On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Meditation: How to Enjoy the Moment

Today we have a post from our guest blogger, Murali Krishna, M.D., a psychiatrist in Oklahoma. Dr. Krishna currently serves as senior consultant, INTEGRIS Mind-Brain Health and Co-founder/President, INTEGRIS James L. Hall Jr. Center for Mind, Body and Spirit, an educational organization devoted to improving health through raising awareness of the healing power of the connection between mind, body and spirit. He has been named a Distinguished Life Fellow by the American Psychiatric Association, the highest recognition given by the organization. He serves as President Emeritus and was the founding medical director of INTEGRIS Mental Health. He also serves on the Oklahoma State Board of Heath and is founder and founding president of the Health Alliance for the Uninsured, a partnership to improve the health care of the uninsured and under-insured in Oklahoma County. Dr. Krishna is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
American workers share a common bond, whether they live in Oklahoma City or Silicon Valley. We’re living in the most fast-paced and frenetic society on earth, and the workplace is perhaps the best example of this mindset. Workers in the United States take fewer vacations than our counterparts in any other nation. We are restless, we are on the go and we want to go faster. We spend the shortest amount of time possible in any given situation. Our attention spans grow shorter each day. We seem to always be running after something, yet not quite knowing what we are trying to reach. Most of us – without even being aware of it – are preoccupied by what’s going to happen in the future or by what happened to us in the past. But this keeps us from savoring the present moment. This moment is the only moment we can control. The past is history. The future is yet to come. By preoccupying ourselves with the past, we essentially kill the present. The present moment becomes bogged down in thoughts about the past. We lose attention, concentration and the full utilization of our energy and enthusiasm. We can learn from the past, but we shouldn’t live in it. American culture generally breeds the opposite problem. We’re always living in the future. The human mind reacts to what it perceives will happen in the future. So we tend to look for clues as to what the future holds. And we react to the present moment as if we are reacting for the future. But by doing this we raise our anxiety, tension and fear levels. The solution is deceptively simple, but difficult for most Americans to achieve: live in the present moment. Enjoy it.

Mindfulness

From a scientific standpoint, numerous studies have been conducted into the area of what psychiatrists and psychologists refer to as “cognitive restructuring.” This concept refers to consciously restructuring our thought patterns to change the way we feel right now. Buddhism refers to this awake and alive state of attention as “mindfulness.” Other religious traditions – including Christianity – also put great emphasis on the importance of being aware of the present moment. It’s an important idea that’s only now coming under closer scrutiny by medical scientists. Scientists have studied the benefits of “mindful” practices like meditation in the past few decades, beginning with groundbreaking research by Herbert Benson, M.D. at Harvard Medical School in the 1970s. This research shows a “relaxation response,” leading to decreased blood pressure and heart rate, along with a positive effect on the immune system and state of mind.

Simple Steps

Despite the growing popularity of such methods, and the media attention they receive, I hear a repeated complaint from overworked professionals: “I don’t have time to focus on enjoying the moment. I’m simply too busy.” But having time is the whole point. You always have enough time to enjoy the moment you are in. It’s your choice. If you feel you don’t have time to practice enjoying the moment, you might consider three simple exercises to teach yourself the habit of engaging with the present, rather than focusing on the past or the future.
  • Counting Breath Close your eyes. Breathe. Feel the sensation of your breath fill your lungs and expand your rib cage. Now, simply count your breaths, inhale … exhale count one, inhale … exhale count two, and so on. Concentrate on the sensation of breath traveling through your body. When you reach 5, begin again. Do this for a few moments from time to time throughout the day. • Walking Awareness Take a leisurely, measured walk in a nearby park or along your neighborhood streets. If you’re at work, you can even practice this as you walk down a hallway. Walk slowly, no need to rush. Focus your attention on your movements as you walk: the position of your feet as they progress along the ground, the bend of your knees, the swaying of your arms. Notice your body and its movements. Relax. Breathe. • Media Blackout I also suggest from time to time that you disengage from various kinds of media. Most of us reach for our smartphones as soon as we can, keep the TV on in the evening, and turn on the car radio as we commute to work each morning. Certainly you must be an informed citizen. But these artificial stimulants often create a fog through which we have a difficult time perceiving our true emotions, thoughts and hopes. Genuine life experiences have a difficult time penetrating this haze of media bombardment, because our senses are preoccupied. By constantly feeding ourselves a media diet, we are not giving ourselves the chance to evolve into emotionally and spiritually healthy beings.
Until just a few years ago, I was caught up in the classic American dream of material success and of feeling important. I lost perspective on what I wanted to achieve as a physician. Once I realized what really mattered in my work – healing others – I began to make changes in my life.I learned to zoom in on the moment. Once you’ve experienced the sense of peace that living in the present can bring, you’ll be ready to expand this habit into your daily life and into your work. Something magical happens when we immerse ourselves in what we are doing and thinking right now. Many people are frustrated with their jobs, but most make the mistake of focusing on what’s wrong with their job, instead of enjoying the positive aspects – and positive moments – any job can bring. Learning to enjoy the moment isn’t about giving up your goals or aspirations. Neither is it avoiding the truth about changes you’d like to see in your job. One way of thinking about your job in a positive light is to try to view your work as a service to a higher power. Almost every occupation and career is in some way a service to humanity. Visualize that someone’s life is improving because of what you do. You’ll begin to enjoy all aspects of life more, including your work. Wake up. You are alive.

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