S.T.O.P. – An Easy 10-second Practice
Often we go about our daily routine without paying much attention to how we feel physically and emotionally. We go through the motions and then wonder why we are so tired, worn out or even angry by the end of the day. Just a few moments of conscious awareness can change our whole experience. One very well-known mindfulness practice is S.T.O.P:
Stop and notice how you are breathing. Is your breath shallow or deep?
Take a few slower deep breaths (into the belly). This reduces anxiety by communicating to our brains that we are not in extreme danger, since when we are panicked we usually breathe quickly and higher up in the chest. Observe your thoughts. What is going through your mind at the moment?
Observe your body, mind and emotions. Are you carrying stress in your shoulders or back? Are you hunched over or flexing a muscle you don’t need to flex? Do you have any aches? Observe your feelings and emotions at this moment. Are you happy, sad, frustrated, angry, etc.?
Proceed with whatever you were doing, but keep this sense of conscious awareness alive in you. It is a great way to stay present throughout the day.
When doing this exercise, sometimes we catch ourselves reacting to a situation, feeling stress or anxiety or even stronger feelings that we were unaware of since we were on “autopilot”. By observing these thoughts, sensations and emotions, without judging ourselves, we can see where there is a lack of coherence between what we are really experiencing and how we feel, think or react to it. For example, perhaps our body is tense in the shoulders yet there is no real reason for this in this at this moment. We are surely anxious about something past or future, which is manifesting as tense shoulders, but in reality, tensing our shoulders is doing nothing to help us, so we can release that tension.
It is important to observe anything that arises with curiosity and without judging. Just name what it is and move on. Doing this various times throughout the day will not only help to keep you in the present moment, it will also help you know yourself better and increase coherency between reality and your physical, emotional and mental responses to it.