WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day -- unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour,” says a traditional zen proverb.
The holiday season is a particularly busy time of year when many of us feel we are burning the candle at both ends. Many of us feel busy from the moment we wake up until the very second our head hits the pillow. If we reduce stress, and consequently lower our levels of cortisol (stress hormone) we are less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors (like smoking or junk-food binging) as a means of coping with stress. How do we find time to nourish ourselves, especially during the holiday season? Here are some easy ways to integrate a practice of mindfulness into your day:
1. Wash your hands. Wait, you already do that? Great! Next time, while you are washing your hands do this calming breathing technique: inhale for the count of 4, hold your breath for the count of 7 and slowly exhale to emptiness for the count of 8. Repeat 2 more times. This breath retention and lengthened exhalation trigger the vagus nerve which snaps your body out of fight-or-flight mode and brings you to your rest-and-digest state.
2. Count your steps. Do you choose the stairs over the elevator? Add mindfulness to your walking by counting steps as you take them. If your mind wanders, reel it back in and restart your counting. Each day see what number you can get to before a distraction arises. Focusing the mind helps to calm the constant mind-chatter that leads to feelings of anxiety and stress.
3. Repeat a Mantra. This simple mantra is easy to remember and can invoke a feeling of inner peace: When you inhale, think “LET.” With your exhale, think “GO.” Repeat 5 or 10 times. This practice will help to boost your mental focus and welcome in moments of calm.
Shanna Siegel, RN is a nurse at White Plains Hospital and certified in yoga instruction and mindfulness meditation.