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Journey to the Present Moment

Today’s modern lifestyle, with its fast pace and emphasis on multitasking, has made it imperative to develop new ways for coping with stress. Many health issues such as hypertension, anxiety and obesity often find their origins in poor management of stress.

Many people believe they have honed their ability of doing several things at once, often ignoring the sharp edge that cuts into their awareness of the simple joys that are inherent in daily living.

Experiencing a sunset, watching a child smile or observing a hummingbird hover over a blossom—these and so many other simple pleasures are often lost in the conquest of completing tasks on a self-generating to-do list. Out of exhaustion and hopelessness, many search for an antidote. Also, worrying about the future and ruminating about the past steals precious moments of peace from daily life, and living fully in the moment is the only cure.

Even Western medicine, with its emphasis on surgery and drugs, is beginning to acknowledge that illnesses caused by stress cannot be cured by a scalpel. Research into new techniques has led to greater appreciation of the ancient practices of mindfulness. Based on Buddhist meditation, mindfulness is a method of simply focusing on the present moment and becoming fully aware of the experience of life.

The Practice of Mindfulness

Learning to practice mindfulness requires very little: mainly, a chair that will support the spine in an upright posture and a quiet, comfortable room with no distractions to help induce restfulness. Follow the rhythm of the breath, allowing the focus to follow a place in the body that feels the effect of the breath— the movement of the lungs or the nostrils. With each inhalation and exhalation, the mind follows the breath, gently observing without changing anything.

The practice is simple, gently bringing the mind back to the point of focus. However, newcomers to the practice learn firsthand how the mind can be easily distracted by thoughts that arise. Also, physical discomfort might arise or outside noises swirl around; each vying for attention at different moments, the breath is often forgotten. The practice is to notice that the focus on the breath was lost, and then follow the gentle reminder to come back to the breath without struggle or pressure.

The mind thrives on its ability to produce thoughts, some of which can produce anxiety rather than enhancing life. Being gentle with the flow of thoughts takes patience—it seems natural to force the thoughts away. Resistance only encourages struggle and tension. Direct the focus back on the breath without judgment.

There are many other exercises to explore mindfulness. Focusing on the movement of the body, feeling each foot touching and leaving the ground, may appeal to those who find it difficult to sit still for a period of time. This walking meditation focuses on mindfully moving through space without a destination or goal. The body scan is practiced lying down, focusing on an awareness of each part of the body in a systematic way, slowly sensing and accepting the feelings and sensations in each area. By experimenting with different types of mindfulness exercises, a beginner will find which ones best suit their temperament that will best lead them to present moment awareness.

Health Benefits

Mindfulness techniques can lower blood pressure, improve immune functioning, alleviate chronic pain and help cope with the stress of illness. It supports an increase in focus and mental clarity, allowing one to perform better in all activities.

In recognition of the many health benefits of mindfulness, classes are becoming easier to find. Even hospitals offer classes to help the general public reap the benefits of this practice.

Penn Medicine offers a program through the Penn Program for Mindfulness called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that teaches individuals how to use meditation as the primary tool for managing stress. Over the past 20 years, they have reached thousands of people who might have never considered taking a meditation class, let alone practice it for 45 minutes a day.

Dr. Michael Baime, director of the program, has also developed customized mindfulness-based programs for people living with cancer, healthcare providers, police officers and educators. His form of personal growth for students in the program allows them “to drop their fears for the future, their preoccupation what hasn’t gone well in the past and teaches them to live their present moment fully and completely in a way that helps them find balance and peace.”

Marilyn Eppolite is an energy therapist and spiritual counselor who specializes in emotional balance and resilience. She also writes a blog for living an emotionally balanced life on her website. Visit TheWisdomWithin.net.

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