It is very clear that the vast majority of humans right now are struggling with excess stress, anxiety, and burnout. People are missing work, kids are missing school, leaders are struggling to support their teams, and mental health professionals are overwhelmed with the demands of caring for so many distressed souls.
Mindfulness techniques have been a solution for troubled minds since the dawn of human civilization, and yet at the same time human civilization has become increasingly faster and more complex. Some time ago, mindfulness and meditation became primarily associated with extended sitting practices to calm the mind and bring a person to inner stillness, even if just for a moment of peace. Seated practices remain a staple foundation of mindfulness however in my discussion with clients and students, arriving at a present moment of inner quiet has become ever more difficult and elusive in this current age of non-stop global communication, rising costs, and systemic incivility.
Research continues to reveal benefits associated with mindfulness practices ranging from improving higher-level brain function to reducing chronic pain, and at the core are the primary goals of mindfulness practice;
- To reside in moment-to-moment awareness
- Disengage oneself from a strong attachment to thoughts, emotions, and beliefs
- Non-judgmental witnessing of self and habitual patterns of behavior, and
- Practicing non-reactivity
In real life, these four outcomes of mindfulness practice have the potential to reach into all aspects of our lives, initiating and supporting healing on many levels. Imagine not being “hooked” by a disturbing news report or social media posting or better yet experiencing a confident, detached presence and inner calm when confronted by someone else. These experiences are wholly possible yet not common enough to pacify our collective anxiety. Bridging the gap from where we are now to a place of consistent inner presence and lightheartedness isn’t particularly difficult and in working with our students focuses on four basic elements of what we call Core Centering; self-massage, movement, breathing, and meditation.
In today’s world, for mindfulness practices to truly translate into meaningful results we need to meet the mind where it already is; and for most people, that is in a state of clutter and scattered disorganization. So, instead of plopping down on a cushion right away, we begin with what we call “stress scrubbing” (click for a free video guide) which is a series of body-wide tapping and acupressure practices to release the chronically held body tensions that foster chronic anxiety. This first step of addressing chronic tension in the body is absolutely critical and universally overlooked in most mindfulness practices. When we feel “triggered” by something in the world we feel that trigger in our body, which disturbs our thinking. By contrast, if someone were to have a relatively disturbing thought but feel calm in their body then it wouldn’t really be an issue, would it?
The next step is to move from stress-releasing self-massage practices to mindful movement skills where we teach our students to sense their bodies and learn to gauge their inner responses to outside triggers. Successfully reducing anxiety in the real world requires becoming mindful of our everyday movements and relationships with those around us, our body movements are the interface between our thoughts, emotions, and the outside world. Becoming intentional with how we move changes how we think and feel. Interwoven with mindful movement is mindful and coordinated breathing. Breathing is the most obvious flag for how we are feeling on the inside; whether we feel anxious or calm, our breathing will always reveal our inner state. Similar to how we move, how we breathe has a powerful impact on our nervous system and therefore how we respond to the world Finally, after stress scrubbing self-massage, mindful movement, and breathing, we move towards more quieting practice. Not always done sitting, once we have relieved the body of chronic tension and balanced the nervous system, the mind is able to settle down and practice letting go of its habitual attachment to disturbances. In today’s modern world, it has become more apparent that simply reducing anxiety is not enough, it’s akin to sticking one’s thumb into a dam that is cracking open. Being mindful in all of life, the joys and the sorrows, the wins and the losses, means practicing mindfulness in all of one’s body, emotions, thoughts, actions, and relationships.