I know the last thing you need is another item on your to-do list.
If you’re a parent — especially a parent of a child with a medical condition — your time, energy and resources are already spread precariously thin. You’re exhausted. You’re worried. And you have no idea what’s coming next.
It’s hard enough to show up for life’s daily challenges without the added task of trying to learn mindfulness.
But here’s the thing about mindfulness: It holds space for you to feel that exhaustion; that worry and that uncertainty.
Mindfulness acknowledges the churning waves, while helping you access a place of inner stillness deep down below the surface. Once you get there, research shows, your blood pressure is lower and your immunity to disease is higher. You’re less anxious and more grounded. You respond, rather than react, to stressful situations.
Because of the physical, mental and emotional benefits, mindfulness has become a billion-dollar industry. It’s in books and on apps. It’s taught in classrooms and corporations.
But what is it, exactly?
Mindfulness is paying attention, with compassion, to the present moment.
Rather than dwelling on the past or fretting about the future, you’re resting fully and non-judgmentally in the now.
Here are three quick and simple techniques to help get you there. Each takes less than one minute.
1. Label and locate the tough stuff.
While it’s human nature to resist feelings of fear, frustration and sadness, studies show that turning toward those feelings, rather than away from them, makes you mentally and physically healthier.
Studies also show that emotions manifest as physical symptoms. Fear, for example, can show up as a pounding heart. Powerlessness can make your shoulders hunch. Grief can feel like a weight on your chest.
The first step in this mindfulness technique is to name your emotion. The second step is to pinpoint where it’s showing up in your body.
Label it, then locate it.
By labelling the emotion (“I feel afraid,” for example) and identifying the physical sensation (“My arms are tingling,” or “My heart is racing,” etc.) you’re bringing yourself squarely into the present moment and giving your feelings their due, rather than denying, suppressing or resisting them.
It’s important to note that there’s nothing to fix. Just feelings to acknowledge. By giving those feelings compassionate attention, you’re allowing them to exist, which will allow them to transform.
2. Feel your breath.
Before I started studying mindfulness, I would take what I thought were deep breaths and wonder why I didn’t feel calmer. Now I realize that even though my body was breathing, my mind was somewhere else.
The secret to mindful breathing is feeling the breath, rather than doing the breath.
Try this: Take a big breath in. Then, as you exhale, feel the physical sensation of the air emptying out of your lungs. Visualize a balloon deflating, as you feel the air leaving your body.
Inhale deeply, and feel the air coming in through your nostrils. Stay with that feeling throughout the entire inhale. As the air enters through your nose, does it feel warm? Cool? Neutral? Notice any other physical sensations.
And then repeat: Exhaling, feel yourself emptying out completely.
You can even say silently, as you inhale “I feel the air coming in.” And, as you exhale, “I feel myself emptying out.”
Do this for one round of breathing, or as many rounds as you’d like. Your only job is to feel the physical sensations associated with each breath.
You can’t be fully present in your body and off in your racing mind at the same time. So by staying with the physical feeling of breathing, you’re staying focused and grounded in the here and now.
3. Practice metta meditation.
Metta meditation, also known as loving-kindness meditation, is the practice of wishing people well. Including yourself. Including people who frustrate you.
That last part seems counterintuitive, I know. But studies show this type of mindfulness actually increases positive emotions.
Here’s how it works: First, direct the well-wishes toward yourself, saying silently: “May I be peaceful.”
You can substitute “peaceful” with “happy,” “healthy,” “at ease,” or anything else that resonates.
Next, focus on someone you love. “May they be peaceful.”
Now, bring to mind someone who’s giving you a difficult time. Or someone who just took your parking space. Wish them peace.
You’ll feel resistance. That’s okay.
Try wishing peace to five people today: At home, while you’re driving, in the grocery store or in the hospital. “May you be peaceful.”
Notice how you feel.
There’s a common misconception that mindfulness is an escape from reality. It’s actually the opposite. Mindfulness is a tool for connecting deeply with reality, so that you experience every moment as fully and compassionately as you possibly can.
About the blogger: Elisa Boxer is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and a recovering Type A who writes about mindfulness and teaches it to busy people. Visit her at ElisaBoxer.com and connect with her on Twitter at @eboxer.