Breathe, breathe, breathe...
By Rebecca Hardin, Volunteer Coordinator
November 16, 2020
Signs of stress:
- Biting nails (Would you rather I bit off someone's head?)
- Refusing to get out of bed (We hates the sun!)
- Road rage (Does anyone know what merging actually means??)
- Impulsively eating the entire box of Ho Hos (Don't judge me.)
- Excessive tears when watching Hallmark commercials. (Note: "excessive" since some weeping is anticipated. I mean, babies and puppies and sappy music? C'mon.)
We’re living in a time of uncertainty which breeds stress, and prolonged stress is damaging to our bodies, minds, and relationships. What is the best way to cope with the prolonged stress we are all undergoing? It’s not speeding or binging or hibernating. It’s mindfulness.
What is mindfulness? The word implies being full in your mind and that most definitely does not sound like the antidote to stress. “Mind” can suggest to take care, such as “Mind that box of Ho Hos! Oops, never mind.” Or it can suggest irritation: “Yes, I mind if you eat one of my Ho Hos.” It can refer to obedience: “Mind me or else I will not share my Ho Hos.” It can warn you of danger: “Mind that Ho Ho-gorging woman in the corner.”
The “mind” in mindfulness refers to the activity of awareness, or to pay attention to, like when someone cares for something: “Will you mind this box of Ho Hos while I’m out?” In other words, will you watch these and care for them and pay attention to them? With mindfulness in the sense of self-care, you might think it’s as if we are being mind-mindful, or thinking about what we are thinking (meta-awareness). While that is a totally legitimate endeavor, mindfulness in the sense of stress-relief refers to that activity in which we bring our full attention to one idea or stimulus. It can focus on a particular moment or experience, or a concept such as kindness, but it is often focused on (drumroll, please) The Breath.
At the mention of The Breath you may conjure images of incense and flowy garments and while I appreciate this aesthetic, mindfulness isn’t as elusive or exotic as it may initially seem. Our breath is our life, yet during times of stress it can become rapid, constricted, and shallow. Taking a mindfulness moment to not only clear your mind (thoughts) but also your heart (feelings) and body (actions) helps modulate those neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. So how do we do this? What does it look like?
We sit (yay!) or lie down (even better!) and focus on our sense of breath as it enters and exits our bodies. This asks our awareness to settle on the present moment. We ask our brains to slow the heck down, quit processing the past and planning the future, and only ponder the now. Do these little gray cells listen? Absolutely not. We will be in our criss-cross applesauce position, poised for enlightenment, counting while we breathe, and our brains will surprise us with a medley of thoughts, feelings, and images. That’s normal. That is not failure.
Then what do we do with that zoetrope of thoughts, feelings, and images? We acknowledge it with a “hey, yeah I see you” and then let it gently float away and return to our breathing. We’re not just asking our minds to chill, but also for our bodies and our hearts to take a break. We attempt to non-judgmentally recognize urges to move and fidget, emotions that may or may not accompany thoughts. We can get really meta and judge our judgement, but our reaction should be the same: recognize it, let it slide on by, then return our focus to the present moment where the only requirement is breathing in and out.
The mere act of focusing attention on your breathing gives you an anchor to place you in the present moment. You may focus for a total of a minute in a five-minute period, spending the other four minutes reminding yourself to focus, and that’s ok. It is a practice, after all. Like anything, it gets easier the more you do it. You become less distracted and you’ll begin to recognize the state of mindfulness in your body and mind and heart as those chemical changes will start percolating. Maybe you’ll even see a change in your nail-biting and speeding tickets.
I urge you to try mindfulness in baby steps. Did I mention I have done mindfulness with toddlers and preschoolers in story times? The thirty seconds of silence achieved when a host of littles find that present moment is magical. You can reach this magical moment, too. Begin small, allow yourself five minutes of peace and quiet, practice bringing your attention to your breath and letting those thoughts and feelings gently move on. Is a five minute chunk too long? Try one minute! Try it in your car before you turn the engine, at your desk when you have a quiet moment, on your floor in lotus position if you want to go full out, or in bed before you start your day.
Intentionally giving yourself a moment, however long, to rest in the present and set aside concerns of the past and worries of the future can make substantial changes to your life. In a time of uncertainty, negativity, pressure, and strife, gift yourself with a healing breath. Then go eat a Ho Ho.
Tune in to Ms. Rebecca's Baby Stretch Story Time videos posted on the Lewiston City Library's Facebook page every Wednesday at 11AM. Baby Stretch offers story time experiences for little ones and their families that are inspired by yoga and informed by science. We combine movement and mindfulness with literacy in order to enhance early development and provide an enjoyable way for children to learn.
Ms. Rebecca is a facilitator for Stories, Songs, & Stretches!
Krishnakumar, D., Hamblin, M. R., & Lakshmanan, S. (2015). Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety-A Modern Scientific Perspective. Ancient Science, 2(1):13-19.https://doi.org/10.14259/as.v2i1.171
Lemay, V., Hoolahan, J., & Buchanan, A. (2019). Impact of a Yoga and Meditation on Students’ Stress and Anxiety Levels. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 83(5), 7001. https://doi.org/10.5688/ajpe7001