If you spend even a little time in the wellness space online, it’s inevitable that you will hear about mindfulness meditation. It’s touted as the ultimate stress reliever, a surefire way to reduce anxiety and, ultimately, live a fuller, happier life. Could that be true?
In this post, we will attempt to answer this question! We will introduce you to the concept of mindfulness, dispel some common myths about it, and help you decide if it’s for you (psst, it probably is). We will also provide simple and easy tips for you to get started. Let’s do this!
What is mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to what’s happening in your body and mind right now, this very moment, without judgement. That’s it. The lack of judgement—the desire to change any feeling or emotion, wishing it to go away or stay forever—is key to mindfulness and the hardest part of practice for most people.
The principles of mindfulness are all straightforward as well:
- Practicing being present in the moment and being aware of what’s happening.
- Training to focus your awareness on specific emotions and sensations that arise.
- Learning to accept emotions and thoughts as they are.
- Most importantly, the goal of mindfulness is NOT to stop thinking! Rather, it is to notice that you’re thinking and return to paying attention again.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to what’s happening in your body and mind right now, without judgement.
Common misconceptions about mindfulness meditation
You may have heard a lot about mindfulness. You may have also seen a lot of stock photos of people meditating in a lotus pose with their eyes closed. Unlike what stock libraries may make you think, sitting cross-legged is not a prerequisite for practicing mindfulness!
Other things to know:
- You do not need to close your eyes, although it’s common and may help beginners focus;
- Mindfulness practice can be done anywhere, not just in a quiet room where you are alone;
- A cushion, incense or a meditation gong aren’t required!
- You don’t even need a guided meditation app although it definitely helps to learn the ropes!
Benefits of mindfulness meditation
Most benefits of mindfulness are indirect but are way more long-lasting and impactful than a mere breathing session would be. Unlike what many people claim, mindfulness doesn’t reduce stress by itself. Rather, it teaches the way to accept and process stress no matter what happens without getting angry at oneself, blaming or ruminating. This does result in less stress though!
The consequence of a “quieter”, more attuned mind is often a better quality of sleep, rest, productivity and interpersonal relationships. Because we learn to be present in the moment, we pay more attention to our thoughts, speech and actions, so we are better equipped to not speak rashly or behave in a reactive way. People who practice mindfulness also report increased self-awareness, confidence, a sense of balance in life.
Physically, mindfulness meditation that focuses on breathing lowers the body’s stress response and the levels of cortisol because deep breathing calms down the parasympathetic system. Lower heart rate, in turn, calms down the body, which can be incredibly helpful in high-pressure, tense situations.
Mindfulness techniques and practices
One of the most interesting parts of mindfulness meditation practice is the variety of techniques and variations. Three are worth mentioning in detail:
The “classic” mindfulness meditation focuses on breathing as a way to center on the present moment.
The “body scan” is the practice of paying attention to each part of the body individually, feeling it existing, with the goal to relax and calm the whole body.
The “loving kindness” technique employs simple statements to repeat silently during a session as a way to cultivate care and well wishes towards oneself and others.
Is mindfulness meditation for me?
Yes! It is hugely beneficial to everybody. If everyone practiced a little mindfulness, the world would be a much kinder place. And we’ve got tips to help you start!
Tips for mindfulness meditation beginners
- Start small and take it slow. No need for an hour-long sit. You can practice mindfulness for 5-10 minutes a day and still see a huge benefit.
- As we mentioned above, you don’t have to be totally alone in a quiet spot, although it definitely helps. Find a spot where you would be comfortable closing your eyes and listening to instructions.
- Consider an app to help you learn the basics. The most popular examples include 10% Happier, Calm, and Headspace. All of them have free courses for basic mindfulness that are more than enough to start.
- Focus on your breath. Try paying attention to how it feels to fill your lungs with air, when the air touches your nostrils, whether it feels cool or warm, whether you feel your chest rising or your belly. It can be as simple as that!
- Most importantly, practice not judging yourself for not being perfect. Being perfect isn’t the goal. Getting lost in thought and going back to paying attention IS the practice.
Are you a mindfulness practitioner? Have you tried mindfulness meditation in the past? We would love to know about your experiences!
If everyone practiced a little mindfulness, the world would be a much kinder place.