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Why (and How) to Practice Mindfulness Right Now

April 8, 2020

If there’s an “it” buzzword that’s emerged in the heath world in the last couple of years, it’s mindfulness. We’re encouraged to practice it all the time, since its purported benefits include reducing stress, improving concentration, boosting immunity and even protecting our genes in a way that may enhance longevity.

But what exactly is mindfulness, and can we even practice it now, with the stress and upended lives we’re living under the COVID-19 pandemic?

“Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to the present moment without judgment, through practices such as meditation, yoga and breath work,” explains yoga expert Kristin McGee, an instructor with Peloton, where she leads meditation sessions along with yoga. “Mindfulness is especially important during a stressful time like this because it can decrease stress, anxiety and depression by helping us increase our ability to regulate our emotions. When we focus on the past (Why did this happen?) or future (What could happen), it can be very overwhelming. When we take a deep breath and bring ourselves into the present and what is around us in the immediate moment (our home, our family, our ability to work remotely, etc.), we can feel a sense of calm.”

Though sheltering at home comes more naturally to some than others, the level of stress and uncertainty around the virus itself as well as the impact it may have on all of our lives affects us all. Even those who don’t mind staying home may feel anxious, restless, or irritable, have trouble focusing or sleeping, or any number of other things. McGee recommends leaning into those feeling with mindfulness.

“You don’t have to focus hard on anything; but just pause and observe,” she says. “Observe the temperature of your breath as it enters and exits your nose, observe the rise and fall of your belly, observe your feet, legs, back, arms, face. Find physical things to set your attention on to naturally anchor you in the moment. Even if it’s just a few moments, over time it will become easier and more natural.”

You can incorporate mindfulness throughout the day, even in a confined space, McGee notes. “Some very simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day can be simply observing each task at hand. For instance, if you are making a cup of coffee, only make your coffee, don’t try and look at your texts, watch the news, unload the dishwasher and make your kids breakfast at the same time. You can slow down, especially now. So, do one thing at a time. Repeat to yourself when you find yourself leaving the moment, ‘Just this breath, just this moment.’”

Other moments in the day to practice mindfulness:

  • In the shower. Feel the water hitting your skin, smell the soap or shampoo, listen to the sound of the spray hitting the tub floor.
  • Doing chores. Pick something you do every day, such as washing dishes or folding clothes. Choose one thing and instead of just getting through it, pay attention. Notice the way you do it (without judgment), the order you choose to complete the task. If you’re folding clothes, note the different textures, how they smell coming out of the dryer.
  • Really listen. Whether you’re quarantined with others or you video chat with a friend or loved one, give someone your full attention when they’re talking. So often we get distracted during a conversation; at least once a day, stop everything else you’re doing and really turn into what the other person is saying.

Remember that one of the keys to mindfulness is the “without judgment” part. “It’s perfectly natural to feel scared, anxious, angry, you name it,” McGee says. “But, instead of getting caught up in the emotion, we can take a deep breath and find more self-compassion.”

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