Why is being in the moment so essential for health?
No discussion on health is complete these days without including both the physical as well as the mental aspect. Merely focussing on the body beautiful is a thing of the past. With the challenges of everyday living becoming so complex, mental wellbeing now shares the limelight with physical health. Stress, depression and anxiety are just some of the common ailments faced by most of us. No amount of physical agility is going to ensure mental peace. And without it, we are not really savouring a state of wellbeing.
How do we achieve this state of mental peace in such troubled times? Part of the problem with most of us is that even though we are physically present in the current moment, but for the most part our mind is stuck in the past or fixated on the future, haunted by the ‘what ifs,’ or ‘FOMO’ (Fear of missing out). We keep taking pictures for Instagram, we keep wanting to upload them immediately. Recently, I went out with my neighbour and instead of focussing on the dinner, she was constantly taking pictures of each item presented on the table, and then while driving back from the restaurant uploading them on to her Instagram account. We could have savoured the drive back which was about an hour long, but she was just not living in the moment.
So the remedy is to bring our focus back to the present moment. Or in other words, being mindful and living in the present moment on purpose. This kind of mindfulness, or awareness of our existence moment to moment, shorn of judgement, is believed to have a positive impact on our mental health, as it can help reduce anxiety, depression, bring down blood pressure and even ensure better sleep.
In short, choosing to practice mindfulness makes us healthy and happy. Mental health experts even recommend it those struggling with stress and anxiety.
How do we achieve Mindfulness?
There are three characteristics of mindfulness: Intention, attention and attitude. The entire practice of mindfulness is built on these three pillars.• Intention – Choosing awareness
• Attention – Focussed on the present moment
• Attitude – Non-judgmental
When we start strengthening these pillars in our life, we automatically start making meaningful changes to our lifestyle. The first step is setting an intention to be in the present. Once the intention is made, we now bring our attention to focus on our breath under the nose and above the upper lip (the triangular portion under the nose). We just observe incoming and outgoing breath, as it is. When we try and indulge in the breath, which is the bridge between the mind and body, and we focus on it in this area. The mind has something to do, other than engaging in thought processes that take us over or grip us. The mind would like to wander in the past or dwell in thoughts about the future. If we start with 5 minutes a day, this time can be extended for up to 10, then 20 minutes slowly. This will also help cultivate an attitude which determines how we treat the distractions that can pull us away from mindfulness.
Observing our breath will help us to live in the moment and this would need us to let go of the past along with all our regrets and embrace the present moment, without judgement. After all, life is only lived in the present moment. If we are constantly in the past or future, we lose out on the beauty of the present moment, which will ultimately impact the quality of our life.
Being 100 per cent rooted in the now, means we are living with awareness. This allows us to observe our thoughts, patterns and actions as well as those of others. It helps us to develop empathy, compassion and gives us the freedom to direct our energy towards more compassionate and aware actions.
The ancients were obviously in the know and had developed many kinds of techniques to cultivate mindfulness like yoga, tai chi, qigong and meditation. One such technique is Vipassana meditation, which I have done for 27 years now.
Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique introduced by The Buddha which involves observing one’s thoughts and feelings from moment to moment. The idea is not to judge or dwell on the feelings and emotions but merely observe them. The mind gets trained to focus on the now or the present moment.
In fact, the very name Vipassana which derives from the ancient Pali language means to see things as they actually are. It is different from other meditation techniques as there is no attempt to control the process, but to instead just be a bystander or observer to one’s inner self.
Vipassana meditation is said to help quieten the mind and shift its focus to the present moment. It also helps reduce anxiety and stress and achieve a sense of wellbeing.
Some benefits of practicing mindfulness1. Lowers stress and anxiety
2. Ensures better sleep
3. Helps to manage weight
4. Boosts memory and focus
5. Mental clarity
6. Improves emotional intelligence
7. Promotes empathy & compassion
8. Better relationships
9. Objectivity & tolerance
10. Enhances quality of life
11. Keeps you grounded & connected to self
12. Builds resilience
13. Achieve physical & mental calm
In the words of the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, “The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, flower blooms.”
Mindfulness needs to be practiced at all times for it to have any kind of enduring effect on our lives. The internal calm that we cultivate becomes like a peaceful oasis that we can go back to again and again. This internal stillness within, in the midst of the outward chaos, helps to centre us and accept everything just the way it is.
This process of non-judgmental observation gradually changes the trajectory of our life. What started out as a tool or technique to handle stress, ends up becoming a way of life. That’s mindfulness for you.
If you are just starting out, you could begin with observing your breath; being present in the now by intentionally bring your attention to centre on whatever you are doing and avoid multitasking. Most importantly, suspend your judgement and be kind to your wandering mind.