Picture yourself on a beautiful beach during sunset.
You feel the warm sand against your feet. You can smell the ocean and taste the salty air as a refreshing breeze blows against your hair. The soothing sound of the waves brings on a sense of peace and aliveness. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, you immerse yourself fully in this moment, connected to your body, heart and mind.
This innate state of being and fully experiencing the present moment is what we call mindfulness. When paying attention to what our senses are picking up about our internal and external environment in any given moment, we enter a state of mindfulness. Children do this naturally! Mindfulness involves taking a curious interest in what we can see, feel, taste, smell and hear, without judging or labeling what we feel as “good” or “bad”.
We take on the role of the neutral observer, welcoming in all thoughts and sensations without trying to change them. We begin to understand that not a single sensation, emotion or thought is permanent. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, everything is constantly changing.
Imagine walking on that same beach, ruminating about a frustrating problem that arose at work earlier that week. When we’re “stuck in our heads”, we close ourselves off to the richness of experience available. Our body can’t tell the difference between reality and our thoughts, and so our body begins to react to the stressful events re-played over and over again in our mind as if they were happening right now. This can lead to muscle tension, increased release of stress-hormones and can even change the way we breathe! All this while walking on a beautiful beach?
What about meditation?
Meditation is a tool that is used to focus our attention on something specific. It uses mindfulness to train our brain to pay attention to a particular point of focus. There are countless ways to meditate. Some may choose to focus on the sensations of the body, scanning each part and relaxing it piece by piece. Some meditation styles focus on tapping into the feeling of loving kindness by visualizing someone we love at their happiest, identifying where we feel this emotion in our body. Research has shown that we can develop specific areas of the brain according to the type of meditation performed.
How do I get started?
Meditation can be performed in any position, whether sitting, lying down, walking, or performing a task like vacuuming. Say you choose to focus on your breath. Suddenly your mind begins to wander. As soon as you notice that your mind has been wandering you bring your attention back to the chosen point of focus, the breath. As this loop continues with practice, we learn to come back to the present moment quicker and with ease. We develop the ability to self-regulate our thought processes and emotions.
This can be a particularly helpful coping mechanism for people experiencing pain.
“What if my pain gets worse?!”
“I wish things could just go back to the way they were before my injury.”
Pain is always worse when put in this context of the past or the future. Paying attention to what you are feeling in this present moment can help reduce the suffering experienced from worrying about the future or the regret felt when reminiscing about the past. It can actually help reduce the intensity of pain felt.
The benefits of meditation and mindfulness have been studied extensively. These practices have been shown to improve our resilience to stress and help with pain, anxiety and depression. They reduce physical and mental health costs on an organizational level and improve productivity, which is why many companies adopt mindfulness training in the workplace. Recognizing where we are at in this very moment allows us to identify what our real needs are. We can then make better informed and healthier decisions for our well-being instead of reacting in ways that ignore our body’s signals.
Take a moment today to give mindfulness a try. Walk barefoot on the grass and notice the sensations beneath your feet. Pause to really taste your food during dinner tonight. Notice what emotions arise when hugging someone you love. It’s as simple as that!
Check out our next article where we explore the transformative practice of yoga and how it ties into our movement and breathing.
Intro : Dare to Breathe
1. The Diaphragm: Life and Breath
2. Breath: Supply and Demand
3. Breathing and Joint Mobility
4. The Diaphragm: A Web of Connection
5. Breath and Emotion
6. How Stress Can Change Our Breath
7. Breath Awareness: a Powerful Tool to Bridge the Body and Mind
8. Breath Regulation: Empower Yourself!
9. Mindfulness and Meditation: the Power of Awareness
10. Yoga: Transforming the Body and Mind
Pearson N, Prosko S, Sullivan M (Eds). Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain. London, Uk: Singing Dragon Publishers.