So how do we do it?
According to Abrams and Kolleeny, there are several ways to bring yourself into the present.
1. Focus on your breathing:
If your mind is racing and you’re anxious, focus on your breathing. Try to inhale and exhale from your belly (this is called belly breathing).
Or try square breathing. Breathe slowly into your diaphragm on the count of four (through your nose if possible). Hold for a count of four while keeping your body relaxed. Exhale for a count of four.
Try to repeat either of these breathing techniques a minimum of five times.
2. Tense and relax:
Inhale and squeeze all the muscles in your body at the same time (scrunch up your face, hands and feet as well). Hold it for ten seconds then release. Repeat until you’re calmer and can focus on the present.
3. Engage your senses:
Take a moment to check in with your senses – notice what you hear, see, smell, feel and taste.
“Intentionally choose a sensory activity that helps you relax or brings you pleasure,” says Abrams. “Some examples are slowly savoring a piece of chocolate, holding a smooth stone in your hand or lighting a scented candle.
What if you feel like you just can’t do it?
“We will always struggle,” notes Kolleeny. “We weren’t trained to pay attention in this way, so we need to have a really light touch about success or failure. Being heavy-handed and critical about our efforts, or labeling them as a failure, gets in the way and is of no help.”
If you notice you’re no longer in the present, but you want to be, Kolleeny says you should “gently bring yourself back to awareness, without judgment of failure or success.”
Being present is a process, and it requires a set of skills that you need to practice.
“You can practice by simply paying attention as you’re walking to your car every day, looking at your garden, engaging in a hobby or playing sports,” explains Abrams. “If you practice being mindful and aware daily, then when you’re not in such a good space, you can intentionally engage in a mindful activity that will improve your mood or relax you.”
Helping kids be more present
“Children and teens begin to realize that it’s easier to accomplish whatever it is they’re trying to do when their thoughts, emotions and actions are all in balance,” Abrams explains.
The very best way we can teach present-moment awareness to our children is by modeling it. For instance, when your kids are talking to you, give them your full attention. Or when you’re doing something together, make sure you put your phone away.
To help your children get curious about the present moment, you can practice active listening during meals. To do this, give each person at the table a turn to share something about their day. Encourage everyone else to listen attentively and then ask a question based on what they heard.
For teens, their emotional instability often drives their behavior. So help them learn how to be in the present during periods of time when they’re upset.
Abrams recommends asking them questions like:
- Can you recognize how you’re feeling at this moment?
- Do you know what you’re reacting to right now?
- What would make you feel better?
Ready to go a little deeper?
If you’ve mastered the basics and are now reaping the benefits of being more present and less stressed, Kolleeny says that meditation can help you take it to the next level.
“Meditation gives us a technique and training ground for the development of present-moment awareness,” she explains. “And if we do it wholeheartedly, it permeates the way we conduct ourselves in our post-meditation life. It will give us a greater capacity to be with our experience.”
Remember to start small, go easy on yourself and take your time. Presence comes slowly, but every little moment counts.
For tips on how to begin a meditation practice, click here.