Train Yourself to React With Greater Ease and Calm
How do we get mindful and how can we strengthen the mindfulness muscle?
Posted Aug 01, 2019
Mindfulness has ignited an explosion of interest and research in recent decades.
Although mindfulness has roared onto the scene in contemporary times, its basic practices are ancient and have flourished over time. Today’s research sheds light on the benefits of mindfulness for well-being, physical and emotional health, learning, and dealing more effectively with life’s stresses. In fact, mindfulness is a robust topic of scientific inquiry with links to positive emotion, enhanced life satisfaction, compassion, and overall well-being (Goldman & Davidson, 2017; Willard, 2016).
To see how mindfulness can help you deal with stress, try this simple mindfulness exercise (Willard 2016):
Step 1: Tighten your fists as hard as you can and hold them firmly for a few seconds. Notice how you feel.
Step 2: Now relax your hands. Rest them comfortably, perhaps on your lap, while you notice your next few breaths. How do you feel?
Step 3: Now put your hands on your heart and take a few breaths. Notice how you feel.
Step 4: Take a moment to reflect on your experiences of each of the three steps. What do you notice?
Tightened fists tend to activate the flight-or-fright response (Willard, 2016). When confronted with dangerous situations, our stress response helps us react quickly to keep us safe. However, in everyday life situations, this response is not helpful, causing our bodies and minds to tense up any time we feel threatened – at the dentist’s office, in a social situation, anticipating a meeting, presentation or exam, or simply waking up in the morning.
With mindfulness we can train our minds to react with greater ease and calm. Here’s a basic definition. “Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2012).
Practicing mindfulness is a powerful strategy -- simple, easy to learn, and a skill we can develop through practice. Mindfulness teaches us how to pay attention. This is significant. Throughout our lives, we’re told “pay attention,” but how do we do that? How do we pay attention and how can we get better at it? Paying attention in this way – in the moment – we can empower ourselves to build more positive emotions, function more effectively, feel more satisfied with life, and generally feel better.
Just slowing down our breathing can calm our bodies and minds. We’re not talking about deep breathing here – just simply paying attention to the breath, which also tends to slow it down.
Step 1: Sit quietly for a moment in a quiet, safe place.
Step 2: Take a comfortably deep breath and slowly release it.
Step 3: Notice what’s happening in your body and mind. See if you can just notice and soften to it. No need to change anything.
Step 4: Take another comfortably slow, deep breath and feel your body begin to relax.
Life is so busy. Typically, we want to keep moving, get things done, have fun. Remarkably, including just a few moments of mindfulness each day can empower us toward our objectives – and there’s good evidence to show that we can perform more effectively, calmly, and compassionately when we offer ourselves a few mindful moments (Goleman & Davidson, 2017)
Here are a few links to mindfulness/meditations you can try on your own:
** This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.
Goleman D. & Davidson, R.J. (2017). Altered Traits: Science reveals how meditation changes your mind, brain, and body. New York, NY: Avery.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012). Mindfulness for beginners: reclaiming the present moment - and your life. Sounds True. CO.
Willard, C. (2016). Growing up mindful. Essential practices to help children, teens, and families find balance, calm, and resilience. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.