How many times do we tell our children to pay attention? But what does that really mean? And, as adults, are we always paying attention? I recently attended a Mindfulness Meditation Workshop and discovered how much I go through life not paying attention.
What is mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention more to what goes on in our daily lives instead of going through life on autopilot, which can have distinct disadvantages.
If we’re on autopilot, we tend to unconsciously react to situations instead of embracing what is going on—good or bad—and controlling our reactions. We might learn to react to stress is negative ways and, over time, this can lead to chronic physical or mental symptoms like anxiety, panic attacks, emotional eating, or substance abuse.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, the founder of the practice of mindfulness-based stress reduction, defined mindfulness as paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and being in the moment with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and kindness. Practicing mindfulness allows us to increase our awareness by directing our attention to our body’s sensations, thoughts, and emotions and teaches us to manage ourselves and our emotions in a healthier and more balanced way.
There are a variety of mindfulness practices that can help with stress management and overall wellness. A key component of mindfulness is to remember that the object of the exercise is not to block out emotions, but to acknowledge and work with them more effectively. One simple technique called the 3-Minute Breathing Space can be used anywhere to increase your mindfulness and reduce your sense of stress. This exercise provides a way to step out of automatic pilot mode and reconnect with the present moment.
First minute: awareness
Pause and close your eyes, if it is comfortable and practical for you to do so. Bring your attention to your body, noticing bodily sensations. Does your body feel heavy or light; hot or cold? Next, bring your attention to your thoughts. Is your mind calm, or thoughts racing? Finally, bring attention to your mood. How do you feel in this moment? Do you feel peaceful, anxious, joyful, sad? Acknowledge your experience and sensations without trying to change them.
Second minute: gathering
Gently bring your attention to your breathing, to each inhale and exhale. Allow your breath to flow naturally. Be aware of the sensation of each breath filling your lungs. Be aware of when your attention is drawn away, gently bringing it back to the breath.
Third minute: expanding
Expand the field of awareness beyond the breath, back to the sensations in the body, thoughts and mood state.
You can continue this exercise, repeating each step, as long as desirable to help you remain in the moment and react to situations appropriately.
Karen Carr, RN, MSN is an inpatient psychiatrist.