What do you think of when you hear the word “meditation”?
Perhaps you imagine a Tibetan monk tucked away in silence in a centuries-old monastery. Maybe you envision a crystal-wielding flower child having a psychedelic experience in a Volkswagen van. Or perhaps you think of meditation as something people with incredible self-control and a very long attention span can do, but not you.
Contrary to what many people believe, having a mindfulness meditation practice is not just for the most spiritual, disciplined, or mentally focused among us. It doesn’t require a magical (some might say impossible) ability to clear your mind and keep it that way for hours on end. You don’t need to be a master yogi or even own a yoga mat. Mindfulness is not just for others—it’s for me, and it’s for you, too!
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, in its most basic form, is simply the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. Researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, takes this definition a step further, helping us understand what it means to be conscious or aware of something. He defines mindfulness as the “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.” When we notice what is happening within ourselves—our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—at any given moment without trying to judge it or change it, we are practicing mindfulness.
Although mindfulness is a broad concept that refers generally to ways of being aware in the present moment, meditation is how we describe one specific type of mindfulness practice. Meditation involves turning your attention inward for a set period of time, typically focusing specifically on a certain theme or noticing your own physical or mental experiences. For instance, two common meditations involve noticing your breathing or mindfully scanning your body and becoming aware of any physical sensations you have. Meditation is often time-limited, with a planned beginning and end point.
The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
The benefits of a mindfulness meditation practice are numerous and well-documented. Research shows that practicing mindfulness can improve a person’s general sense of well-being and life satisfaction, helping people to cherish each present moment and weather the storms of life. Practicing mindfulness meditation is connected to reported improvements in physical health as well, and may help people sleep more restfully, decrease stress, relieve gastrointestinal concerns, reduce experiences of chronic pain, and lower blood pressure. Mindfulness has become an important cornerstone in the treatment of many mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsion, posttraumatic stress, and others.
It doesn’t take much time to potentially see improvements from meditating. Studies have shown that people can benefit from as little as 10 minutes a day of meditation. Another study pinpointed 12 minutes as the “magic” number to see desired results. By devoting just 10 to 12 minutes a day to a mindfulness meditation practice, research suggests you can change your life for the better.
How to Get Started with a Mindfulness Meditation
To get started in developing a daily mindfulness meditation practice, first try the foundational meditation of noticing your breathing. As you relax your body into a comfortable posture, begin to turn your focus inward and notice your breath, whether in your nose, throat, chest, or stomach. Don’t try to change your breathing in any way; allow it to come and go naturally and without judgment. Allow yourself to give your full attention to your breath as you experience it in your body.
One of the biggest misconceptions about mindfulness meditation is that the point is to focus your mind without any internal interruption or distraction. This is not a reasonable expectation, as it is the nature of the human mind to wander.
From time to time, you may notice your mind wandering to some other thought or feeling. This is normal. Take a moment to simply notice where your attention has wandered. After a moment, gently escort your attention and awareness back to your breath. Continue focusing on your breath and gently bringing your awareness back to your breath for several minutes.
One of the biggest misconceptions about mindfulness meditation is that the point is to focus your mind without any internal interruption or distraction. This is not a reasonable expectation, as it is the nature of the human mind to wander. One of the primary purposes of this activity is to practice gently escorting your attention back to your breath. You aren’t doing it wrong if your mind happens to wander; you are succeeding by noticing your mind has wandered and then bringing your attention back to your breath as many times as necessary. This builds the “muscles” of your attention span in the same way lifting weights builds the muscles of your body.
The most difficult step in many journeys is often the first. Using this or one of the many other meditation resources available, take your first step toward a daily mindfulness meditation practice today. Who knows? You may discover that 12 minutes a day really can change your life.
- Hurley, D. (2014, January 14). Breathing in vs. spacing out. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/magazine/breathing-in-vs-spacing-out.html
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (2016, January 11). Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining mindfulness. Retrieved from http://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness
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