As I sit at my kitchen table, writing this article, I look outside my window and see the most beautiful hot pink oleanders and crepe myrtle trees lining my backyard. The colors are so bright and vibrant that I can’t help but smile and feel grateful for the opportunity to look at something so beautiful every day. As I observe, with gratitude and awareness, of what is going on around me, my experience gets heightened. Ordinary moments turn into extraordinary ones because I am simply paying attention and noticing the nuances of details around me that otherwise are missed when I’m too busy, distracted, overwhelmed, stressed or am just not paying attention. It seems oversimplified to say that by simply paying attention to what is going on around you, and inside of you, is enough to change your experiences. But it is true. Not only has the contemplative practice of mindfulness been around for millennia, but current scientific research shows the benefits for our minds, bodies and souls, when we practice slowing down, and bringing awareness to ourselves and our surroundings. Mindfulness is not hard to do; it’s only hard to remember to do. We all get stuck in patterns of moving quickly, reacting on autopilot, and floating through our day without even connecting to the tasks that we are doing. By bringing awareness and attention to whatever is in front of us allows for greater presence, peace and joy; we so often live inside our head, inside our stories, inside the past or the future, inside our fears and anxieties, and inside our stress that we miss all the beautiful moments happening around us. And even when the moments aren’t beautiful, we can remember that this too shall pass and that as long as you are breathing, you will be able to get through it. Here are some ways that you can practice having every day mindful moments: ~ Look up – notice is what is around you. Don’t walk with your head hanging down or buried in a device. Walk through your life with awareness rather than on autopilot ~ Practice mindful eating – eat with awareness of your body and your senses. Not only will you gain greater appreciation for what you are eating, but it is healthy for you! Pay attention to your body and the signals it is giving you – eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Check in with your body to see what it’s really wanting. Slow down – Chew slowly. Let yourself enjoy each bite without rushing for the next. The taste buds are on your tongue, not in your stomach… You’ll also eat less when you slow down. Smell your food – really notice the potent fragrances that all the summer fruit exudes. (I can’t help but stop and breathe in the delicious smell of the peaches and nectarines ripening in my fruit bowl!) Observe your food – look at it. Notice the shape, color, size Taste your food – I know this sounds obvious, but how often do you eat something and not even pay enough attention to be aware of the texture or bursts of flavors exploding in your mouth. Actually taste it. (You might even realize that you are eating something that you don’t even really like!) ~ Make eye contact – the people around you deserve your presence. Show you them you are here by looking at them; this will not only keep you in the present moment but will also strengthen connections. ~ Be aware of your breath – we often don’t realize we are breathing, but in times of stress and anxiety, we unknowingly hold our breath or have shallow breaths. Brining awareness to your breath, and remembering to breathe in and breathe out, with awareness, will help reduce your stress and anxiety, and will provide many health benefits to your body. ~ Use everyday reminders to practice being here now –standing in line in the grocery store, being stuck in traffic, waiting for your turn at the doctor’s office, or even listening to your kids bicker in the backseat are all reminders of what is happening in the present moment. When you practice presence, you get out of living in your head and on autopilot, and are making a choice to be conscious in your life. If you are interested in learning more about how to incorporate the benefits of cultivating a mindfulness practice into your daily routine, I offer many classes through the Town of Danville, starting in Fall. There is an Introduction to Mindfulness, Fundamentals of Mindfulness and Mindful Parenting classes, all of which offer experiential opportunities to learn how to make shifts in your life that will provide you with greater balance and peace. Mindfulness doesn’t change what’s happening, but it will allow you to change how you relate to it, giving you the freedom to let go of old cyclical patterns that don’t serve you, and create skillful responses to live the life you want to be living.