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Living in the Present -- Mindfulness Meditation

Dr. Paul Aaron has been teaching meditation since 1972, so he knows what it’s like for most people –

It has been a long day at work. It is finally time to go home, so you get in your car and start driving. All of a sudden, you are pulling into your driveway. You don’t remember anything about your journey from the workplace to the house.

There are many times in life were we put ourselves on “auto-pilot,” just going through the motions of life without really being present. We get stressed out juggling all of our responsibilities and lose track of the here and now.

Meditation is a way for us to get back to the present.

Mindfulness meditation can help us to be aware of our thoughts in the present without judging ourselves. It singles out our emotional and physiological reactions to everyday life that have become habits and also aids us in responding to events in a calmer manner.

I just can’t meditate. My mind is too active.   

Just 10 minutes of meditation can lead to many health benefits.

Just 10 minutes of meditation can lead to many health benefits.

Dr. Aaron hears this over and over again. He says it’s the job of the mind to think. The mind is designed to understand the world and to protect us. So when we try to stop it from thinking, we often fail and feel guilty.

I’m bad at meditation. My mind keeps drifting.

One of the biggest keys to being able to meditate is to let go of the sense of failure and guilt. Sounds and thoughts will always be coming into our senses. Dr. Aaron says when you hear a sound, all you need to do is accept that sound and do your best not to dwell on it. When you have a thought, you can say to yourself, “Oh, a thought. I don’t need to pay attention to that.” and then go back to concentrating on your breathing.

So, how do I stop my mind from thinking?

Dr. Aaron has a couple suggestions. One of them is to pay attention to your breath without trying to change it. Another way is to have a particular series of words or sounds that you pay attention to. You could also have your eyes open and look at a picture, a candle, or even a spot on the wall just to bring your attention away from thinking.

Dr. Aaron wrote this poem to remind him of how to watch his breathing:

Softly breathing,

The cat on my belly

Goes up and down.

Consciously, I breathe deeply in.

Cat goes way up.

Breath goes out.

Cat’s down.

Just watching,

Making no difference.

Cat stays there anyway;

Or leaves.

Try meditation for yourself using these steps from Alternative Medicine Expert Cathy Wong, ND:

  1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck and back straight but not stiff.
  2. Try to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and stay in the present.
  3. Become aware of your breathing, focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall, the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to the way each breath changes and is different.
  4. Watch every thought come and go, whether it be a worry, fear, anxiety or hope. When thoughts come up in your mind, don’t ignore or suppress them but simply note them, remain calm and use your breathing as an anchor.
  5. If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts, observe where your mind went off to, without judging, and simply return to your breathing. Remember not to be hard on yourself if this happens.
  6. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.

Doing this for just 10 minutes can help you cut down on brain chatter and keep your mind off autopilot more often. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you find your mind wandering the first couple times you try it. The important thing is to get back to focusing on the present moment as often as you can.

Dr. Aaron says that benefits may include improvements in mood, decrease in stress, and a boost of immune function. In a study of middle schoolers, researchers found that the students who meditated in a classroom-based mindfulness meditation program were significantly less likely than non-meditators to develop suicidal thoughts or self-harming thoughts or behaviors.

To learn more about mindfulness meditation, check out this video for an intro on the topic, or this awesome TEDtalk by Andy Puddicombe.

At the Health Center of Hillsborough, we can help you overcome stress and enhance healing with guided mindfulness meditation. Make an appointment today.

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