The Practice of STOP
In all the mindfulness workshops and courses I’ve taught over the years, the practice of STOP has been one that people again and again say they’ve found particularly helpful. The STOP practice is part of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction curriculum, a course developed by Jon Kabat Zinn. Basically, several times a day, particularly when you are feeling a little harried or rushed, you:
S Stop and interrupt your thoughts
T Take a breath (or two or three!)
O Observe what is happening around you and inside you.
What can I see, hear, sense, smell, feel?
What am I thinking?
P Proceed and reconnect with your surroundings and activity
It is a very simple practice, easy to do during the day – at your desk, for a few minutes before getting out of your car, while your children are playing, walking to the letter box. At first, it’s probably easiest to physically stop for a few moments, but once you are used to the practice, you can even do it while walking somewhere, attending a meeting, washing dishes. You are simply grounding yourself in the physical, sensory experience of this moment in time. As Jon Kabat Zinn points out, our senses are always in the present moment, so by tuning into your senses, you are also tuning into the here and now.
Like many mindfulness tools, it is simple, easy to do, but difficult to remember when you are in the middle of a highly stressful situation. So instead of waiting for the stress levels to build up until it all seems overwhelming, you can use STOP regularly to help you ground yourself throughout the day. The problem we have with stress in our lives is not so much stress itself – a little stress is good for us, as it motivates and challenges us. It is rather the cumulative effect of stress, where we find it difficult to come back down and relax once the challenging situation is over. The practice of STOP is a wonderful way for us to ground ourselves in the here and now, rather than getting caught up in the stress response
Weekly practice idea:
Practice STOP several times a day. Try to remember it during times when you feel quite calm, as well as in the middle of more stressful situations.