has to offer us.”
Mindfulness isn't simply a good idea, our lives are depending on it!