As I paddled into the ocean over spring break, my surf instructor suggested I face each wave head on to get through it more effectively, which struck me as a nice analogy for life. Sometimes we want to find a way around what is in front of us by remaining in the past, holding on to what has come before, and dwelling on what may come in the future. Mindfulness can help us with this. When we practice mindful meditation and yoga, we watch our thoughts rise and fall like waves, and we remain present without being pulled into the undercurrent, simply by focusing our attention on the breath. Through this practice, we gradually learn equanimity and presence.
Scientific research backs this up. Mindfulness practice has been linked to increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, which is important for self-awareness and compassion – and alternately, a decrease in grey matter in the amygdala plays a significant role in anxiety and stress. This means that we can re-wire our brains and learn to move through life with more grace and equanimity, wherever we are. It’s helpful to know that we have these meditative and yogic tools to help us sit with whatever comes up, stay present, then let it go. With practice, we can face the experiences that come our way with more freedom and spirit, as I did when I learned to ride the waves.