USING MINDFULNESS TO COMBAT STRESS – A SIX-PART SERIES

Part Six: Its a Wrap!

This is the last of the six-part series on the practice of mindfulness. To reap the full benefit of everything we have learned from the last six posts, it is important that you start this journey with openness and curiosity. In the absence of an agenda and preconceived notions you will be able to view your experience in a new light. Start this journey with the mind of a child, being open and receptive to whatever you may experience. Paying attention to your energy and attitude towards practice is crucial because if you are forcing yourself to feel calm or expecting something magical to happen as you are meditating then you defeat the whole purpose of being in the moment and letting change happen naturally.

So I ask that you make a commitment to yourself to practice meditation on a daily basis. Whether it be for 5 minutes or 40 minutes, consistency is key. Practice both formal and informal mindfulness with a sense of curiosity and willingness to explore what may unfold for you. Lastly, learn to honor your limits – whether they be physical or emotional.

The key concept of mindfulness is to pay attention on purpose to the present moment without judgment. So no matter where you are or what you are doing, simply be aware of whether you are present (both physically and mentally) to what is going on. From time to time ask yourself, ‘Am I fully awake?’, ‘Am I paying attention to what is happening?’, ‘Where is my mind?’, ‘How is my breathing?’ etc. Tune into the sensations of your body – consciously relax those parts of the body where you feel tension. Tune into your thoughts – be aware of what your mind is up to. Tune into your reactions to people and situations– become aware of how you react to them. What prompted you to react the way you did? The moment you become aware that your mind has wandered from the task at hand bring your attention gently back to the present moment – and do this repeatedly. You are creating new neural pathways in your brain by doing this!

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Mindful Awareness – Living in the Moment

Mindfulness is the act of gently bringing your awareness to what is happening in the present moment every time you catch your mind drifting into its own version of reality. It is the act of acknowledging the thoughts and recognizing them for what they are – JUST thoughts. It is a state of being that is free from judgments and simply accepting what is.

A simple way to start the practice of mindfulness is finding five or ten minutes every day to do mindfulness meditation. Sitting in a comfortable position, with your back straight and eyes closed tune into the sensations of breathing. Focus on your in-breath as it enters your nose descending into the belly. Notice how the belly expands. Then notice how the belly contracts as the out-breath rises to be expelled through the nose. You can also imagine breathing in wellness and vitality and breathing out any sickness or negativity. Continue to focus on this cycle for five or ten minutes.

During this activity, your mind will get distracted with thoughts numerous times. The mind is a natural wanderer, so do not be disappointed or discouraged if you have to bring your mind back to your breath a hundred times. The key to being mindful is being aware that the mind has wandered away and non-judgmentally bringing it back by paying attention to your breathing. Tuning into the sensations of breathing even for a few minutes allows the mind to pause in its often convoluted journey. There is great value in being able to pause and have the presence of mind to be aware of thoughts and impulses before acting on them. Instead of blindly reacting to situations, developing the ability to respond with thoughtfulness adds immeasurable benefits, not only to our relationships but to our mental well-being. I have found that the simple, yet profound benefit of mindfulness is in helping us understand that thoughts are just thoughts and that it is our emotional attachments to these thoughts that is the root of suffering.

So friends, heres to a week filled with clarity, understanding, peace and mindful awareness. Happy Monday!

Mindfulness in Professional Sports

It is time for professional sports teams to go beyond training the players’ body and start training their mind to handle the mental stress that comes with being in high performance environments. The psychological stress that pro athletes experience has a negative impact not only on their personal life but on their athletic performance as well. Stress hormones like cortisol can disrupt cognitive processes such as memory, attention, and decision making abilities. Numerous research conducted in recent years has shown that practicing mindfulness on a regular basis helps reduce stress.

The responsibility of bringing mindfulness into mainstream professional sports may rest with the coaches and their commitment to making their players not just better sportsmen but better human beings. Recent NFL news has spurred a multitude of discussion around rules and laws surrounding off-the-field behavior of its players. Now might be the right time for people and organizations that pour millions into professional sports to start thinking about taking care of their stars from the inside out. Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has already embraced this attitude, taking a holistic approach to training his players. Regular mindfulness meditation practice and yoga is incorporated into the team’s training routine. He realizes that taking care of the players’ mental well-being not only helps them stay relaxed and have clarity of mind on the field but off the field as well. As the players learn the art of accepting and letting go, of being relaxed and alert, they are able to focus fully on the present moment, not feeling frustrated at a botched play or thinking about winning or losing. They are able to just be…in the moment, without the constant mental chatter, without any distractions. This calm state of mind brings about increased focus and decreased physical and mental stress. Without the mental commentary and judgments that accompany every act, the mind is able to quiet down and with relaxed concentration the players are able to ‘be in the zone’.