Let’s face it: At this time of year, many of us feel overwhelmed and stressed out.
So, how do you cope? Grab another holiday treat or pour a glass of wine? Do you unroll your yoga mat or go for a long walk?
Try this next time: Find a quiet spot in your office or at home and just sit still. (Notice we didn’t say lie down, that might make you fall asleep.) Sit in a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths and close your eyes — even for just a few minutes. Just be.
You’ve now practiced mindfulness.
“The benefits of mindfulness not only help you reduce stress, but can also aid in reducing chronic physical pain,” says Reverend Judy Ray, manager of spiritual care at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “It can boost the body’s immune system to help fight disease and can even assist in coping with painful life events, such as the death of a loved one or a major illness.”
Ray, who is a UCLA-certified mindfulness facilitator and Stanford School of Medicine-certified compassion cultivation trainer, says that mindfulness can help you deal with negative emotions like anger, fear and anxiety. It also improves your attention and concentration, and can open up the gateway for positive emotions, including happiness and compassion.
“Medical studies show it can positively change the structure of our brains,” she adds.
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the awareness of the present moment, approached with curiosity, openness and a willingness to be with what “is.”
Let’s try it:
- Sit comfortably.
- Focus your awareness on your breathing.
- Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.
- If your mind wanders, gently and with patience, bring your focus back to your breathing.
- Try this for three to five minutes, and notice how you feel.
- Breathe in through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth. Repeat.
This kind of practice can help center you in the midst of a stressful day or heavy workload. You can go back to whatever needs to be accomplished feeling refreshed and renewed — and it only takes a few minutes.
Contrary to what you may have heard, you don’t have to have an “empty mind,” you don’t have to sit on the floor in a crossed-legged position, nor do you have to sit for an hour or longer — small doses, even five minutes, work just fine. Best of all, there are no special, expensive or trendy clothes required. Just be comfortable.
“Mindfulness goes beyond self-help and can aid in relaxation,” says Ray. She adds that mindfulness is being incorporated in medical school curricula, professional sports (e.g., the Seattle Seahawks), Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Thirty-five years ago, there were fewer than a dozen books on the market with the word “mindful” in the title. Today there are several hundred. People are starting to realize the benefits of mindfulness to their emotional, physical and mental health.
As one recent mindfulness participant put it, “the best benefit of mindfulness is that I am more gentle and kind with myself.”
Who doesn’t need a little bit of that?