Mindfulness is on everyone’s mind today but I think the concept is often only associated with living calmly and peacefully without stress. As I continue on my path to become a qua
lified mindfulness teacher, I am realizing that mindfulness is about being human, about living a life where you embrace where you are in every moment. Some of these moments are joyful and peaceful but others are stressful and frustrating. Mindfulness is about living your life with more compassion for yourself, about using your body and your emotions as guides to help you realize how you are doing in each moment and responding to those messages. It is about taking care of yourself.
As a practice, mindfulness has been around for millennia but just in the last decade or so is becoming more mainstream and for a good reason. Jon Kabbat-Zinn created the UMASS Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness in 1979 and it has become the foundation of the mindfulness movement around the world. This is his definition of mindfulness:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
One of the best ways to begin practicing being in the present moment is through simply focusing on your breathing. If the word meditation has you squirming in your chair or thinking “I can’t do that” or “I don’t have the time” or “My mind is always at warp speed,” this
mini-practice might be your solution.
Close your eyes or just look down and find a spot to comfortably focus on.
Now, focus on your breath. Just notice each inhale and exhale. You don’t have to change how you are breathing at all. It’s really just about noticing - paying attention to your breath.
If you start to wander off in your thoughts, just gently come back to your focus on your breath. Wandering thoughts are natural.
Do this for 3-5 minutes. Or 1 minute if that feel more do-able.
By making this breath exercise a regular practice, you will be training your brain to calm itself. It is the first step in letting go of that chaotic thought pattern. By noticing it happening during your breath work, you are interrupting it. The interruption allows you to step out of it. If you are like me, you spend a lot of time thinking about what needs to happen in the next 15 minutes, next hour, next day, week, month….Or rehashing what happened before this moment. This is the opposite of being present. Mindfulness is about creating new, healthier thought patterns, which will allow you to be present in this moment. I am finding that my daily stress is reduced when I am not wasting so much time thinking about things or events that migh
t or might not happen in the future or with things that happened in the past and cannot be changed.
It seems like taking a breath is a simple thing, an obvious thing, but it has a great impact on your stress levels and also on your health. There is a reason why the breath is the focus of, not only meditating, but also intense training for professionals which need to manage highly stressful situations, like soldiers or extreme athletes. Recent medical research has shown how taking a few deep breaths through the nose can help reduce physical and emotional stress. A study done by Northwestern Medicine found that deep nasal breathing reduces our stress and calms our emotional centers in the brain. Cognitive functions also are positively affected by breathing exercises. The researchers concluded nasal breathing could help improve memory and focus and aid in the regulation of our emotions. [https://www.mindful.org/breath-brains-remote-control/ ] Other research studies have shown that breathing exercises have a positive impact on your hormones helping you to lose weight, increasing your stamina and your fitness level, and even impacting and altering your genes, in particular by reducing chroni
c inflammation, which has been proven to cause cancer, Alzheimers, depression, and heart disease. [https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/4-reasons-breathe-right]. Introducing breathing exercises to your classrooms will help your students self-regulate behavior, reduce anxiety and stress, and improve focus and cognitive function. Just think, all of these benefits from something as simple as breathing!
So, find some time today, or maybe even right now, to pause, take a few breaths and start to allow yourself to slow your racing thoughts, appreciate the moment, and know that you are enough.