Introduction to Mindfulness & Meditation
Welcome, reader, I am so glad you’re here! Today, words like mindfulness and meditation are everywhere, well not everywhere, but that have emerged as two associated practices that have gained a significant amount of traction in Western culture and in the wellness space over the last several decades. Now, more than ever, it seems people are seeking out ways to become more connected and intune with themselves in a world full of distractions.
By the end of this post, I hope you have the knowledge to think about how you might begin to incorporate mindful moments and perhaps meditation into your life.
conscious or aware of something
Mindfulness Explained and In Action
Mindfulness practice involves strategies and techniques used to bring awareness to the present moment. Simply put, these practices include the things we do to focus our attention on the here and now, that is -what we’re actually experiencing physically, mentally, emotionally, and, for some, spiritually. It’s about focusing your attention on one thing, free from distraction. In reality, this can be as simple as taking a few intentional moments in the morning to check in with yourself rather than immediately checking your phone. It could also be an intentional effort to be present during your morning commute or during meals. Over time, this practice of active awareness allows us to acknowledge and truly feel difficult emotions when they arise and consciously experience them. Think, for a moment, how impactful this could be. What if you became aware of your anger or frustration as soon as those feelings started to bubble up? What if you sat with those emotions for a second, truly acknowledging what and how you’re feeling? The cumulative effect of this can lead to increasing your ability to be more intentional, perhaps less reactive, in responding to those challenging emotions.
One important aspect of mindfulness practice to keep in mind is that it is a skill and just like any other skill, it can be developed and honed through regular and consistent practice. Now, just in case this is beginning to sound daunting, do know this is not a monumental task. In fact, you may be surprised to know there are opportunities throughout your day to cultivate and integrate mindful moments, which are supported by brief micro-practices that increase our awareness and ability to be fully present. In these moments, you’re not thinking about the past or the future. So, let’s talk about what this actually looks like. While cultivating mindfulness, some people:
Practice mindful eating
In our busy lives, many of us find ourselves eating on the go or while multitasking. Mindful eating involves taking note of the sensory experience of eating, as well as your awareness of thoughts and feelings about food -without judgment. When engaging in this mindfulness practice, try removing distractions (phone), eating more slowly to savor your food, and noticing when you’re full.
Single tasking is, as you might expect, the opposite of multitasking. Simply put, it involves giving your full attention to one individual task at a time. Now this may sound easy and straightforward, but if you think about all the demands and distractions of the day, it can really take a conscious and deliberate effort to focus on just one thing at a time. Try removing distractions from your immediate environment and think about how much time you want to devote to the task -consider setting a timer. Over time, single-tasking can become second-nature and lead to less procrastination and accomplishing tasks more quickly and efficiently.
Disconnect from technology
Cellphones and tablets and TV, oh my! We all know just how persistent technology can feel. These days, it is fully integrated in our lives. Even when we set out to relax, we often still have our phones within reach. In fact, it often takes a deliberate, conscious effort to disengage from technology. Try giving yourself just a few minutes in the morning or at night before bed without any screen time. To support this, put your phone to silent and leave it out of reach. In those distraction-free moments, think about the moment you are in and pay attention to how you’re feeling mentally and physically. If in the morning, perhaps have this mindful moment first and then orient yourself to the day -think about what your priorities are that day and what feels important. This is an alternative to immediately checking your phone and/or computer and becoming immersed in what are oftentimes pure distractions designed to keep us engaged in and tuned with an app.
Practice STOP - Stop what you’re doing, Take a breath, Observe the body, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and physical sensations, Proceed with more awareness
This quick 4-step mental checklist involves several steps to allow you to be more intune and focused on the present, particularly when confronted with difficult situations. In those moments, STOP can give us the opportunity to be mindful in the moment and thoughtful in our actions. By the time you reach the last step (proceed), you may lean into that next moment more mindfully by asking yourself questions such as “What is really important right now? What next step makes sense for me?”
To deepen and support these mindfulness practices, try:
Say/use a personal mantra or phrase to orient yourself to the present moment
Observe your surroundings
It is important to note a key component of mindfulness practice, which is that it is judgment-free. That’s right, judgment-free. In those mindful moments, the goal is simply to increase awareness of oneself (thoughts, bodily feelings or sensations, emotions, etc.), and we can best do that without any unnecessary pressure or judgment that we must immediately change what we’re feeling or experiencing. In this way, we can actually change our relationship to discomfort by allowing ourselves to be more present and in-tune, even when experiencing unpleasant feelings. It’s not avoiding them -it’s allowing them to be. In this way, we can learn to fully open ourselves to the experience of being present and mindful, and allow ourselves grace, compassion, and patience in this process. A salient tenet of mindfulness, which can be traced to the Zen Buddhist tradition, is to have a beginner’s mind, which essentially means being open-minded and curious about the practice and in your approach.
