People often talk about the importance of being in “the here and now” and “living in the moment.” It seems simple enough, and it makes sense — life happens in the present.
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Yet for some reason, most of us tend to spend a lot of time lost in thought about things that happened in the past or that might happen in the future. Sometimes we become so consumed with regretting our mistakes, wondering what “could have been” or worrying about or anticipating things yet to come, that we let the individual moments of our lives slip away unenjoyed. Many of us spend a good deal of time in this state of mind, leaving us mentally exhausted and emotionally stressed.
Saying “Yes” to Now
Well, the good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way! You can learn to focus your thoughts on the present moment — to accept what is and realize that now is your only opportunity to create change. And in doing so, you’ll not only notice profound effects on your mental clarity and emotional wellness, but you’ll also very likely experience positive effects on your physical health and longevity.
Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you. – Eckhart Tolle
Living in the Now: A Proven Way to De-Stress
We know that stress can make us sick. The detrimental effects of prolonged stress on health have been so well-documented that even the mainstream medical community readily acknowledges this mind-body connection. Research has also shown that learning to relax, particularly with techniques such as meditation or yoga, is an effective way to improve many aspects of mental, emotional and physical health.
According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the practice of mindfulness meditation (a type of meditation geared towards helping you focus on the present moment) reduces stress, increases overall well-being and can actually strengthen your immune system. Study participants took part in a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program for 8 weeks. At the end of the study, participants reported reduced anxiety and improvements in their mental well-being. The researchers recorded drops in c-reactive protein (a marker of stress) and corresponding increases in natural killer cell cytolytic activity, indicating stronger immunity.
A groundbreaking NIH-funded study presented at last year’s annual meeting of the American Heart Association found that coronary heart disease patients who meditated regularly over the course of nine years were almost 50% less likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke or death than those who did not meditate.
Additionally, many studies have shown that meditative practices can boost cognitive function and improve attention span, alleviate depression and anxiety, lower high blood pressure and even help you lose weight!
Learning to Live in the Now
Learning to manage your stress is a proven strategy for achieving optimal health and longevity. If you have the time and interest in learning to meditate, there are many resources available to make it easier. Attending a meditation course, workshop or retreat is a great way to get started. The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts has an online tool to help you locate and MBSR program in your area. There are plenty of books, DVDs and audio recordings that can help, too.
But what if you aren’t quite ready to commit to a regular meditation practice or class? What can you do to start experiencing the benefits of living in the now…now? Here are a few tricks for staying focused on the present moment.
1. Count your blessings.
Think about that in your life for which you are grateful. Acknowledge the abundance that you already have in your life. Say “thank you” often to confirm (to yourself and to others) that you genuinely appreciate even the little things.
2. Stop and smell the roses.
Notice the richness of your surroundings and what each of your five senses are perceiving. Whether you are taking a walk on a beautiful day or quietly folding laundry at home, pause for a moment to notice the details that are part of your experience.
3. Observe your breath.
Don’t try to control it, but simply pay attention to its rhythm. Then start to bring awareness into every part of your body. This is a powerful way to reconnect with the unchanging “aliveness” that exists within you, which is separate from your thoughts.
4. Make eye contact.
It’s hard not to be fully present when you are staring another person in the eye. Be a good listener. When you interact with someone, try to really tune in to not only what they are saying, but how they are saying it.
5. Take a hint from those who seem to get it.
Observe your children, grandchildren or pets. Notice how they seem always to be immersed in whatever is “now,” rather than being dragged down with regret or worry. Or take a cue from anyone in your life who seems to “live in the now.”
How do you stay focused on the present moment? Leave a comment and share your strategies below!