How to Practice Mindfulness in the New Year

As the pace of life seems to be constantly accelerating, it’s all too easy to fall prey to the ravages of stress on our physical and emotional well-being, especially for parents. But did you know that something as easy as practicing mindfulness can have tangible health benefits? These include:

• Reduced stress

• Improved attention

• Better working memory

• More positive emotions

• Reduced blood pressure

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

Mindfulness is a practice with roots reaching as far back as the ancient traditions of Buddhist meditation. However, mindfulness has assumed a much more secular role in our society today. Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to reveal important health benefits, and it is practiced in many different forms, including traditional meditation.

Mindfulness is essentially awareness. It is the practice of sustaining awareness of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and external environment in the present moment.

Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness isn’t about trying to attain some sort of enlightened state. It’s exactly the opposite: accepting and existing in the present, whatever that present looks like.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION?

While many people think mindfulness and meditation are the same thing, they’re actually quite different.

Meditation: Traditional meditation typically involves sitting, relaxed but attentive with your eyes closed, in a quiet place conducive to peacefulness.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of awareness in itself. This means it can be performed anywhere at any time.

Got a busy schedule? No problem. You can practice mindfulness in the shower, on the subway, at the gym or even during dinner. Just 15 minutes a day is all you need. Here are four different ways to integrate mindfulness into your daily life:

1. Mindful Breathing

Step 1: Choose a “down” time: on the metro, in the shower, making breakfast.

Step 2: Shift your focus to your breathing and pick a single aspect to focus on: the rising and falling of your chest or the sensation in your nose.

Step 3: Spend at least five minutes in this state of awareness; when your mind wanders, gently direct it back to your breath.

What you’ll need: A time during your day when you have fewer demands on your attention.

Pro Tip: Notice how your breath changes when you perform different activities and sense new stimuli; note these changes non-judgmentally.

Why it works to reduce stress: Focusing on a single sensation can help still a racing mind. Focusing on the breath can also lead us to breathe more slowly and deeply, leading to a slower heart rate and a more relaxed state.

Health Benefits: Reduced stress, increased relaxation and reduced blood pressure.

2. Mindful Eating

Step 1: Choose a convenient mealtime when you won’t be expected to socialize.

Step 2: Eat slowly. Focus on each sensation of your first bite in turn: smell, sight, touch, sound and taste.

Step 3: Immerse yourself in the richness of the practice of eating, and try to eat your whole meal slowly with appreciation.

What you’ll need: A meal, snack or some portion of food and a time when you’re alone or won’t be expected to socialize.

Pro Tip: Start to become consciously aware of the sensations that accompany the practice of eating: hunger, anticipation, salivation and digestion.

Why it works to reduce stress: Taking time to appreciate the small things we often miss, can liberate us from ruminating on our daily concerns. Eating more slowly can give our bodies the proper amount of time they need for digestion to avoid some common physiological triggers of stress.

Health Benefits: Reduced stress, improved digestive functioning, reduced overeating and weight gain.

3. Open Awareness Meditation

Step 1: Set aside a time and place in your day where you can sit comfortably and you won’t be distracted or disturbed.

Step 2: Find a comfortable but attentive seated position, close your eyes and bring your attention to the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing moment-to-moment.

Step 3: Observe these thoughts and feelings in an open, non-judgmental way; don’t try to change them, but simply acknowledge their presence, gently guiding your focus back when your mind wanders.

What you’ll need: A comfortable, quiet place to sit where you won’t be disturbed.

Pro Tip: Try silently referring to thoughts as “thought” and emotions as “emotion” in your head. This will help you separate yourself from these sensations and gain a more open, objective perception.

Why it works to reduce stress: Being able to recognize and separate ourselves from the strong thoughts and emotions we experience can help us learn how to regulate our moods more effectively.

Health Benefits: Reduced Stress, increased self-awareness and improved emotion regulation and resilience.

4. Mindful Yoga

Step 1: Set aside at least 15 minutes in a quiet, open, airy space for your favorite yoga poses. New to yoga? Find the right yoga poses for you at yogajournal.com.

Step 2: Instead of treating your practice like a session at the gym, treat it like a meditation where you bring your full awareness to both your physical and emotional sensations as you move through the poses.

Step 3: Observe how the physical sensations from each pose give rise to emotional sensations, such as released tension leading to relaxation or even feelings like pain leading to frustration.

What you’ll need: A yoga mat, comfortable clothing and an open, airy space.

Pro Tip: Try reducing the number of poses and spending more time on each pose to increase the level of mindful awareness you bring to the practice.

Why it works to reduce stress: In addition to all the benefits of mindful meditation, mindful yoga adds a physical element that provides a boost of energy and positive chemicals in the brain.

Health Benefits: Reduced stress, enhanced concentration and improved memory and performance.

Make it a Habit

The best way to get the most out of your mindfulness practices in the New Year is to perform them regularly. MRI scans have shown that practicing mindfulness regularly actually changes the structure of the brain, making it better wired for awareness and concentration and less prone to overly emotional responses. Reducing stress is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the myriad of health benefits of mindfulness.

Nicola Brown is an award-winning writer and communication consultant. She is passionate about travel, food, digital media and psychology.

Article Source: www.fix.com/blog/mindfulness-techniques-to-reduce-stress. Fix Blog is a lifestyle blog devoted to bringing you expert content to make your life easier.

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