The “Mindfulness Movement” was launched by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is in the featured video above, through his creation of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1989. Since that time, prisons, schools, hospitals, businesses, and other groups and institutions have used or borrowed Jon’s concepts of MBSR in their programs to help people deal with stress, depression, and anxiety.
Mindfulness is about bringing your complete focus and attention to what is happening right now: on your thoughts, the feelings that arise, your emotions and body sensations, as well as the surrounding environment, all without judgment, just noticing and accepting. It’s all about developing the ability to be aware in the here and now. To be aware of your conscious thoughts– becoming one who watches and observes.
Mindfulness can be the outcome of a meditation practice, the meditation practice itself, or a way of being for those who have practiced mindfulness for a long time. It is not about trying to bring about a certain state, like relaxation or bliss, but to simply notice what arises in the stream of consciousness and to adopt an open, curious, accepting orientation to what arises.
The concept of mindfulness is central in Buddhism, where it has far more complex meaning than is used in the west and the mindfulness-based stress reduction programs. But the simplified concept is quite useful to Westerners because it can easily be framed and taught in a way that isn’t associated with any religion. And, because of a recent increase in scientific interest and research into meditation and mindfulness, we now have proof that there are solid benefits to be gained with mindfulness, which also is spurring individuals on to incorporate it into their lives.
Some of the benefits include a reduction in rumination, decreased anxiety, and greater sense of well being. And, some studies have shown that it may even help slow-down cognitive decline as we age. Mindfulness works by exercising the portions of the brain that are involved in attention and emotional regulation, as well as body awareness, and because of neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to rewire itself with new, repeated experiences and learning), part of the brain will change over time with a mindfulness meditation practice.
How Can You Learn Mindfulness?
You have many options. In the field of psychology, many practitioners have adopted or incorporated mindfulness or an aspect of it into various psychological therapies. As a result, one way to learn mindfulness is to find a psychologist who specializes in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to work with. Another way to learn is to find a local training class that you can enroll in. Alternately, locate a meditation instructor who specializes in mindfulness. You could also begin by reading a couple great books on the subject and do exercises recommended in those books as a starting point.
However you choose to begin, remember that a daily practice for 10 minutes or more is far more beneficial than a once a week practice, because you are more likely to develop a habit of mindfulness, and so more quickly elicit the brain changes that bring the all the fabulous benefits.
Have you ever wanted to start a meditation practice, but don’t know what to do? Or are you worried about “doing meditation” correctly? Well the good news is that it’s easy to get started. Here are six basic steps to get you on the path of a regular meditation practice.
Step 1: Reflect on Your “Why” for Meditation
There are many reasons to begin and sustain a meditation practice. If you create a daily practice, you will reap far more benefits than you can even imagine right now. Before you begin, though, consider getting clear on why you want to meditate. Identify your top two or three priorities, as this will help you stay committed to developing a new habit.
What are your whys? Are you wanting to decrease stress and anxiety? Be more focused at work and able to improve your productivity? Or maybe you want to sleep soundly and wake up refreshed in the morning. Maybe you simply want to be more present and living in the moment during the day rather than being constantly distracted by little things. These are just a few of the possible benefits you can look forward to.
Knowing your “WHY” will also help you design your meditation practice so that you are likely to reach your specific goals. For example, let’s say you are so stressed out and overwhelmed at work that you have a difficult time focusing on one thing and completing it. You may find that a morning practice just before leaving for work, or perhaps one at lunch time, will help you keep better focus and concentration on your daily work priorities.
So, what are your big whys? Write them down, and then move on to the next step.
Step 2: Decide When and Where You Will Meditate
To develop a new habit, it’s helpful to be consistent. So, first decide what time of day you think you’ll best be served by your daily meditation practice. When you meditate will depend, in part, on your life circumstances. If you are a stay-at-home mom with a two-year old, your free time may be solely dependent on the kid’s nap time. If you work at home or in an office, however, set a specific time and stick with it to cement in a solid habit of meditating daily.
Here are some ideas of when and where you can add meditation to your day:
First thing in the morning upon arising. This is great time because it sets a positive time for your day, and your brain will likely not yet be in “beta”wave state, so meditation might be easier as a result.
Just after you get to work. If you have kids at home that prevent you from meditating before work, see if you can leave for work 15-20 minutes early, and when you arrive, you can either meditate in your car, or my preference, is to go sit in a conference room. If you are an early morning riser, this can work well, because most people don’t schedule meetings at 7:30 or 8:00 am. You can grab 15 minutes of focused meditation, and that can be a perfect way to start your business day.
