Understanding Mindfulness Meditation – The Basics

Posted by on Mar 15, 2015 in Anxiety | 0 comments

Zen bunnyIt’s instinctive to flinch from pain, to tense our muscles and grit our teeth and clench our fists. It’s instinctive to try to escape from unpleasantness, to run or have a drink or pretend it never happened.

Mindfulness meditation asks us to do the opposite — to stop, to pay attention to whatever is making us uncomfortable, to spend time just being in the moment, and to observe how we’re feeling without judgment. It instructs us that the attempt to evade pain ensures that we will remain in the pain and sitting with it robs the pain of its power.

Mindfulness is an outgrowth of the ancient Buddhist vipassana meditation, based on transforming the self through attention to the physical and its affect on the life of the mind.

Today, mindfulness meditation is used to treat a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. A study involving soldiers preparing for deployment showed Mindfulness improved memory capacity lost due to stress. Another study found that mindfulness meditation allowed practitioners to put aside emotionality to focus on mental tasks. Other research indicates mindfulness increases mental flexibility and improves relationships because practitioners are skilled at identifying emotions without losing perspective.

Other studies have found lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol, more robust immunity and reduced cold symptoms, improved heart health, and lowered blood pressure. Research shows mindfulness provides protection against mental illness, reduces feelings of loneliness in elderly practitioners and depression in teens, improves sleep, and eases digestive problems.

Although it is the work of a lifetime, it’s easy to begin practicing and enjoying the benefits of the meditation. The simple first steps include:

  • Create a space for your meditation. You will have your eyes open during meditation, so consider whether you want to focus on a blank wall, a photo, a shrine, or a plant. Reduce distractions like a television or computer screen. Find a location or time when external noise is minimized.
  • Decide how you want to sit – a cushion on the floor or a straight-backed chair that lets your feet rest solidly on the floor (use a footrest if necessary to feel stable and grounded). You should be comfortable to sit for several minutes with a straight but relaxed spine. Sitting straight improves the flow of energy to your brain. Let your eyes rest gently on a spot about six feet in front of you. Take a few minutes to inhabit your body, to become aware of your bones and muscles and skin.
  • Notice your breath as it enters your body and flows out again. Keep it natural and relaxed. The breath comes in, the breath goes out at its own pace. Don’t obsess or attempt to control your breath, simply notice it with part of your attention.
  • Allow thoughts to rise into your consciousness. Follow but don’t direct or suppress them. If the thoughts are painful or frightening, step back. Accept what they are, observe your reaction to them without investing emotionally. Let them go without trying to solve anything. They simply are thoughts passing through your mind. If you become lost in your thoughts, gently remind yourself to save some of your attention for your location, your body, and your breath.

Remember that the point of mindfulness meditation is to peacefully accept who you are in this moment, not to change anything about yourself.

Simply sitting and relaxing into the moment doesn’t sound very rigorous, but you may find it difficult to maintain that accepting and calm space for long. It’s important that mindfulness meditation not become a chore or something you strain to accomplish. At first, 10 to 15 minutes may be enough. As you become more practiced you can extend the time to 25 or 30 minutes. Short sessions a couple of times a day work well.

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