Do you find yourself exhausted at the end of your day? Feeling overwhelmed and stressed often? Does your mind seem to race from what you are doing now, to worrying about what you need to do later and then perhaps rehashing what happened yesterday? Well, if so, you are not alone. According to the American Psychological Association (Stress in America 2007, released October 24, 2007) 48% of adults in the US say they are living with more stress now than in the past few years.

What if you could unwind, relax and refresh daily while being more focused? Sounds too good to be true! Yet many studies have shown that mindfulness practice or meditation can do just that. A recent study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania (2007, June 26 Meditate To Concentrate. ScienceDaily.) shows that practicing daily mediation, even in small doses, may improve focus and concentration. This increased focus and ability to be fully present in the moment can easily lead to more relaxation.

Through meditation learning or training we can become more mindful of our thoughts instead of being caught up in them. We can begin to observe our thoughts as they pop up from moment to moment. Through mindfulness practice we become the gentle witness of our thoughts, mind, emotions as they arise. Instead of being dragged along on the not-so-joyful ride, we can stand back and just watch. Eventually we can choose which thoughts we want to follow or believe.

Mindfulness or presence is a practice. Most of us were not taught how to do this (although now more and more schools are teaching this!) but it is very simple in principle. We just stop and take a few minutes to be present. We pause and notice our thoughts or feelings and without judging or ‘being in them’, we just witness. Sounds simple. And, as with most things in life, it IS simple yet it is the actual doing it, implementing it that can be challenging.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth, teaches that we can practice becoming aware of how we feel and what we are thinking. If we are feeling bad we can just stop and notice that; become aware of the negativity that is there. Don’t judge it, just notice it. Tolle says, “Before you were the thoughts, emotions, and reactions; now you are the awareness, the conscious Presence that witnesses those states.”

The first step in being present is catching yourself (or your mind, actually) when you drift away from the present moment. You can do this by noticing when you are thinking about the past or the future, for example, thinking about what happened yesterday, or this morning or what you are going to do tomorrow, etc. And, most of the time, most of us are … thinking of the past or the future! We are so use to doing it, we don’t even notice when it happens.

As with any new habit, it takes time and practice to get good at it.

Try this:

· Take a few minutes to just breathe.

· Focus on your breath. Become aware of how your abdomen is moving or your chest is moving. Or count each inhale (one), each exhale (two), etc.

· Feel the air coming in and out through your nostrils.

· Notice what thoughts come into your mind. Just notice them. Then bring the awareness back to your breath.

· Notice how you feel. Notice any emotions. Remember you are the awareness behind your thoughts and emotions.

Most of us have a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment. We run from it. Going to the past or the future. By taking the time to stop and notice your thoughts you are taking the first step toward being present more often. As Tolle says, ”In the moment of seeing, of noticing that your relationship with the Now is dysfunctional, you are present.”

It takes practice. Having a good teacher or some way of supporting yourself can be the key to unlocking the potential in mindfulness practice. Perhaps consider all the ways you might support yourself to being mindfully present. Meditation is a simple way to begin being more present. You can start today by just taking a moment to notice your breath, as in the exercise mentioned above. You don’t have to do it perfectly. It is called practicing mindfulness or practicing meditation. So just start practicing today!

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