The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
~Carl Rogers

What Mindfulness Is
Mindfulness is simply about developing the capacity to be aware and awake in the present moment as it is. It is a skill that is developed through meditation where we practice noticing what we’re doing, thinking, feeling, seeing, and hearing. Mindfulness is about being aware of everything we do every day. Mindfulness involves being conscious of both our internal and external environment and then learning from what we see. This quality of alertness and aliveness in the present moment enables us to manage our selves more skillfully.

The attitudinal foundation for mindfulness practice involves patience, non-judging, acceptance, letting go, beginner’s mind, non-striving, and trust. While we call this a ‘practice’, we do not subscribe to the belief that, “practice makes perfect” in this experience. It’s quite easy to turn even our spirituality into an obsession or into something to perfect. Mindfulness practice asks us to do just the opposite. It’s more about accepting what’s happening in a particular moment without the need to change anything. It involves noticing what we’re thinking or feeling without judgment. It’s about being aware of the breath and any sensations present within the body. There is no correct experience to have. Being with ‘what is’, is the practice.

We are “wired” for fight-or-flight which means that whenever the body senses danger or feels threatened, we are programmed to either put up our dukes and fight or to head for the hills. During a stress event the body goes into a state of psychological and physiological hyperarousal causing muscle tension and strong emotions including anxiety, terror, fear, anger, or rage. The fight-or-flight reaction triggers the release of epinephrine (adrenaline). The pupils of the eyes dilate, the hair on the body stands erect, heart rate and blood pressure increase, and the digestive system shuts down. The fight-or-flight reaction helps us to survive when we are in a life-threatening situation.

Negative Coping Behaviors
The problem is that with our fast paced culture, we seem to be living in a state of fight-or-flight. When we react so automatically, we cause ourselves and others more harm. We either say or do something we end up regretting. Or we suppress these feelings deep within, denying they exist. And over time this internalized stress ends up manifesting itself in some sort of disorder or illness. We develop maladaptive coping strategies such as workaholism, busyness and other self-destructive avoidance behaviors. We use alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, sugar, food, exercise, inappropriate sexual relationships, and over-the-counter and prescription drugs to cope with stress. Over time the negative effects of stress combined with inadequate coping strategies lead to breakdown, a compromised immune system, or to some type of disorder or disease. The weakest link goes first. Where the breakdown occurs depends on genetics, environment, and the particulars of a maladaptive lifestyle.

Responding to Stress
Our daily mindfulness meditation practice is what empowers us to better manage our selves during stress events and to create more positive outcomes. Mindfulness helps create space between the stress event and our reaction to the stress event. By doing a quick self-appraisal of the breath, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and sound, we become aware of what’s happening within us before we act. This moment-to-moment awareness allows us to exercise control and to influence the unfolding of a stress event. Being fully present rather than on automatic pilot changes the situation dramatically. This skillful ‘pause’ enables us to stay open, to see possibilities, and to co-create solutions that are not possible when we are in a state of hyperarousal. When we respond rather than react to a stressor, we become more able to move through our pain and problems with grace and ease.


Practice being aware of breathing in and out when-
• you are engaged in an argument with a loved one
• someone cuts in front of you
• you hug a loved one or stroke your pet
• your child or your boss is saying something you don’t like
• something isn’t going ‘according to plan’
• you’re cutting the vegetables or folding towels
• you’re preparing for an important meeting

Author's Bio: 

Cheryl Jones-Reardon, holds a Master’s degree in Exercise Science from the University of Connecticut and a Certificate in Spirituality from Saint Joseph College. She has completed extensive training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Cheryl is a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Health Careers at Manchester Community College. She presents wellness programs for a number of local hospitals and has a private practice as a fitness and wellness coach in South Windsor, CT. She is a continuing education provider for the American Council on Exercise and is the author of Mindful Exercise.