This past summer, Newsweek devoted an entire issue to the topic of Mindfulness. Not surprisingly, it highlighted how we can use our minds to stay present, changing our perceptions and approaches to stress and life situations in multiple ways.
The unifying message underlined the importance of the power of choice, and the ability to focus, things we all share in common.
So what is this elusive thing called Mindfulness? Let’s see how it works.
Runaway, reactive thinking has to do with reliving the past, or anticipating the future. These thoughts trigger our sympathetic nervous systems. Our hearts race, our blood pressure soars – we feel anxious, upset. For many, it is difficult cycle to break; repeatedly, our thoughts hold us hostage.
There is a lot less space for racing thoughts to land when we pay complete attention to what is going on in the present or NOW moment. Staying fully attentive in the present switches on our parasympathetic nervous systems. Our breathing slows – we feel calmer, in control; no longer living in the past, or future, inside personal and world wide dramas.
If the present moment is very stressful, we can also choose to mentally pay undivided attention to our breathing, or to a personally meaningful word or image, until we feel calm and centered. It’s like changing the channel on TV, and we are the ones controlling the remote!
With regular practice, our brains form new pathways. Neurons fire differently, producing chemicals which uplift and support us. Staying in the NOW becomes easier. We are shaping a new habit. Like any habit, it may take time getting used to, but after a while it becomes the new normal.
Being mindful by paying attention to the NOW can be practiced anytime, anywhere. It need only take a minute or two. Even drinking a glass of water with full attention is a mindful practice and experience!
So be mindful. Change the channel. Be at peace wherever you are.
Information about mindful living practice is available through St. Peter’s Hospital’s Holistic and Integrative Therapy Program. While it primarily serves inpatients and is not a free standing clinic, educational and referral services are provided to the general community on a limited basis. For information, call (518) 525-1174.