As great as life can be, it’s not always rainbows and salted caramel gelato; obstacles come up at work, your kids misbehave, a family member gets sick, or sometimes people don’t treat you nicely. The good news is that you can decide not to allow outside circumstances to affect your peace and happiness. How?
By practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness can simply be described as paying attention to the present moment without judgment of what is; it’s about learning to “mind the gap.” That instant between action and reaction where we choose a response.
So when you’re sitting in traffic for an extended period of time, you’re mindful that you’re stuck in one place - not moving, but you don’t judge it and get irritated about it. You don’t honk and lean your head out the window, cursing the person in front of you for not moving up the extra two feet ahead of him as if that’s going to get you to your destination any faster. You become so rooted in the now that you accept where you are and what the situation is at hand. You’re so mindful of what’s going on in the present that it doesn’t pull you back to the past or project what this moment is going to turn into in the future. Many people discover this place of presence through meditation, but it can also be reached through something as simple as watching your breath.
Connecting to your breath is one of the most simple and effective ways to pull your thinking out of the past or the future in order to consistently live in the present.
The act of breathing is the body's most vital and basic function, and it’s the simplest tool we have to slow down, get present and focus on the now. It’s been said that “the breath is a mirror of the mind” and whatever is going on in your head can usually be seen in your breathing. Anxiety and fear create short, shallow breathing; peace and calm present as a smooth, slow inhale and exhale.
Just to be clear, we want to be on the peaceful, smooth end of the breathing scale. Here’s one of our favorite, and most accessible ways to connect to your breath and the present moment.
Practice 1:2 breathing
Find a comfortable seat and close your eyes; this can be in a quiet room in your house or a crowded subway - in fact, the more noise the more you’ll notice it working. This breathing method has you double the time of the inhale on your exhale. So if you normally inhale and exhale to a count of four, then you would double the exhale to eight. Take a deep full breath in - all the way to your upper chest, and then exhale it all the way out until your navel contracts. On the next inhale silently count to four as your ribcage expands fully, and then on the exhale extend the count to eight as you release the breath all the way out. Doubling the breath on the exhale calms the nervous system and helps you focus on the present by dropping all thoughts while you consciously count.
In many cases, people go on autopilot and react to a circumstance in a similar way they’ve been conditioned in the past, or have an instinct to instantly think the worst of any situation. Instead, mindfulness teaches us to take a moment, breathe, and think about the most appropriate way to respond to a situation. Try it - your family, friends, and coworkers will thank you for it!
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