Mindfulness Meditation

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It’s easy to get caught up in a pattern of swirling thoughts—thinking about a laundry list of things that need to be done, ruminating on past events, or could-be situations of the future—and learning mindfulness can help. But what exactly is mindfulness? It can be defined as a mental state that involves being fully focused on “the now,” so you can acknowledge and accept your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment.

Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body. Mindfulness techniques can vary, but in general, mindfulness meditation involves a breathing practice, mental imagery, awareness of body and mind, and muscle and body relaxation. Practicing mindfulness meditation doesn’t require props or preparation (no candles, essential oils, or mantras). To get started, all you need is a comfortable chair to sit in, three to five minutes of free time, and a judgment-free mindset.

How to Get Started

Learning mindfulness meditation is straightforward enough to practice on your own, but a teacher or program can also help you get started, particularly if you’re practicing meditation for specific health reasons. Here are some simple steps to help you get started on your own.

Set Aside Meditation Time

Whether you set your alarm 30 minutes before little ones rise or wind down a few minutes prior to bedtime, do your best to carve out a time each day to practice mindfulness mediation. And don’t be too hard on yourself if life gets in the way; just try again tomorrow.

Get Comfortable

Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck, and back straight but not stiff. It’s also helpful to wear comfortable, loose clothing so you’re not distracted.The First Step in Meditation Is Finding a Comfortable Seat

Consider a Timer

While it’s not necessary, a timer (preferably with a soft, gentle alarm) can help you focus on meditation and forget about time—and eliminate any excuses you have for stopping and doing something else. Since many people lose track of time while meditating, it can also ensure you’re not meditating for too long. Be sure to allow yourself time after mediation to become aware of where you are and get up gradually.

Focus on Breathing

Become aware of your breath, attuning to the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall and the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to the way each breath changes and is different.

When thoughts come up in your mind, don’t ignore or suppress them. Simply note them, remain calm, and use your breathing as an anchor.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

It’s not all in your head—you can practice mindfulness by sitting down for a formal meditation practice, or by being more intentional and aware of the things you do each day.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness and how to practice mindfulness meditation, visit our Getting Started page.

How to Practice Mindfulness on the Go

Nearly every task we perform in a day—be it brushing our teeth, eating lunch, talking with friends or exercising—can be done more mindfully.

When we are mindful of our actions, we pay more attention to what we are doing. It’s the opposite of going through the motions—instead, you are tuned into your senses, noticing your thoughts and emotions.

By building mindfulness into your daily life, you can practice mindfulness even when you’re too busy to meditate.

Learning How to Meditate

At the outset, it helps to set an amount of time you’re going to “practice” for. Otherwise, you may obsess about deciding when to stop. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or ten minutes. Eventually, you can build up to twice as long, then maybe up to 45 minutes or an hour. Use a kitchen timer or the timer on your phone. Many people do a session in the morning and in the evening, or one or the other. If you feel your life is busy and you have little time, doing some is better than doing none. When you get a little space and time, you can do a bit more.

Find a good spot in your home, ideally where there isn’t too much clutter and you can find some quiet. Leave the lights on or sit in natural light. You can even sit outside if you like, but choose a place with little distraction.

This posture practice can be used as the beginning stage of a period of meditation practice or simply as something to do for a minute, maybe to stabilize yourself and find a moment of relaxation before going back into the fray. If you have injuries or other physical difficulties, you can modify this practice to suit your situation.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

The cultivation of mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, but most religions include some type of prayer or meditation technique that helps shift your thoughts away from your usual preoccupations toward an appreciation of the moment and a larger perspective on life.

Professor emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, helped to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health, attitudes, and behaviors.

Mindfulness improves well-being. Increasing your capacity for mindfulness supports many attitudes that contribute to a satisfied life. Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events. By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others.

Mindfulness improves physical health. If greater well-being isn’t enough of an incentive, scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques help improve physical health in a number of ways. Mindfulness can: help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, , improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.

Mindfulness improves mental health. In recent years, psychotherapists have turned to mindfulness meditation as an important element in the treatment of a number of problems, including: depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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