As previously noted, there are many ways to practice mindfulness and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What helps one person to pause and reconnect with themselves in the present moment may differ from what may help another. It’s personal. If you think about it, that makes sense, right? When it’s personal, when you are challenged to engage in a new behavior or practice with some consistency, you are more likely to be effective if the strategies you use appeal to you. And you, as the expert in your own experience, are best equipped to explore and determine what micro-practices work best for you and in your life. This notion supports and speaks to the skillbuilding-like quality of mindfulness, as these practices can become second-nature over time.
to engage in contemplation or reflection
Meditation, which has been practiced for thousands of years and originates from the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, stands out as a salient way to cultivate mindfulness. Meditation promotes mindfulness by increasing your ability to settle and center your mind through connecting deeply with the present moment. In Western cultures today, meditation has been studied with a secular and scientific lens and applied to the healthcare field for both mental and physical well-being. Meditation has emerged as an effective way to manage stress, emotions, and develop a deeper connection with oneself.
Like cultivating mindfulness, meditation, too, is a skill. It is a skill that can be developed through consistent practice and a beginner’s mind approach. You may find it helpful to think of it like starting a new exercise regimen and engaging a muscle or muscle group you’ve never really worked out before. It takes consistency to get comfortable and experience the fullest benefits of the new regimen. Meditation is linked to a wide range of positive outcomes, including:
increased attention span
alleviation of physiological components of anxiety
acknowledgement of one’s felt experience in healing from trauma
awareness of when thoughts misalign with reality (as in cognitive distortions)
and when one is caught thinking about the past or future, and interruption of maladaptive thought and behavioral patterns (including addiction)
reduced age-related memory loss.
stress reduction and improvement of stress-related disorders such as IBS and fibromyalgia, decreased inflammation
reduction in blood pressure
Meditation, Simplified and Accessible
Like mindfulness itself, meditation has a broad scope in that there are many forms of meditation. Longgone are any outdated, restrictive conceptions that say meditation can only look one way or that one has to devote hours on end to silent practice. You may be surprised to know and find opportunities for meditation in your daily life. Here are a few examples of meditation practices that can be integrated into daily life and done in a variety of settings.
Go for a short walk and challenge yourself to pay attention to the sensory experience of walking. Breathe deeply. Notice the sounds and smells around you, the feel of the wind on your face. Look at your surroundings and take it all in. If you find your mind starting to wander, simply refocus on your environment and your senses. You may consider trying a walking meditation while walking from your car into work or on your lunch break, in the evenings after dinner, or weekend mornings to jumpstart your day, or while at the park with your children.
Body scan meditation
You can imagine the body scan as a mental X-ray moving down your body from head to toe. To practice a body scan, mentally scan how your body is feeling -notice areas of pain or tension (clenched jaw, perhaps) and any other physical sensation in the body. In this mindful moment, you’re simply learning to be fully present and connected with your physical body without immediately trying to change anything. You’re allowing yourself to become more mindful.
When beginning or perhaps restarting your meditation practice, guided meditation can often be a great way to start. Many people find guided meditations to be easier to practice because they are following a voice and not sitting in complete silence. In this practice, one listens (audio, video, in person) to a narrator or teacher, who leads the meditation. These meditations can focus on topics such as anxiety, positivity, self-esteem, relaxation, stress reduction, and more. You can access a wide range of guided meditations online on websites such as YouTube, on meditation apps, and through podcasts.
Mindfulness practice may be a simple concept, but it is not without intentional effort. When we challenge ourselves to grow in this way, we live in the moment. We are less likely to dwell on the unchanging past or unproductively stress about the future. Truly living in the present moment supports a greater connection with oneself, as well as those we love. It can allow us to fully appreciate the moment, leading to greater joy and gratitude in your daily life. It can empower us to experience, rather than avoid, difficult emotions and ultimately give us agency in deciding what to do after we are aware of what we’re feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Questions to Ponder
What’s one way you might incorporate a mindful moment? When would you try to practice this?
What type of meditation practice is more appealing to you? Would you try a guided meditation or would you prefer silence?
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