By Saundra Schrock, retired financial services executive, founder of firm assisting executives into integrating mindfulness into their business and personal lives
Are you seeking a way to lower stress, improve your health and increase your productivity and creativity? With the holidays kicking in to high gear and all the potentially stressful interactions that could take place, putting into place a quick mindfulness practice or habit might be just what the doctor or naturopath ordered.
Mindfulness is the ability to intentionally place your attention in the present moment. The growing interest in mindfulness is largely attributed to people looking for relief from the ever present level of stress that comes from too much to do and too little time to do it. It might come as a surprise to you that a large amount of our stress and lack of a sense of wellbeing arises from our inability to control our attention. As we begin to experience what it feels like to be present, we understand how much control we have over our level of stress. The solution is not outside of us, but within us.
It might be hard to accept that something so simple can change our lives so radically. It won’t happen overnight. Just like brushing your teeth, it takes daily practice. And like brushing your teeth, it may only need a few minutes a day to focus your attention. Just identify a time when you would like to be more present (quick tips below). Options could include during a business meeting, a conference call, a social event, or being with a family member. When you find yourself in that situation, make a commitment to notice when your attention wanders and then gently bring it back to the present moment. Or you can take an everyday activity like preparing meals, driving to work, showering and yes, brushing your teeth. Instead of letting your mind wander, use that time to practice focusing your attention.
Most people find this kind of focus difficult at first. Don’t let discouragement set in. It gets easier with practice, just like learning to play a sport or a musical instrument. Few of us were good at something first time we tried it. It might help to picture your attention as a muscle that gains strength each time you intentionally bring your attention back to the present.
Keep in mind that frequency is the key to seeing the benefits. It is much better to practice a few minutes each day than to practice a longer time only once a week. This is a wellness prescription that you can write for yourself. What dosage will be best for you? Three times a day for 3-5 minutes? Or 4 times a day for 2-3 minutes? Vary the dosage as needed and start enjoying the benefits.
Here is a quick list of very simple practices you can integrate into your everyday activities.
- The morning routine. Before you get out of bed, take a few moments to stretch and bring your attention to your body before you launch into your day. Take a few cleansing breaths and take a moment to express gratitude for the gift of another day.
- When you are brushing your teeth, taking your shower or getting dressed, practice bringing your attention back to the present. One way to do this is to engage your breath and your senses. What does the toothpaste taste like? What does the soap smell like? How does the brush feel against your teeth? What do you see in your environment? What do you hear?
- Mealtime. Before you take your first bite, bring your attention to the present moment so that you can fully appreciate the nourishment you are about to undertake. Take a few calming breaths and set an intention to stay focused on the tastes, colors and smells of your mealtime experience for at least the first few bites.
- Several times a day, take a moment to connect to your breath. Notice how you are breathing. Is it shallow? Are you holding your breath? Then take a few cleansing, slow breaths and notice how the flow of oxygen can energize and revitalize you. Simply begin by counting your exhales. Sometimes it only takes 3-5 breaths for you to feel the benefits.
- Driving to work or running errands. At a stop light, bring your attention to the present and focus on your breathing until the light changes.
- Make mindful transitions. If you find you are on back to back phone calls or meetings, take one minute to focus on releasing your thoughts, center yourself and prepare for the next task.|
- Personal relationships often suffer the most when we are busy and stressed. We often believe that those we love should understand that we have a lot on our minds and they should grant us an excuse for not being fully present. Sometimes we think that our physical presence is enough. But we all know when the other person isn’t mentally with us. Make a commitment to take a few moments each day to really be present for those that are important to us. Listen, ask questions, take a few moments to feel what they are feeling. You might be surprised to find you benefit as much as the other person.
- Drinking water. Living in the desert, we know the importance of hydration. So let’s make our consumption of water a mindfulness practice. With each sip of water, notice how the water feels on your tongue; how it feels as we swallow. Visualize the water hydrating our organs and flowing through our bodies.
- Talk a mindful walk. You don’t have to find time to add something to your schedule. You can practice bringing your attention to the present walking from room to room or on the way to or from the car.
- Connect with your pet. Our pets are always in moment. They are good role models for us. Instead of mindlessly, petting or talking with our pet, take a moment to really engage with them. For example, when you prepare your pet’s food, be intentional and purposeful. You might say to yourself “I am preparing this food with love and to help my pet be healthy and happy”. Or let your pet serve as a reminder to let go of grudges or to let go of perceived slights or negative thoughts.
Any practice is good practice. If you miss a day, just start the next day. You don’t have to sit in a lotus position for hours to enjoy the benefits of wellbeing that comes from being present for your life. Why not begin today to ready to experience the holidays in a whole new way.