I’ve always had a difficult time slowing down my brain. I feel as if I’m running a mental marathon day and night. When I lay down for sleep, I’m bombarded with thoughts of unanswered emails, training ideas and new podcast topics. I’m not usually one to make resolutions but I desperately needed some more Zen in my day to day. This year I made a promise to myself that I would make a conscious effort to live a more present and mindful life.
Keeping with my theme for the new year I enjoyed the opportunity to join local Southern California women in attending the annual UCLA women’s health conference in Thousand Oaks. The topic was resiliency and mental health. One of the incredible speakers focused on the health benefits of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is being in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness allows us to make better decisions by being calmer and more aware of our emotions and the surrounding environment. Mindfulness is usually associated with meditation practices but incorporating a moment of mindfulness into the day is a perfect way to insert peace and clarity into ordinary tasks.
Harvard University conducted a study and noticed that on average our mind wanders 47% of the time. That’s half of our conscious life wasting precious time and energy drifting off somewhere else. Thinking too often about what happened in the past or worrying about things that may never happen at all. Harvard found that the people they observed recorded being the happiest when they engaged in activities that required them to be fully present in the moment like exercising or having a conversation.
“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”
Just like muscles you work out at the gym, our brain requires exercise to achieve optimum health. Did you know that practicing mindfulness can actually change the neuroplasticity of your brain? Over an 8 week study the gray matter located in the hippocampus, which is responsible for emotions, problem solving and planning increased in the brains of those who practiced mindfulness daily. Incredibly the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with stress and fear, decreased in size. Mindfulness works. PERIOD. All of the research ends with the same result, those who became more aware of their actions, emotions and environment became less stressed, slept better and found more joy in daily tasks.
Before you make excuses that there isn’t time to work on practicing mindfulness, you can find contentment just where you are. Look for little opportunities to be more mindful and carry that feeling of peace throughout your day. We all have to start somewhere, an easy way to improve mindfulness is to remember the S.T.O.P method.
Stop and pause
Take a breath
When it feels like life is moving fast and you feel out of control, take a moment to stop and refocus where you are in the present moment. Have appreciation for what is. Another idea to incorporate mindfulness is to take a moment out of your day to focus on your breathing. You can do this anywhere at any time. Taking a deep breath can infuse peace and calmness into a stressful day especially if you don’t have time to take a longer break.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Take a deep breath…what do you observe around you? Slowly become aware of sounds, smells, even take notice of how your feet feel in your shoes. Silence your thoughts, don’t think about what’s going to happen tomorrow or what went on yesterday. Pay attention to the present moment with curiosity and openness. Let go of judgement or expectations and allow yourself to just be.
“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”