Have you wondered if you should embrace mindfulness and meditation?
Exactly how these two practices might enrich your life?
Even, what is the difference or which one is better?
While there is now a plethora of supportive research, a published in the journal, Psychotherapy, answered the first two questions. The benefits are broad and profound. These approaches have shown to:
- Calm anxiety, depression, and stress
- Reduce rumination; that constant cycle of mulling over the same thoughts
- Help regulate emotions and lower anger and conflict
- Enhance working memory and the ability to sustain attention
- Lower chronic pain
- Lessen the experience of negative emotions
- Quell emotional reactivity (making you less likely to fly off the handle)
- Predict satisfaction in relationships
- Raise empathy
- Improve wellbeing
But mindfulness and meditation are different…
Mindfulness and meditation: what’s the difference?
Mindfulness refers to a state of mind. It’s an in-the-moment non-judgmental awareness of a feeling, thought, physical sensation, or object. For example, this could be immersing in the emotion of happiness, the breeze on your skin, or the sight of a beautiful flower.
Meditation involves mindfulness. But, as Yoga International noted, “Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is different from the normal waking state.” It is a specific practice designed to lead you to an altered state.
Both work synergistically, but, as you can see, they are different.
How can you practice mindfulness?
Even if you’ve never trained your brain, mindfulness can be easily learned and incorporated into daily life. If you’ve ever quipped, “But I’m too busy,” know that your focus can be brief moments or more extended periods. Everyone can practice mindfulness. As you progress, this practice will become plain sailing.
So, how can you apply mindfulness?
Here are two simple ways:
Grab fleeting seconds
Mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness. You can invite it in at any moment.
As you walk down the grocery store aisle, focus on the sensation and sound of your sole as it connects with the floor…
As you sip your coffee, draw your attention to the smell, taste, and texture. Bask in these.
If you’d normally walk past a blossoming rose, stop instead. Breathe in its intoxicating scent and sight. Be fully present.
During a traffic jam, place your hand over your heart and position your mind’s eye in between the two. Stay here for a moment.
As you lay in bed preparing to sleep, become aware of your thoughts. Instead of allowing the rampaging rumble of resentment, responsibility or reflection, notice the warmth and the weight of the cover, the softness of the pillow, the completeness of the dark. Remain in this awareness.
Tip: If poor sleep is a constant companion, the combination of Thermosleep and mindfulness may help to improve your slumber.
Your brain is filled with pathways designed to make life possible and more manageable. By promoting the formation of automatic habits, nature can shortcut processes. An experienced driver can, for example, jump in a car and just drive; no deep thought about the how-to is required. This habit has a purpose.
However, these shortcuts also mean we think and react in specific ways. Life’s experiences and circumstances, genes, nutrition, and personality lead to embedded, subconscious patterns that can trigger stress, overreaction, overwhelm. This can undermine our health, sense of self, relationships, and productivity. Over time, this can unravel our wellbeing. Here, the mindfulness pause comes in…
Before you comment, stop. Before you react, wait. Before you jump to action, rest.
A simple pause is powerful. It allows you to gather yourself, calm down, and think clearly to settle into yourself before acting.
Think about the last time you didn’t pause…
For many people, this happens in traffic. When another driver cuts you off, you might explode with expletives and waving fists as a strong sense of anger permeates your body and mind. But what purpose does this serve?
It hurls you into a fight or flight reaction. The physiological changes reduce your capacity to think and act clearly, your heart rate and blood pressure soar; you feel tense and irrational. The rest of your day can be infused by the experience, perpetuating bitterness and anger. This is terrible for your health!
Instead, practice a pause. Once an event, bodily sensation, or thought arises, permit yourself to remain psychologically and physically still, just for a minute or two. Be mindful of how you feel and seek to understand why. Consider what may have caused another person to act in the way they did. We, as humans, all err.
This pause is often more challenging in practice than in theory. However, as you practice it, you will rewire and redesign your brain. The benefits will include greater calm, clarity, happiness, and health.
Photo Credit: Pain Scale
How can you practice meditation?
Meditation is a structured practice and, as The Buddhist Center says, “A means of transforming the mind.” While many religions incorporate this beneficial exercise in one way or another, research shows it is certainly not merely spiritual. Your health can benefit profoundly!
So, how can you practice meditation?
There are different approaches to meditation, including mindfulness, open-awareness, and loving-kindness. As we’ve already talked about the importance of the former, let’s focus on this path. That way, as you meditate regularly, your general mindfulness will also improve.
Photo Credit: Positive Psychology
As a more structured practice, meditation requires allocated time, quiet, intention, and a safe space. Plan this. The same place each time works well. With that sorted…
- Find a comfortable spot. You might choose to sit with an upright spine and closed eyes. If you aren’t prone to easy sleep, you may wish to lay down.
- Draw your attention to something specific. Focus on a flickering candle, a mantra, or a piece of repetitive calming music. For this example, let’s use your breath because it is ever-present and in constant gentle flux.
- As air enters and leaves your mouth and lungs and your chest or abdomen rise and fall, bear witness to all bodily sensations.
- When you notice that your mind wanders, as it will, bring your focused attention back to the breath. A wandering mind does not mean you are failing or “bad at meditation”. In fact, it is required to flex the muscle of your attention. Each time your focus diverts from your body to your mind provides an opportunity to return to practice. This strengthens those habitual brain pathways we mentioned.
Mindfulness and mediation can be a complete game changer for your wellbeing. These two natural, safe practices act as powerful, holistic medicine. Able to calm anxiety, depression, and stress, reduce rumination, regulate emotions, enhance memory and attention, ease ongoing pain, quell negative emotions and emotional reactivity, enrich relationships, raise empathy and supercharge wellbeing…
If a medication or pharmaceutical concoction could achieve this, we’d be hungrily seeking a prescription. But, unfortunately, there isn’t; instead, the power lies within the regular practice of cultivating your mind. Are you ready?