Mindfulness and Mantras

This is a crazy world we live in. Deadlines loom. Laundry needs to be done while keeping an eye on a feverish toddler. The only time available to plan an upcoming vacation is commuting home from work during rush hour traffic.

This hasty lifestyle takes one’s thoughts away from the present moment. It’s easy to overlook the tulips blooming in the neighbor’s flower bed or the opportunity to read while the preschooler naps.

Developing the habit of purposely “thinking in the moment” is a current fad. How many times have you heard that from sports commentators, a Sunday church sermon, or the family physician during an annual physical?

But how do you do this? You could try learning Sanskrit and then studying the philosophies of Buddhism or Hinduism. Or you could delve into the prayers and meditation techniques of any religion. I recall growing up spending interminable hours on my knees saying the evening family rosary in my Roman Catholic family. I don’t recall the prayer time being particularly inspiring.

meditation1

An easier way may be to develop your very own personal mantra. Recent research reported in the WSJ* shows that thinking of a word or phrase that affirms one’s values and repeating it many times, can produce powerful physical changes in our bodies. A mantra can reduce stress-producing hormones such as cortisol, bolster physical endurance, and even make us think positively about the dreaded upcoming Pilates class or dental appointment.

The first step is to think up your mantra. How? Look in the mirror and picture yourself as “older and wiser” and primed to dispense good advice. What gift could someone give you right now that would make your life better? Now distill it down into a single word, phrase, or quick sentence. It has to be something that makes you feel good about yourself – empowered, reassured, filled with hope for the future. Next, pick out two or three of your favorite thoughts – a single one can get monotonous – too many can be a struggle to recall when needed. Now practice using your trio of positive reinforcers.

When I discussed this mantra-development idea with another author and dear friend, Sylvia, she told me thinking or her personal mantra would be easy. All she needed to do was turn childhood insults from a close relative into positive thoughts. “You are ugly” became “You are beautiful.” “You are stupid” became “You are brilliant.”

Using a personal mantra can build new positive neural paths in the brain that create a calmer and happier outlook. Use it during times of stress: business meetings, college entrance exams, running your first marathon, or showing up for your first chemotherapy appointment. Armed with this positive thought process, facing unknown future events or reliving past failures is ancient history.

* ”Say it again, a mantra really works” by Elizabeth Bernstein

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