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Natural Awakenings Boston

Mindfulness: A Practice for Greater Peace and Health

Oct 28, 2013 02:19PM ● By Patricia Howard

Mindfulness can be defined as the ability to be with what is unfolding in the present moment. While some may add that mindfulness includes being without judgment, being aware of judgments as they arise is actually part of the practice. Mindfulness allows the cultivation of a more neutral observer and trains practitioners to keep better company with the self.

The teaching of mindfulness as an experiential practice shifts the focus from thoughts to the awareness of sensations in the body. It explores life as it is unfolding in the present moment, which is, for the most part, without fear. Mindfulness practitioners and teachers use words to direct attention to the breath and body for the release of tension and the cultivation of presence.

Try this simple practice right now:

  1. Bring awareness to the movement of breath in the body, noticing the “in” breath and the “out” breath.
  2. Notice any efforts to make the breath happen, inviting that effort to release and trusting the body to breathe on its own.
  3. As awareness settles into the natural breath, let the “in” breath bring focus to this moment. Allow the “out” breath to invite release and permission to soften.
  4. Bringing awareness to the back, invite release and let go.
  5. Bringing awareness to the jaw, invite release and let go.
  6. Bringing awareness to the feet and legs, release any habitual tension or holding.

Take a moment to notice the gifts of the practice.

Vietnamese author and spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hahn says that, “We are part-time Buddhas” in times of deep joy, grief and love, when it is possible to stay with what is unfolding. Time in nature also feeds the ability to be present.

Given the riches of staying present, why is it so challenging to remain there? Actually, habits of not staying present can start in utero and become fully engrained by the time people are 7 years old. Afterwards, the human unconscious practice is to guard against re-experiencing pain from childhood. Fear can become a much more familiar energy than peace, whether it’s fear of rejection, abandonment, invasion or losing control.

Operating from fear creates mental and emotional challenges and throws off the body’s chemistry. Thus, mindfulness is seen as participatory medicine for those who practice, as the technique has been proven to help with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, anxiety, depression and many other stress-related disorders.

Mindfulness can be thought of as the practice of re-parenting oneself. When stress arises, most people reach for food, alcohol and other compulsive habits to avoid pain and discomfort. In mindfulness, it is the quality of presence that soothes, accessing an internal state that is always available, no matter the external circumstances. In learning to release habitual body tension, soothe feelings and reframe beliefs, the practice allows deeper states of love, joy and peace that lie untapped within each person. Inner freedom is the result.

Patricia Howard teaches Jon Kabat- Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at Visions Healthcare, in Dedham, and Emerson Hospital, in Concord. For more information about her services, including corporate programs, visit or call 617-524- 7628.

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