How Staying Present Can Improve Your Health

Mindfulness has been a hot topic lately — and studies show it lives up to the hype.

Mindfulness is no longer for monks and yoga instructors. Mindfulness studios are popping up across the country, and the practice has garnered both support and skepticism. That’s likely because mindfulness — a form of meditation rooted in being present — can often sound too good to be true.

Being present is the opposite of what many people typically do during the day, such as absentmindedly scrolling through social media, daydreaming in a meeting and losing track of time in a work project. The practice of staying present, often called mindfulness, involves calling awareness to what you’re feeling, sensing and noticing around you at any given point in time — without passing judgment or reacting to what you observe.

Mindfulness has a variety of benefits, from reducing stress and anxiety to boosting your mood, improving focus and memory, and minimizing negative thinking. A study from Keck Medicine of USC found that participants who took a mindfulness meditation program (consisting of two-hour sessions once a week for six weeks) experienced an improvement in their sleep quality. It also indicated that mindfulness may have a positive effect on depression and daytime fatigue.

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Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can also change your perspective. “After a few sessions, it kind of transforms the way that [participants] engage in day-to-day life,” says David S. Black, PhD, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “They have the opportunity to see their reactivity, their judgments that they place on all these things and realize that really impacts their day-to-day life.”

Being present can also help reduce feelings of stress, one of the most common afflictions in the world today. Stress can create a domino effect, disturbing sleep, mood and productivity. With mindfulness training, though, people experience improvement.

“Generally, people’s self-reports of stress do reduce post-mindful training,” Black says.

The trick to staying mindful is to actually practice it. “We possibly can still rewire our brains through training, no matter how old we are,” he explains.

It’s easy to begin: All you have to do is pay attention at any given moment. When you speak to someone, listen to his or her words and consider their meaning.

Another good habit: Focus on your breathing for a few minutes in the mornings or before bed. Find a quiet spot where you can sit with your back straight. Think about the rhythm of your breath going in and out. If your mind wanders, don’t worry. Just gently redirect your attention back to your breath.

Finally, just pay attention to your senses. Take note of what you’re looking at, how your surroundings feel, what you smell and what you hear.

It sounds easy, but maintaining mindfulness requires practice. Luckily, you can do this just about anywhere. Try some mindfulness practice the next time you have some downtime at work, at home or on your commute. Your health will thank you for it.

by Deanna Pai

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