Presence is the powerful practice of being in the moment.
It is created through an acute awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and in our modern day society, being present doesn’t always come easily. The overstimulation and distraction that come from technology, social media, work, family life, social engagements, and the never-ending “to-do” lists regularly take us out of the now and into a memory from the past or a fear about the future.
Cultivating the power of presence comes from creating the space to observe one’s mind and one’s self. This skill of observation allows us to look at our own lives and the lives of others without attaching judgment or analysis. Using this awareness, we become mindfully attuned to all that is around us through our five senses (smell, touch, taste, sight, and sound) as well as our physical sensations — you know, those signs from our bodies that we often tend to ignore.
Our bodies are equipped with a natural mechanism called the “stress response,” also known as the “fight-or-flight” response, which was first described by Walter Cannon at Harvard. When we encounter something that feels like a threat, the amygdala in the brain experiences the emotion fear. The brain then communicates to the hypothalamus, which communicates to the nervous system, which signals to the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. This assembly-line-like process of the sympathetic nervous system is a crucial part of our body’s internal self-protection mechanism. The only problem is that we are not physiologically designed to be frightened often.
In today’s world, many of us live in overdrive and operate in a constant state of “flight or flight.” This state can be a result of feeling the fear of imagined threats: financial security, societal achievement, the steadiness or demise of a relationship, a perceived health threat, the loss of a loved one, etc. Operating from this place, it is no wonder that many of us feel the perils of stress and anxiety on a daily basis. We struggle with migraines, digestive issues, difficulty breathing, lack of concentration, fatigue, depression, and innumerable other physical ailments because our body is actually attempting to flee the scene of a real threat (car crash, lion chase, assault, etc.) that simply isn’t there.
The opposite is also true. When we practice deep breathing and mindfulness, we encourage our body to employ the “relaxation response,” our body’s counterbalance to the stress response as defined by Harvard professor Herbert Benson. Being in a state of relaxation, your body will experience physiological symptoms of ease, openness, and balance…
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