The pandemic often makes me reflect on the unpredictable nature of life. Something that was only meant to last a few weeks ended up dragging on for much longer. The whole nation went through phases of confusion, denial, anger, fear, sadness and blame. There was mass overindulgence in alcohol, countless Zoom and Houseparty meetings. More house plants were grown than ever before, and many neighbours talked to one another for the first time. Yoga and online workouts completely replaced the gym, as people began working and working out from home. We suddenly discovered the parks in our local areas, because everything else was shut. Finally, we ended up accepting the changed reality and adapted to it.
Surrendering to the unknown
The pandemic is only one example of facing something big, scary and unknown. We don’t know how much longer it will last, why it happened and whether it will happen again. We can’t control much about it or how those around us react to it. What we can do, however, is influence our perception of it. In other words, we can surrender. It’s something I can thank Yoga West’s yoga teacher Brodie Bass for pointing out quite a few times.
The first time I heard him talk about surrendering, was during a class focussed on Pigeon pose. All the students were encouraged to let go of the fear and discomfort they were feeling and to surrender to the pose. It was the first time I managed to touch the floor with my forehead from Pigeon pose… I let myself surrender and trusted that my body would manage it. I’ve begun to see life the same way - once you let go of control and let things happen, you enter a place of peace.
What does it mean to stay present?
Being present means being fully conscious of the moment and free from the noise of your internal dialogue. It’s staying in the now without reminiscing about the past or being anxious about the future. It involves being mindful of your thoughts, feelings and the sensations in your body, your immediate environment and the people next to you.
It’s so easy to get into our heads and try to plan, strategise, have debates with ourselves, or even attempt to predict the future. We need the antidote to overthinking - staying present!
Here are 11 ways to stay present:
1. Collecting ‘moments of completeness’ throughout the day
Completeness is “the state of being complete and entire; having everything that is needed”. It’s that feeling of wholeness and contentment, when you just know that everything you have is right here. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but now. These moments make your soul feel full: watching the sunrise, feeling the sunshine on your skin, listening to the ocean waves, putting your headphones on and experiencing that song that resonates with your being, lying next to someone you adore…
2. Taking mindful walks in nature
Next time you go to the nearest park, woodland, beach or mountain, try to pay extra attention to the environment. Can you hear the bird chirping? Can you feel the wind blowing and the tiny goosebumps it creates on your skin? How many different flowers can you spot? Do you notice your feet hitting the ground with each step?
When you combine time in nature with engaging your senses, it helps you connect to your environment and improves your awareness of the beauty that’s all around, just waiting to be found.
3. Journal every day
There are many types of journals - morning pages which set the tone of the day, gratitude journals where you focus on the things you’re grateful for, evening journals where you digest your day. Journalling can be as simple as putting a stream of consciousness on a piece of paper or in a Word doc.
Journals are great for organising your thoughts, appreciating how things went and facing the things that worry us. They help us to find quick solutions from the depths of our subconsciousness.
4. Do a mindful body scan
This is something I’ve learned to appreciate thanks to the yoga classes I’ve attended. Yoga teachers are particularly good at encouraging you to pay attention to how your body feels that particular day. What feels tense today, are you clenching your teeth, does your back ache, is one side more flexible than the other? Do you feel tired or energised?
When you do a head-to-toe body scan you are able to appreciate parts of you that you’d normally neglect, like your ankles, toes or wrists.
When this scan is done from head to toe you get to fully experience how your body feels. This is a good method for putting you in a mindful state fairly quickly. It can also help you notice when your body is feeling differently than normal. It can make you kinder to yourself that day if you feel more tired than usual, or you might get to tap yourself on the back if you’re able to stretch more than you did yesterday.
5. Celebrate the little achievements
This is one of my favourite techniques for boosting my self-esteem. I like to congratulate myself on the little successes throughout the day: doing my weekly shopping, tidying up my room, making that call I didn’t feel like making, going to the gym, saying no to someone who wanted to see me when I felt like having Me time instead, getting a new client, doing 20,000 steps.