Mid-morning break. For those who work at home, this is a good option, and is my personal favorite. I’m a strange bird in that I can jump out of bed, brush my teeth, grab my first cup of coffee, and then be happily working at my computer. My most productive work time is before 9 am, so I don’t like to chip into that time for meditation. However, after several hours of work, a mid-morning meditation break is perfect for re-charging my mind. I usually precede it with a short walk around the neighborhood to counter the sitting time.
Lunch time. If you work in the corporate world and have your own office, or some other private place you can retreat to, lunch time is an option for you. When I was working in the corporate environment, I worked in a downtown area and had several cool places I could walk to and then meditate. There was a nearby garden with fountains and tables / chairs, so during good weather, that was my favorite place to meditate. The city library was nearby, and they had private rooms as well as tables hidden in corners.
When You Arrive Home After Work. Meditation can be a great way to unwind when you get home, especially if you find yourself stressed and too exhausted to consider exercise. With a 15 minute meditation, you might find that you feel good enough to get out for a short walk. Another benefit to meditating post-work, is that if you are a stress eater and eat a lot of food at home in the evenings, sometimes a meditation practice can help curb those tendencies.
Before Bed. If you are suffering from poor quality sleep, meditating daily at any time of day, will gradually decrease your stress and improve your sleep quality. But it can be especially helpful before bed if you have a hard time quietening your mind enough to fall asleep.
Step 3: Do a Few Stretches
If you are meditating at home or in a private space, I highly recommend doing a few yoga stretches to loosen up the especially tight and tense areas of your body. This doesn’t have to entail much time or effort, say 4 or 5 simple stretches.
Most of us, as a result of spending so much time slouched in front of a computer, have poor posture that leads to tension in the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Stretching can help release some of that stored tension. Because our minds are connected with our bodies and vice versa, if you relax your body some, your mind will follow, so you can use stretching to help move your brain away from the highly active “beta brainwave” towards the calmer “alpha brainwave.”
Step 4: Get Into a Comfortable Seated Position
If you are physically able to, you can sit in the classic Lotus yoga position, as shown in the photo at the top of this post. However, if this position isn’t comfortable, simply sit in a chair, rest your feet on the floor, and lay your hands in your lap in a relaxed position. There is no single “right way” to sit for meditation, except for having your spine in alignment. In other words, you don’t want to slouch over, as this restricts your breathing.
To make sitting in the Lotus position more comfortable, consider getting a meditation cushion, but know that this isn’t needed for you to begin your practice. If your bed is reasonably firm, you could sit lotus style on that if you are meditating at home.
Step 5: Close Your Eyes and Take a Few Slow Deep Breaths
Step 6: Begin Meditating
There are many forms and styles of meditation, but the aim, at least initially, is to quiet your mind so that it’s not jumping all over the place. The process of meditating each day gradually trains you and your brain to be able to be quieter, more focused, more present, and better able to concentrate, along with a lot of other benefits.
The simplest approach when you are starting a meditation practice is to focus on your breath.
There are probably well over 100 different benefits of following a regular meditation practice. Here’s a quick list of some of the top mental, emotional, social, and physical benefits you’ll gain when you regularly take some quiet time for mindfulness:
Slow the aging process.
Improve and lengthen your attention span and concentration.
Help you stay calm in the face of difficulty.
Improve your quality of sleep.
Help you find creative solutions to problems you’re facing.
Decrease the stress response and lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body.
Allow you to live more in the present.
Help you lose weight.
Manage or relieve stress, anxiety, or depression.
Make you a happier, calmer person to be around.
Improve your immune function.
Slow down the aging of your brain and preserve or even increase your memory.
Decrease muscle tension, and therefore decrease pain associated with tightness.
Decrease blood pressure and lower your heart’s resting rate.
Improve athletic performance through better focus of attention.
Improve your emotional resilience when dealing with difficult life problems.
Maintain your composure and stay calm when working with others.
Develop your will power so you can accomplish more.
Rid yourself of addictions to smoking, alcohol, pain killers, and other substances.
Find peace of mind and harmony in your life.
There are many other benefits–spiritual, emotional, and physical–that you can experience with meditating, but only if you practice. Get started today. For a quick overview of how to start a daily meditation practice, read 7 Simple Steps to Start a Meditation Practice.
Meditation as a technique has been around since the antiquities, and has been employed by most of the world’s religions, so no, you do not need to be a Buddhist to meditate. In fact, during the past decades, science has proven many ways in which it can improve your mental, emotional, and physical health. As a result, many people practice meditation in an entirely secular fashion, strictly for the health benefits.
That said, I think that in the Buddhist philosophy, meditation is a far more central practice than most other religions or philosophies. And as such, it can be interesting, even enlightening, so learn about Buddha, the origins of Buddhism and its core philosophies, as these can all enhance your understanding of life and allow you to expand on and improve your meditation practice.
So, if you are at all curious, watch this documentary on the Buddha from the BBC.