“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” –- Henry Miller
Have you noticed how many articles and papers are telling us to breath and be mindful during this holiday season? Why is it always like this? So much stress… So much to do… So little time… Deadlines… Decisions to make… Trips to pack for… Family to visit… And then, it’s over. Or is it? What most of us end up doing is carrying this overwhelming feeling through the New Year and turning it into a habit: turning everything into a stress-related-matter.
Stop! Breath! Breath Again! One Last Time! Ahhhhhhhhh!
Let’s try something new today. Let’s change it up a bit and bring a more positive habit into the New Year. Let’s be mindful. Let’s learn to take deep breaths and do it in between tasks, several times a day.
“The practice of mindfulness involves being aware moment-to-moment of one’s subjective conscious experience (…) one becomes aware of one’s stream of consciousness.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, 1990). The American Psychological Association (APA) defines mindfulness as “a psychological state of awareness”. According to APA being mindful has numerous benefits: it reduces rumination and stress, boosts the working memory and focus, decreases emotional reactivity, increases cognitive flexibility, improve relationship satisfaction, among other benefits.
My friend Dr. Shauna Shapiro co-wrote a very comprehensive article on The Journal of Positive Psychology how mindfulness helps to reduce stress and among other things, impacts the decision-making process. Mindfulness is the ability to be intentionally present and aware. This awareness refers to our emotions, state of mind, cognitions, as well as our environment, where we are, what we are doing, who is around us. We can use this awareness to our advantage and be more successful. Once we are aware, we are more connected to the task at hand because our bodies are calmer and we feel more creative and focused. Our “self-steem, inter-personal functions and empathy are enhanced. Our bodies also respond differently, our immune system is improved, as well as modulation of cortisol, increase of cerebral blood flow and very importantly, the shifts of activity of the two brain hemispheres.”
Mindfulness facilitates the decision-making process because it “enhances our capacity to shift from our subjective, personal perspective to a more objective one.” (Shapiro, 2012) This shift allows us to see things for what they are, as opposed to how we believe them to be; preventing us from making mistakes and regretting later on. Who does not want that?
There are many mindfulness exercises one can practice from sitting mediation, to body scans, to yoga, to breathing exercises. I like to dedicate time to myself to sit quietly and breath deeply almost daily for several minutes, very early in the morning. I also find that if I take three deep breaths as I transition from one task to another throughout the day, it completely shifts the focus from what I was doing to what is right in front of me. The American Institute of Stress calls breathing the ““Super Stress Buster” that evokes the relaxation response that we widely recommend as useful for everyone – even kids.” When we breathe deeply, the air coming in through our nose fully fills our lungs, and the lower belly rises. Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange: incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. It can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure, it leaves the body relaxed, calm and focused. You are then ready to proceed with the task ahead of you.
So let’s put this idea to test and give it a try in the next few days? Maybe this “deep breathing thing” can become a new positive habit for you too? It sure works for me. Let me know how it goes.
To learn more about the positive effects of mindfulness please read Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision making, by Shauna L. Shapiro, Hooria Jazaieri & Philippe R. Goldin.