In today’s fast-paced environment, many people are facing problems, whether it is balancing work and life or study and life. As a result, there can be a lot of stress. Stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and in some cases, even invoke suicidal tendencies. One of the major causes of anxiety and stress is our nature of mind, which most of the time is either thinking about past incidents or is engaged in planning, and therefore is not in the present moment. This is most likely because of the desire to correct the past and improve the future. But what happens when a person is able to live in the present moment? They become more mindful about the present and can dedicate all their focus on whatever they are doing in the present. They can become more efficient and less stressed.
“Bringing the Mind to NOW”.
For example, students are usually worried about exams, assignments, and the general work load, instead of being focused on what they are doing in the present. Due to anxiety, they may find it hard to be mindful. Anxiety, in turn, can lead to unproductive worries. They may then get easily distracted from productive tasks. As a result, they may have to face difficult emotions such as anger and frustration. Already stressed and anxious, they are then doubly burdened, having to cope with all this.
Let’s think about what happens during exam season. When the test schedule is published, a student may instantly react, “Oh, I am going to fail this time!” This student is already thinking about the future. When the exam is over and let’s say it did not go well for the student in question the student might feel guilty and punish herself further with, “Had I studied from Day One…” She is automatically reverting to the past and trying, in vain, to correct her mistake. But the spiralling doesn’t end here. She may make a commitment, thinking, “From next time…” And we all know that it rarely happens.
We can all relate to the example above. We often do not have the power to pull back from such negative thought patterns about the past and the future and focus on the present.
“What happens when a person is able to live in the present moment?”
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that mindfulness meditation makes perfect sense for treating anxiety. “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power,” she explains. “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies. They found 47 trials that addressed these issues and met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression and pain.
“If you have unproductive worries, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently through mindfulness.”
Following these pioneering researches, many well-known universities around the world have started offering sessions on mindfulness to its students and faculties. Here are the links to some:
At Princeton University – University Health Services offers Mind-Body Program and A Day of Mindfulness program. The objective of which is stress reduction, body awareness, and inner care for undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and staff.
With tremendous amount of research being done in mindfulness, it is indeed a series of therapeutic techniques to bring our mind in present moment to increase efficiency. There are many ways of practicing mindfulness thus of all breathing is the most important phenomenon. Being mindful about breathing helps us become focus on the present, and prevents us from vacillating between past and future. The present moment is the only time over which we have control over. The most important person at the present moment is always the person whom we are with because they deserve our full attention. This could be a friend, a co-worker, your parents, and so on.
Therefore, here is an exercise we can do to practice mindfulness by following the breath.
1. You can do this either on a sitting or a standing position.
2. To start begin to inhale gently from the stomach, being mindful that, “I am inhaling normally.”
3. Then exhale being mindful, “I am exhaling normally.”
4. Continue this for three long deep breaths.
5. On the fourth breath, extend the inhalation, being mindful by remembering, “I am taking in a long inhalation.”
6. Again exhale saying, “I am taking in a long exhalation.”
7. Continue the long deep breaths for three times.
8. Now follow your breath carefully, becoming aware of every movement in your stomach and lungs. When you inhale, your stomach will start to fill in first before our lungs. Then, follow the entrance and exit of air and realize the ‘1’ shape that is formed during the breathing. Become mindful about how you are inhaling and following the exhalation from its beginning to its end.
9. Continue the process for 20 breaths and then return to normal. After 5 minutes, repeat the exercise. It is important to maintain the half smile while breathing.
The effects of this mindfulness exercise can be experienced in less than 15 minutes as our thoughts will become more and more positive and our heart rate and other physiological response will start to slow down. This attempt has been made to help you practice mindfulness to bring mind to the present moment or now and become more efficient, happy and less vulnerable to stress.
Mindfulness will not abruptly eliminate your thoughts that bring you stress and anxiety because you worry, but in the words Dr. Hoge, “If you have unproductive worries, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently through mindfulness.” “You might think ‘I’m not prepared, I might fail in this exam if I don’t study, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that thought, and not a part of my core self. So let me focus on now and act on what can I do’”.