What It Means to Be Present
A simple explanation — and how to get there.
Chances are you’ve heard the term “to be more present” and been regaled with the virtues of achieving that state of being. But what does it actually mean, and more important, how do you get there?
There isn’t one interpretation, but generally speaking, when you are “present” the attention of the mind is aware of and synchronized with the experiences of the body. It can also be defined by what it isn’t. When you are present, you aren’t scrolling on your phone while inadvertently holding your breath, you aren’t swept up in a to-do list that you numbly carry out, you're aren’t mindlessly engaging in behaviors that could harm your health.
Ideally, our mind and body are amicable partners that listen and respond to each other in real time. The funny thing about staying in the present moment is that it is a powerful way to heal from past grievances and align with future goals. It’s a timeless gateway.
So what’s the path that leads there? The most direct route is through the breath, which is the conduit between the mind and the body. As with most things, it’s easier to understand it by experiencing it. As the Director of Mindful Movement for THE WELL, I teach a technique I call 3D Breathing, where you focus on the height, width and depth of your body to lead you into a meditative experience.
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The 3D Breathing Technique
- Pretend that your breath is a measuring tape. As you inhale, mentally “measure” areas of your body on the vertical axis. For example: the length of your nose; the length of your spine; the length of your arms and legs. As you inhale, imagine you are pulling out a measuring tape and experiencing the length between two vertical points in your body. As you exhale, feel as though the measuring tape is slowly retracting back into its starting point. Make this exercise your own. The point is to experience the vertical space in your body in some creative way. Do this for at least a minute or two.
- Move to the sagittal (longitudinal division between left and right halves) and the horizontal planes. As you inhale, imagine you are measuring the distance between two points that are across from each other on the horizontal axis, such as your ears, the corners of your eyes or lips, your shoulders, your ribs, your hips. As you exhale, feel as though you are relaxing in towards your central column. Do this for at least a minute or two.
- Move to the frontal plane of your body and begin to measure depth from front to back. As you inhale imagine you are measuring the distance between the tip of your nose and the back of your head; your breastbone and upper back; your belly button and lower back. You can get creative or metaphorical, for example, by measuring the depth of feeling in your heart. Do this for at least a minute or two.
- Inhale to expand your attention evenly into your height, width, and depth. Exhale concentrate and condense your attention into the central column of your body. Practice this full-body breathing for about a minute, and then when you are feeling a sense of wholeness, or like a sponge that has absorbed to its capacity, gradually release your measuring efforts and just observe the natural flow of breath.
- When you’re ready to end your breathing meditation, it’s important that you do a few things to ease out: Keep your attention on your breath, but start to be more aware of your space (For example, feel your feet on the ground). Make an offering of your practice to something that is greater than yourself. (For example, say a prayer for a group of people that you care about). When you are ready, gently open your eyes and take in the light, colors and shape of your space.
The 3D Breathing Technique is an efficient and effective way to feel present. When we experience presence, we access what physicists consider the fourth dimension — time. When we take the time to experience and embody the physical limits of our body, we awaken to an experience of time that is less linear and more comprehensive, and we begin to understand firsthand why Albert Einstein said that time is an illusion. There is something about being truly present that helps us to feel connected to all of the other moments in our life. Use it to send messages of encouragement to your younger self or welcome wise guidance from your future.