6. Accept that things change all the time
Are you familiar with the concept of groundlessness?
It means that metaphorically speaking, having ground under our feet is an illusion. All we can do is adapt and make the best out of every situation and challenge. It’s a few levels deeper than surrendering. It’s accepting that life as a whole is unpredictable, not just today and tomorrow.
Here is a wonderful quote by Pema Chödrön:
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”
The moment that concept became a huge part of my existence is when I temporarily left the UK in November 2020, went to Portugal for an unknown period of time and ended up becoming a digital nomad. I became self-employed for the first time ever, making money from marketing and photography. I also learned how to surf and ride a scooter.
The months that followed brought me to Bulgaria, the UK and Portugal again. All during the global pandemic. I had some challenges along the way which caused me a lot of anxiety but I tried to focus on the things I can influence because… I know I’m groundless.
7. Stay present when talking to others
When you’re engaged in conversation, how often do you worry about what to say next?
That might indicate you’re only half listening. Instead, try to focus on what they are saying, what emotion they are conveying, listen to the tone of their voice, look at their eyes. Think about what it is that you want to convey, not what clever, funny or relatable remark you can make. That will make you an excellent listener and will also help you stay present!
8. Do a sweaty workout
Sweaty workouts release happy hormones and put us back in the present moment fairly quickly. Sometimes all you need is a good run, a 15-min HIIT workout or whatever else you enjoy that makes you sweat.
Endorphins cause the brief euphoria that masks physical pain – it’s the invigorating feeling we get after a good workout. We quite literally feel “high” and instantaneously better because endorphins are natural pain relievers.
It doesn’t matter if you use apps like Headspace or Calm, a complicated type of breathwork, or simply close your eyes and breathe for 5 min. Any form of meditation is very effective because it makes you slow down and relax very quickly. It activates your parasympathetic nervous system, i.e. ‘rest and digest’ so you become present and more in tune with your body. Don’t worry if you get distracted and think about what you’re having for dinner while you meditate. The point of meditation is to observe your thoughts, notice distractions and move your attention back to the task at hand i.e. breathing and staying still.
10. Do some yoga
Yoga ticks many boxes at once - slowing down, being mindful
If you’ve tried yoga even once you know how effective that is for staying present. Yoga teachers have a magical ability to keep you focussed on the yoga class, the poses, the sensations, the way your body moves. They get bonus points if they bring incense or play soothing music or when they talk about life during the class.
When I moved to Acton a few years ago, I discovered Yoga West and fell in love with it! Every teacher I’ve encountered there has given me a different type of experience. I enjoy their classes for different reasons. Mia’s are very dynamic and fun, Ines’s Yin yoga is very soothing, Jeff often throws in cool metaphors about the ocean, Clara has this angelic smile which is so welcoming, and Hermione would often say things like: “Don’t get obsessed with squaring your hips. They are oval”. There is certainly a class for everyone’s taste!
Staying present: final thoughts
As Sharon Salzberg has put it, “Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”
Even if you only remember to do one mindful activity today, that still makes you a bit more mindful than you were yesterday.
Most unpleasant emotions are caused but too much focus on the future or the past. Processing sadness, grief, fear and regret has its own place and time and it’s very healing when you face these. However, if you find yourself feeling too much anxiety or anger, it’s likely that you’re spending too much time in the past or the future. The key to feeling calm and grateful is embracing what is ‘real’, the ‘moment’, ‘right now’.
All we have is right now. The past is gone and the future hasn’t happened yet!
Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry—all forms of fear—are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.
Author: Elena Dimitrova
I am Elena and I like to call myself a digital storyteller, because I love sharing my adventures with the world in the hopes to inspire others to go and do something fun. I do marketing and photography and I’m very passionate about anything related to wellness, health, mental health and personal transformation. I’m based between several countries and I’ve fallen in love with this semi-nomadic existence!