from Harvard Medical School, December, 2011         Mindfulness is one of the best, drug-free therapeutic techniques for countering stress.  It is the opposite of multitasking, a process that involves rushing to accomplish various tasks.  It guarantees that we’ll lose our connection to the present moment and, ultimately, to ourselves.

Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism.  It teaches us to live each moment as it unfolds and to accept what is happening in the present without judgment.

Studies show that practicing the technique helps prevent relapse in persons who’ve had several past episodes of major depression. It can even alleviate anxiety and reduce physical symptoms such as pain or hot flashes.

You don’t need to pay for a prescription or a membership or high-tech equipment to learn to be mindful.  Just bring and be yourself.  Here’s how to get started:

Center down  Sit cross-legged on the floor or in a straight-backed chair.  Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth.  Or on your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.

Open up  Once your concentration is narrowed, begin to widen your focus.  Become aware of sounds, sensations and ideas.  Embrace and consider each without judgment.  If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing.

Observe  You may notice external sensations such as sights and sounds that make up your moment-to-moment.  Here’s where the challenge comes in:  Don’t latch onto a particular idea, emotion, or sensation or get caught up in thinking about the past or the future.  Instead, take an inventory of what comes and goes in your mind.  Figure out which thoughts produce feelings of suffering and which fill you with a sense of well-being.

Stay with it  Sometimes the process won’t seem relaxing at all.  But over time it will provide a key to greater happiness and self-awareness as you become comfortable with a wider and wider range of your experiences.

You may want to try informal approaches to mindfulness by trying to become more aware while doing activities you enjoy.  Playing the piano, playing ball, working in the garden can all be part of your practicing if you pay attention to the moment—the sound of the music, the texture of the ball in your hand, the earthy fragrance of your garden.

Practice does make perfect.  Mindfulness is something to cultivate and practice on a regular basis.

Make a commitment  Aim for 20 to 45 minutes of mindfulness practice most days of the week.  If that seems overly-ambitious, remember that a central part of mindfulness means letting go of expectations.  Commit to working at becoming more mindful.  Do the best you can.

Make small changes  Large changes can be difficult.  Aim small.  Don’t take one day at a time; take one moment at a time.

My Take on mindfulness:  Like so many great ideas, it’s simple.  But not easy.  I need to practice, practice on the observation part.  I tend to latch onto a particular thought.  Alas, seldom is it a thought that promotes a sense of well-being in me.

Multitasking teaches us to feel a sense of accomplishment only if adrenalin is involved.  We excuse/explain ourselves by saying we work best under pressure.  We’re inducing an artificial threat in our lives and working our fight-or-flight response way overtime, way beyond what’s healthy.

Yes, we can run our cars at top speed, but if that’s the norm, they won’t last long.  And neither will our bodies if we fill our work hours, even our leisure hours, with an artificial sense of urgency.  We’ll wear ourselves out.

It’s critical that we quit focusing on nanoseconds.  We must learn to think in terms of . . . moments.

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