It’s 2022, and people are stressed and anxious. After a recent yoga class, some students mentioned how much they appreciated the opportunity to practice presence for 60-minutes and take a break from worrying. I won’t bother reiterating the list of troubling current events. If you’ve read the news, seen the weather reports or paid for groceries lately, you know what I’m talking about.
There’s a saying, ‘anxiety lives in the future, and depression lives in the past.’ I’m not a psychologist, but this makes a lot of sense on an intuitive level. Unproductive worrying about the future or ruminating on the past steals our ability to fully inhabit and enjoy our lives in the here and now. That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t think about your past and future. By all means, DO your estate planning, plot to save the planet and go to therapy to process your traumas, but peace cannot be found through worry and rumination.
If peace is to be found anywhere, it’s in the moment you are living NOW.
According to a 2010 Harvard Study, we spend almost half our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing. That’s half the day spent with your mind and body doing different things! And participants reported less happiness when their minds and bodies weren’t aligned with the same task.
People that live in the present tend to be happier and more relaxed. It’s not a stretch to understand why. The ability to let go of heavy overthinking is a gift! Being in the here and now puts us in touch with the wonderful human qualities of openness, creativity, playfulness and positivity.
Don’t get this twisted, though. It’s perfectly natural and healthy for your mind to wander. The key is to be able to be present when your presence matters. And to ensure that you’re not living life absorbed in an imaginary alternative timeline that doesn’t exist. Here are five time-tested techniques for gifting yourself the presence of ‘here and now.’
1) Set an Intention
An intention is a force – like a magnet – that pulls your attention towards wherever you directed it. Set an intention to focus your attention, time and energy on what is happening NOW and you will be more present in the NOW.
Your presence is a powerful force! Your happiness and your ability to create change in the world only exist in the NOW. So, set an intention to stay present. Take any one of these statements (intentions) for a test drive for the day and see how it feels:
“I am here in the present moment. All that exists is now”
“My power to affect change is in the present.”
“My presence is powerful.”
Repeat it to yourself often to focus your attention, time and energy on what is happening in your NOW.
2) Integrate Your Body and Mind
On the most basic level, being present means your mind and body are aligned and oriented around the same task — without distraction, without wanting to be somewhere else, without being ‘in your head’ as you have an ‘out of body’ experience. Have you ever driven to a familiar destination and not remembered any of the journey? That’s an ‘out of body’ experience!
Think of your mind like an untamed puppy. Puppies are famous for getting into mischief. They’ll chew up your furniture or get into the garbage and drag it across the floor if you leave them unattended. Yet, if you give that puppy a bone it will sit quietly and chew. You can align your mind and body by using a mantra. It’s like giving your mind a bone to chew – so IT doesn’t start dragging out the garbage of your past or imagined future.
Try the mantra ‘Just this.’
Anytime you need to bring your mind back into your body and into the present, say ‘Just this… Just this breath… Just this feeling of my feet on the ground … Just this feeling of sunlight on my skin … Just this…
Just try it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what it does for your mood.
3) Tune Into Your Senses
Another way to reel your awareness back into your body is with this quick mindfulness trick, known as the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique. Sit quietly. Tune into your surroundings and notice:
This exercise helps to bring your awareness into THE NOW
4) Tune Into Your Breath
Follow your breath .This is a basic mindfulness meditation practice that settles your body and mind. Your breath acts like an anchor that keeps your awareness tied to the present moment. Your breath is always with you and it’s always happening, so you can tune into it anywhere, anytime you notice your mind wandering away from the NOW. When your mind wanders and internal chatter begins, return to your breath. This trains you to steer and re-focus your attention and calm your thoughts.
Here’s how to come back to the present when you get lost in thought:
1. Feel your breath moving in & out of your nose and your belly rising & falling.
2. Follow the full cycle of each breath: inhale, pause, exhale, pause.
3. Recognize when your mind wanders, and gently nudge your attention back to your breath.
4. Use the phrase “breathing in, aware that I am breathing in; breathing out, aware that I am breathing out” to help yourself stay focused.
5. Tune Into Sensations
Try a Body Scan. Body Scanning invites you to notice how your body is feeling from head to toe — and to adopt an open, welcoming attitude toward every ache, pain, or sensation you might be feeling. When you breathe into these senses, you are learning to sit in the present moment and pay attention to all the physical and emotional feelings that come to light. You’re not trying to change anything; you’re honing your ability to accept and be with things as they are — which is the first step in becoming present.
This teaches us to sit with our feelings — comfortable and uncomfortable. Over time, this helps us to work through all kinds of emotions and circumstances in everyday life. You expand your capacity to be with uncomfortable situations and even find a sense of ease in those moments.
Stay Happy in the Now
When your mind drifts unproductively into the future (worry), into the past (rumination), or into fantasy, you can always re-direct your attention to the here and now. You’re practicing presence when you:
· Tune into your senses and feel what is happening in your body right now.
· Notice your reactions, thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions without being harsh and judgmental.
· Concentrate on a present-moment experience such as your breath, bodily sensations, or listening to the birds sing.
Presence is a gift you give yourself and others. When you’re present, you’re the most potent version of you. You’re engaged with life; you’re happier; you expand your ability to listen; you open up to your creativity and playfulness and are able to fully spend quality time with others.
All these practices are great ways to spend time in the here and now.
1. Matthew A. Killingsworth, Daniel T. Gilbert. A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind. Science, 2010; 330 (6006): 932 DOI: 10.1126/science.1192439
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Amanda Tripp, Yoga/body nerd and woman of a 1000 opinions