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Are you in over your head?

Shirley Parry

About a year ago, my daughter’s school organized a parent workshop on mindfulness. The faculty had noticed signs of increased stress among the student body—students crying over grades and homework loads, students checking into the nurse’s office to nap because they were exhausted. The counselor suggested practicing mindfulness as a way to de-stress and I thought that might be a solution for me as well.

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Normally a sound sleeper, I was having trouble falling and staying asleep in the months prior. I initially thought this was due to age but later realized it was related to stress—I was putting off completing a huge project and the procrastination weighed heavily on me. I tried gongs, white noises and soothing music to no avail. Mindfulness sounded like a good “ideal” to strive for. But how and where should I start to be mindful? My husband suggested that I try Headspace for its step-by-step instructions. Headspace helped me demystify the process of gaining mindfulness and set achievable goals. The biggest challenge for me was learning to relax and be in the moment. It wasn’t easy. My mind kept jumping to my to-do list or wandered off to some past or imagined future event. When that happened, I would repeat that session later on in the day. Just like with anything else, each practice makes the next one easier.

I persisted because I love the feeling of calm that sweeps over me when I take time out to focus on my breathing and feeling the rise and fall of my belly. I look forward to those last few seconds in the session when Andy’s voice tells me to “let go and let your mind wander” and my mind actually goes blank. I feel the benefits of this quiet time to center myself. By being mindful and aware of my capabilities and limitations, and using the techniques learned from Headspace to address stress, I am less fearful of the tasks at hand and can work toward completing them, thereby reducing stress. I didn’t start using Headspace for mindfulness training to help me in sports, but the benefits of a calm and focused mind have helped me conquer depths and distances in the sports that I love—long distance running, scuba diving, and freediving. Funnily enough, these are three sports where I am alone with my thoughts for extended periods of time. These are also activities where a peaceful state of mind, breath control, and visualization can help produce a much more enjoyable experience and better results. For running, a regular pattern of breathing that matches my foot strikes keeps me going because I know that I will be able to draw a new breath after every fifth step. At mile 20 or mile 25—when it is so near yet so far—I draw on visualization to propel me forward to the next mile, the next aid station, the finish line.

For scuba diving, slow and deep breathing lengthens the bottom time on a tank of air. But it is the mindfulness, the amplified sound of my breaths, in addition to the weightlessness in water that makes me feel so alive and present. I am a spectator in a different world and yet I am also at one with it. As for freediving, mindfulness begins when I am floating completely relaxed on the surface, taking slow and deep breaths in preparation for that dive down to depth on that one full breath of air. It continues as I descend, and when everything falls away, all I hear is my heartbeat marking time. Mindfulness is a process. And for me, the goal is peace.

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Mindfulness is a process. And for me, the goal is peace.

Shirley Parry

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