LIVE TO BE INSPIRED…BE INSPIRED TO LIVE – PART 4: Practice Mindfulness
by DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Expert, Jessica Pass, LMFT
When you think of inspiration, what comes to mind? A friend, loved one, relative or celebrity? Maybe it’s nature, sunlight or a good book, music or movie? Or perhaps it is difficult to think of something… anything. It’s actually quite common to lose your inspiration or drift away from the things that inspire you in life. Let’s face it… bills, schedules, steady 8-5 and exhaustion get in the way most days. It’s also possible that life happened and somewhere along the way, your inspiration just didn’t fit. Generally the drift happens over time, in small increments almost unnoticeable in the moment. We just do what we have to do to either get by or move forward. Or perhaps there’s more to it. Perhaps, we lose sight of what inspires us unconsciously. Meaning, we aren’t aware of the distractions that arise in the moment or we are guided by unknown thoughts and feelings that if understood and known could have an entirely different affect, helping us stay on track, in control and connected. This type of awareness allows us to stay connected regardless of what is going on around us and is present when we become more aware our internal states, ultimately resulting in more energy, gratitude and mental clarity to stay connected to our goals and live inspired.
The difficulty with all of this is finding ways to minimize the clutter in our mind. Most of the time we aren’t even aware that we have drifted from a goal, lost sight of reality or replaced our original target with one that is less significant or helpful. Before we know it, we’re tired, cranky, restless or even depressed because of how far we’ve journeyed away from our authentic self. The truth is that living distracted and outside of the moment happens all the time, to everyone. Our brain is a highly efficient machine, once it learns something or experiences a situation it categorizes and recalls the a previous experience to know how to react, respond or perform tasks without even thinking through the process. Otherwise, with most simple tasks through the day our brain would end up overloaded with insignificant information, so instead it automatically and without involvement of our consciousness makes decisions and responds to what is going on within and around us.
Allowing us to be more objective and clear headed to distinguish between what is true or false for us. The practice of mindfulness clarifies our thinking by gradually reducing the amount of distracting thoughts, helping to keep us aware of our automatic reactions and able to actively choose a different, more appealing alternative. In the National Bestseller, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Covey, discusses how mindfulness helps us clarify a clearer picture of our ideal situation by increasing our levels of self-awareness. As a result, we’ll be less likely to unconsciously sabotage our efforts because we will be much more conscious of what we’re thinking, desiring and aiming for. It’s incredible to think that just by increasing our ability to be mindful we gradually weaken the strength of our undesirable habits and reactive responses in life, creating a better ability to not only observe our impulses but rather change them as they are occurring. This means so much for all those daunting resolutions you might have made as the New Year began! Or maybe you beat yourself up with guilt over not following through with a planned commitment or lifestyle change (i.e. dieting, quitting smoking, exercising more, watching less TV, etc.) Throughout mindfulness research it is shown to be one of the most, if not the most, powerful tool there is for decreasing stress that we experience in our bodies. One commonly known and well researched practice called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been used for over 40 years to decrease levels of stress experienced in the body and to teach individuals to literally control their responses, thoughts and behaviors all by actively focusing on their thoughts, internal state and clearing their mind to be present in the moment. Interestingly enough, mindfulness has been shown to increase levels of happiness. One study actually found the “happiest people ever measured by science,” to be a group of mindfulness practitioners who scored almost twice as high as the norm.
So if mindfulness is where it all begins and where we are able to finally observe who we are, what we are doing and how we do it, then how do we achieve this heightened sense of awareness? Elizabeth Stanley says to think about it the same way you would think about building muscle just as “physical fitness relies on repeated exercises to generate specific muscular and cardiovascular changes, likewise, mind fitness relies on specific exercises to create changes in the structure and function of the brain. Like the body is physically changed by exercise, areas of the brain may shrink or expand – become more or less functional – based on experience and training. Armed with this understanding and the right approach, it’s possible to literally rewire the brain to be more effective and resilient.”
The good news is that you don’t actually need to be a mindfulness expert to experience increased levels of mindfulness. In fact, to become more mindful all you really need is you, a few minutes to spare and some quite space. This could be at home, in the car, in the shower, at your desk and even during savasna of your favorite DEFINE class. As you close your eyes focus your attention on just being still and allowing all of your thoughts to slowly surrender to the quiet. Take an inventory of what you feel, physically and emotionally. Labeling them in your mind and then taking three separate deep breathes, inhaling in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Feel your breath fill your lungs and follow it out in to the air. Open your eyes and recall what you were feeling before you began and see if you feel a difference.
With a little practice and consistency you’ll begin to notice how these simple steps can alter your mood, attitude and outlook. Not only will you feel more present in the moment to make sound decisions and focus, you will also experience a deeper connection to your emotional self which will allow for less reactivity, stress and negative thoughts to interfere. Just by first stopping to breath and refocus your attention on your body, you will in turn open up space to be in the moment and be aware of what is going on in your mind and your body. You’ll be surprised what you discover about yourself and how these new discoveries will inform who you are and what you are going through. Take inventories sporadically and clear your mind of the clutter that distracts and taunts you. Take opportunities to enjoy the smallest of tasks and use mindfulness to open up and shine a bright light on your deepest desires, thoughts to find the inspiration that the clutter hid for so long. Re-connect daily and in a few months time, look back and be amazed by your progress, emotional and mental clarity and overall positive outlook on life.
DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Expert, Jessica Pass, LMFT
Jessica Pass is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Instructor at DEFINE body & mind. She has a private practice in Houston, Texas, specializing with children, adolescents, individuals, couples and parents. Jessica’s approach incorporates mind-body integration, education and practical strategies to improve emotional wellness, emphasizing all aspects of who we are to live fully and thrive in our relationships.
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