Live in the Now


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Live in the Now


Most people have problems being present, but there are ways to help sharpen our focus on today.

There’s a famous quote attributed to the Dalai Lama that goes, “There are only two days in the year when nothing can be done – one is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow.” It seems so simple, yet most of us find it difficult to live in the present. Constant deadlines and to-do lists make us slaves to the future; regret and nostalgia keep us chained to the past. But learning to live in the now has real health benefits. Research shows that mindfulness therapy, a practice that includes training the mind to focus on today, is effective in reducing anxiety, depression and stress.

“We have to train our ability to regulate our attention and emotions so that our thinking doesn’t cascade into the future or the past.”

Being conscious of life as it unfolds takes practice, says Dr. Patricia Rockman, director of education and clinical services at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto. “We have to train our ability to regulate our attention and emotions so that our thinking doesn’t immediately cascade into the future or the past.” Fortunately, it can be done. Here are five exercises and tips to help you live in the here and now.

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    Focus on the physical

    “Being present means living in our minds and our bodies; living in the future or the past means being stuck in our minds,” says Jesse Hanson, a psychotherapist and clinical director of Helix Healthcare Group in Toronto. Turning your attention to what’s happening in your body can help pull you into the here and now. Observe how your soles feel on the ground as you walk, tune into the sound of your breath or see how it feels to run your tongue along the roof of your mouth. “When you do practices where you’re focusing on sensations in the body, it’s activating a part of your brain that is responsible for present-moment sensory awareness,” Rockman explains. “That provides another place for attention to go when difficulties show up.”

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    Take a time-out

    “Human beings tend to start thinking about whatever experience they just had rather than being in the moment,” says Rockman. “We jump very fast to our conclusions, ideas and opinions.” To combat the breakneck speed of our thoughts, mindfulness therapists suggest taking a time-out. You can take a mini-break at your desk, in the kitchen or even in the washroom. Simply stop whatever it is you’re doing, take a deep breath and observe what you’re feeling emotionally and physically. “When you stop, you take a look at what you’re experiencing rather than reacting without consciousness,” Rockman says.

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    Practice breathing

    Deep breathing decreases stress by activating a relaxation response in your body. Hanson recommends trying what he calls “the three centres of breathing,” an exercise that helps you visualize drawing breath into your stomach, heart and head. Inhale into your diaphragm to a count of one. On the second count, draw the breath up into your chest. On the third count, imagine pushing the breath up through your neck and into your head. Then exhale on the count of three. “I do this all day as I deal with clients,” says Hanson. “It keeps me centred.”

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    Pick a mantra

    If you’re fretting over last week’s mistake or worrying about tomorrow’s presentation, repeating a consciously chosen word or phrase can break the cycle of negative thoughts and help you focus on the moment at hand. Pick a mantra that’s meaningful to you, such as your children’s names, an empowering phrase or a spiritual passage.

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    Straighten up

    Research has shown that the simple act of sitting or standing up straight can reduce stress and bump up self-esteem, compared to being in a slouched-over position. If you’re stressed or anxious, take a moment to sit or stand up straighter, drop your shoulders away from your ears and see how that changes what you’re feeling in the moment, says Hanson.

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