Be Happier and Healthier With Mindfulness Meditation
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a simple concept with far reaching results. It is related to meditation, but mindfulness is also something distinct in itself.
Mindfulness involves repeatedly bringing your attention and awareness to the present moment, simultaneously accepting and releasing whatever thoughts are occurring in your mind at that time. Mindfulness is something you strive for when meditating, but meditation can also involve visualization, chanting, and contemplation of compassion or other ideals. In practicing mindfulness, you are simply focusing your attention on sensory experiences happening in the present and letting go of internal dialog and chatter without judging it.
You can engage in mindfulness at any time and place, and practicing mindfulness can move from a regular, disciplined activity you do in structured settings to a life encompassing attitude and outlook.
How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Life
There is science to back up the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Evidence from many published research studies show that focusing the mind on present sensory experience while being conscious of the breath, relaxes the body and the mind, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves performance in other areas when practiced over time. A recent study even found that participants who engaged in mindfulness practice had better blood glucose levels, and mindfulness meditation has been shown to be helpful for people recovering from PTSD and the effects of trauma from war, natural disaster, and abuse.
Practicing mindfulness can also have consequences in a person’s emotional life. By repeatedly and gently bringing awareness to the present, it becomes easier to open oneself to difficult emotions and the pain of others while avoiding judgement of self and others. This is because the practitioner of mindfulness has daily experience in opening themselves to the present without judgement, and this attitude can then transfer to other moments and situations.
Mindfulness is an Attitude and a Practice
Practicing mindfulness in structured sessions in a conscious and regular way helps establish the mindfulness attitude in everyday consciousness. After that, mindfulness can expand from a discrete practice to a general attitude and default mental setting.
Practicing mindfulness involves finding a time and place to sit down each day and focus consciously on bringing awareness to the present. Notice your thoughts and feelings without judgment and let them go without becoming distracted by them. Then return to your sensory awareness in the present.
Mindfulness is essential to sitting, walking, and other types of meditation practice, but it is something you can also do at almost any moment you are awake. Mindfulness is an especially useful tool for calming yourself down in times of stress or for relaxing and unwinding after a busy day.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Starting your mindfulness practice with short daily sessions can make it easier to keep going. Even sessions of as little as 10 minutes daily can bring measurable benefit. If you are new to meditation type practice, setting a timer can help you keep your mind on mindfulness and off of the clock. Listening to meditation music is another way of measuring time and giving yourself an engaging sensory experience to fill your awareness.
It is helpful to start by closing your eyes to reduce the amount of stimulus going into your nervous system. Then, breathe deeply, allowing the breath to rise from the solar plexus area of your abdomen.
Keep your shoulders relaxed and relatively still while you breathe from your center, letting your belly rise and fall as you do. This type of breathing relaxes the vegus nerve, a long nerve involved in many functions of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, controlling heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, and other vital physiological functions. Belly breathing is a bit like giving the vegus nerve a massage, causing it to help relax your entire body.
As you become relaxed, notice the sounds, smells, and textures around you. Focus on one object or sensation at a time, allowing the sensory information to fill your mind and awareness. It can also be fun to eat a very small amount of a flavorful food, like a single raisin, and allow your senses to become fully occupied with the sensations of taste. Once you have practiced mindfulness for a while, you may want to try eating an entire meal while keeping your focus on the tastes, textures, aromas, and other sensations of eating. Similarly, you can take a walk, ride a bike, or engage in any other activity while practicing mindfulness.
With your eyes open, allow your mind to see and notice the details of your surroundings without getting involved in any thoughts about what you see. When you do find your mind wandering to thoughts, feelings, or judgements - and this always happens - breathe deeply and refocus on a sensation in the present, allowing the thoughts to dissolve.
One way of keeping the mind on the present is to look for something new you have never seen, heard, or felt before. It could be a small detail in the plaster on the wall, the sound of birds outside, the hum of a refrigerator, or the feeling of the carpet under your feet.
For many people, the practice of mindfulness can be enhanced by focusing successively on parts of the body, starting with the soles of the feet, then the ankles, calves, and so on, simply noticing the sensations in each part of the body in turn and then moving on.
Bringing Mindfulness to Everyday Life
The biggest rewards of learning the techniques of mindfulness are in the effects it has on everyday life.
As you progress in developing your abilities to stay focused in the present, it becomes easier to handle difficult situations, easier to be emotionally available and present for the benefit of others, and easier to explore your own feelings and resolve internal conflicts.
Research shows that practicing mindfulness can also reduce blood pressure, deepen sleep, improve sexual performance, increase productivity, and improve athletic performance. Overall, engaging in mindfulness makes you happier and healthier. And, the techniques of mindfulness are simple, powerful, and free.