Has anybody ever told you to stop and smell the roses? And have you? If you have, you may have noticed some changes in the moment. Your heart rate lowers, you breathe deeper, you are able to smell the sweetness radiating from the flower. Your vision is absorbed in the vibrant colors. You may even reach out and touch the silky smooth petal. In this moment, your mind stops. Your to-do list seems to slip away and your worries leave with it. In this moment, you are mindful. You are present in the here-and-now by paying attention to the experience of the moment with acceptance and without judgement.
Mindfulness has been around for thousands of years and practiced by people across the planet. It wasn’t until recently, well within the past 20 years or so, that we have been able to develop research techniques to study mindfulness. Through neuroscience research we are now able to say that through the intentional focus of attention, we can actually change the structures in our brains. And with those changes comes great benefits such as emotional regulation, job satisfaction, reducing anxiety and depression, increasing resiliency, and even assisting couples build a secure relationship.
The practice of mindfulness is the training of the brain to focus awareness and strengthen conscious awareness. By becoming mindfully aware, we are able to step back and see our situation in a larger perspective, from a larger field of awareness. We can then begin to see different possibilities for responding to our situation rather than falling into old reactive patterns.
One of the most practiced mindfulness techniques is breathing. It may sound simple, but it can be very challenging. Find a spot to sit and let yourself relax. Try to focus on your breathing deeply in and out. If it helps, place your hand on your belly to feel your breathing. Your mind may wander, and that’s ok. Just notice the wandering and return your attention to your breathing. Try to focus on your breathing for 1 minute. There are many other mindfulness practices you can do on your own with a self-help CD or you can attend a mindfulness practice group.
When you slow down to smell the roses, you may learn a thing or two about yourself. I attended a conference on mindfulness where hundreds of helping professionals participated in mindfulness practices. One such practice involved eating a raisin mindfully. We looked at the raisin, felt it in our fingers, smelled it, put it in our mouth and rolled it around, and slowly chewed it. It was the longest raisin eating experience I have ever had. At the end of the practice, our facilitator asked for feedback from the group on what we noticed. One fellow raised his hand and said, “I’ve been eating raisins my whole life and I just realized I don’t like raisins!”. Sometimes in life we spend our days rushing; mindfulness helps us stop and just be.