By Beth Heller
When I teach mindfulness to kids in the classroom, I usually start by describing mindfulness in a couple of ways. First, in our distracted, reactive world, it might be considered a superpower. By training our body and mind to be present, we notice oodles more than the average human being notices, which makes us insightful, and in-turn makes us skillful. Second, and most relevant for this blog post, mindfulness is a gift that we can give the world. If you’ve even been around someone who is intensely, non-judgmentally present (like a loving grandparent or even a beloved pet) you know how special and whole they can make you feel. When we turn this kind of intense, caring presence towards the world and our community, we cannot help but transform it for the better. So, over the next few installments of our blog, we’ll share a recipe for Holiday I.P.A. that you can give to everyone you know this holiday season. And, no, it’s not a beer. It’s a fantastic practice that will transform your holidays if you give it a try.
Holiday I.P.A. (Intense Present-Focused Awareness)
Serves: Everyone you meet
Prep Time: A Few Minutes a Day
Step One: Fully Inhabit Your Body
While I like to call mindfulness a superpower, there’s nothing magical about it. In fact, it’s the most basic practices that requires no electronics, apps, bells or whistles. The first step of the recipe is learning to live from our body. Many of us live in a constant whirl of activity, mostly mental, of which about 90% goes unnoticed. We are interconnected with our screens, our desires, our responsibilities, fears and distractions while our bodies sit, lights on but empty, waiting for our attention to arrive home.
There are two really easy ways to come home to our physical body. The first is to learn to feel your body from the inside. To do this, simply bring your intense attention to different sections of your body, one at a time (head, shoulders, arms, legs, etc.) and feel the subtle “aliveness.” If at first you can’t feel anything, you can imagine that you’re flooding these areas with a bright, warm light. Once you have moved your attention through the body sections in sequence, feel your whole body as one big field of life. This can be done at any time during the day or night, but is particularly effective before you go to sleep and are snuggled warm in bed.
The second way to come home to the body is through the senses. We use hearing, smell, taste, touch and sight unconsciously throughout the day to navigate our lives. Bringing our total attention to this sensory input – without judgement or commentary – lands us squarely in our bodies and the present moment. Luckily, the holiday season abounds with sensory input, so the next time you feel overwhelmed by your surroundings, turn the tables and begin to pay deep attention by sensing the different input individually, noticing sounds and smells, using your eyes and body to bring in information without assigning meaning. The result is a sense of stillness or calm amidst a hustle of activity.
Practice this first step daily for a week and make note of the outcomes. With studies showing that mindfulness can lower anxiety and heal depression, reduce heart disease and other health risk factors, you can view this first step in the recipe as a gift you are giving to yourself.
Stay tuned Step Two in next week’s blog!