Mindfulness Exercise Series: Releasing Anxiety
What does it mean to be mindful?
Being mindful is being aware, but in a way that doesn’t require thinking. It is being aware of thinking, as well as being aware of each other and the way we experience the sensory world (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling through the body).
The problem is, living in the modern world we live in today, not being mindful has become our new normal. It seems natural for our minds to wander frequently. We often find ourselves lost in daydreams about the past or the future, or are distracted by feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, worry, and all sorts of emotional suffering.
But by intentionally practicing mindfulness and deliberately paying more careful moment-to-moment attention, we can live more fully and less on ‘auto pilot,’ and thus, be more centered, relaxed, and present (University of California Center for Mindfulness).
Mindfulness for anxiety
If you experience any anxiety or stress, practicing mindfulness can tremendously help you. It's essentially a type of meditation that is especially great for:
helping to slow racing thoughts
letting go of negativity
relaxing the body
releasing worries and fears
regaining mental control
Daily mindfulness practice develops our ability to pay attention to our immediate experience – The Now – helping us to overcome such pre-occupations so that we can clearly see what is happening in our actual lived experience of the present moment. Instead of finding ourselves stuck in a state of worry and fear where we feel we have no control, we begin to grow in our ability to choose how we want to experience and act in certain situations where we otherwise would be triggered.
The more we practice this, the more our brain adapts and the more “normal” and “natural” it becomes to be mindful. It becomes natural to feel a sense of stability, inner calmness, and less reactivity of the mind. It helps us better cope with the crappy aspects of daily life and become more aware of the beauty and joys of the present moment.
By developing a simple and pure awareness, we learn to disconnect ourselves from our habitual thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and connect with our experience, with ourselves, and with others in a healthier, more relaxed way.
So let’s get started.
The Magical 3-4-7 Breathing Technique
Practicing mindfulness is a practice of being fully and attentively present in the moment. In the same way a musician practices an instrument, we practice being mindful and aware through this type of meditation.
To help ground us and keep us present, this technique uses the breath as an object of awareness. Feeling our breath as it flows in, around, and out of our body gives us a focal point and allows us to connect with our bodies.
Sit upright in a comfortable seated position. If you are on the go and are unable to sit, then stand tall (with confidence) and softly roll your shoulders back to keep your chest nice and open. If you have the option, go somewhere outside in nature.
Close your eyes.
Inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 7 seconds. The short inhales and longer exhales is so effective that it has been clinically proven to halt the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight/panic state) and activate the parasympathetic (rest, digest, and relax state).
Repeat this for up to 5-10 minutes everyday.
It’s normal for our mind to wander from time to time during this practice, so when that happens, simply acknowledge the thought and let it pass by. It may be your natural reaction to get frustrated, but allow the thought to pass with gentleness and patience. It helps to literally watch it pass by like a puffy floating cloud in the sky. Keep following your breath and let the “clouds” pass whenever they pop up.
Try to set at least 5 minutes aside everyday, even during times when your anxiety may be at bay. It will help prepare you for when you encounter anxious or stressful moments in the future. When you happen to be in those more fight-or-flight moments, practice this exercise again.
And remember, the more you practice the easier it will get each time. Just be easy on yourself and set aside any judgements or expectations going into it. Simply use it as a tool to relax and allow you to stay grounded in the present.
Every time you practice it, you are actively supporting your own health and well-being in heart, mind, body, and spirit. It's all connected.
Even when it doesn’t feel like it, YOU always have the power. Your anxiety doesn’t.
Just breathe babe.