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Follow Your Breath to Less Stress: A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness Meditation

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Any nurse can become more mindful—just keep these tips in mind.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes you can be so busy that you feel like you’re drowning? And other times, when you’re under the same amount of pressure, you feel confident and competent?

Or, how sometimes you just fly off the handle in a difficult situation, while other times you respond with poise and presence of mind?

Your quality of life has more to do with your relationship to the events in your life than the events themselves. A mindfulness meditation practice is one way to get on friendly terms with more of your day-to-day experiences.

Mindfulness meditation can make life seem easier in the present and help you generate less stress and regret to deal with tomorrow—not to mention all of the other mental and physical health benefits of mindfulness.

If you’re wondering how you could possibly make room for meditation on your long to-do list, then keep reading. It can actually be quick and simple to get started.

Mindfulness: It’s wherever you are

Mindfulness is a way of bringing your awareness, curiosity and acceptance to your present-moment experience. You don’t have to go looking for mindfulness. It’s already there inside of you, so you can employ it anywhere, simply by focusing on just about anything.

A good place to start is with your breath, which has been with you every moment of your life and always will be—keeping you alive, no less. Yet, it’s easy to completely forget about this faithful, supportive companion. Think about it. Other than when you’re really pushing it in the gym, or after a run, when was the last time you really noticed your breathing?

As you get more familiar with practicing mindfulness, it can be fascinating to return to your breath regularly, exploring how it reflects changes in your mood, your stress level, and how you respond to certain situations.

In mindfulness, it’s as simple as paying attention

You can get started right now by paying attention to what your breath feels like. Is it deep or shallow? Fast or slow? Warm, cool, smooth, rough, or ... what else? There are no right or wrong answers. You're just exploring, noticing and accepting.

Try to bring a childlike curiosity to the meditation. Do you remember how, as a child, you could examine a blade of grass, or your cat’s toes, for a really long time? Let yourself get lost like that again while you explore what it feels like as your body breathes for you.

If your mind wanders off on other thoughts, that’s OK. It’s perfectly normal. Your mind is like a rambunctious little puppy you’re trying to train, so it helps to respond to it in the same way: with kind bemusement.

Gently bring your awareness back to where you want it to be—on those breath sensations, in this case—and gradually, the puppy will begin to cooperate.

Every breath counts when you’re mindful

The benefits of practicing mindfulness are proportional to how much you practice, so regular and/or longer sessions will improve your quality of life more efficiently. Even if you have only a small amount of time to practice, though, know that every mindful moment adds up.

Keeping that in mind, it helps to practice mindful breathing as much as you can. Try observing a few breaths each time you walk between patients for a quick reset. Or try sitting for 5, 15 or 30 minutes at home to ground yourself as you start or end your day.

Then, see what it’s like tomorrow, or after the next patient. That’s all. Just follow your breath. Eventually, it can lead you back to internal peace.

Jim Hjort is an executive coach, personal development trainer and mindfulness meditation teacher, as well as a licensed psychotherapist.
Reviewed by Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA
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