Mindfulness Meditation: Improve Your Overall Health and Well-Being
Increasingly, we live in a stressful world. We have become a culture of embracing the notion of multi-tasking. You fold laundry while keeping one eye on the kids and another on the television. You plan your day while listening to the radio and commuting to work and then plan your weekend. But in the rush to accomplish necessary tasks, you may find yourself losing your connection with the present moment—missing out on what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Did you notice whether you felt well-rested this morning or that forsythia is in bloom along your route to work? Do you often feel stressed or stretched so thin you can’t imagine one more thing being added to your plate? Do you run from one thing to another, eating on the go arriving at your next destination thinking, “I don’t even remember driving here?”
Despite originating in Eastern contemplative traditions, today, meditation has gained a foothold in both American popular culture and scientific research. In the U.S., many meditative practices have expanded beyond their reputation as stress-relieving exercises and have been increasingly introduced by researchers as interventions for various psychological and behavioral disorders. Mindfulness Meditation, in particular, has promised a myriad of health benefits for children and adults alike. Whether pursued as a clinical intervention or as a systematic method toward self-development and personal insight, mindfulness meditation may be able to address a wide range of health issues. Here we take a look at some of these benefits.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness is a common English word that simply means “paying attention.” John Kabat-Zinn’s (former Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at University of Massachusetts Medical Center) condensed definition is “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”
Mindfulness meditation does not consist of any special ideologies or belief systems. Rather, it harnesses the innate human capacity for self-awareness and attentiveness. Even stopping what you are doing for a couple of minutes to bring attention to your bodily sensations, breathing and thought patterns qualifies as a valuable act of mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is far from being a passive practice and it demands mental discipline, intention and wakefulness on the part of the meditator. Part of this discipline involves adopting a non-judgmental attitude towards thoughts and emotions, which means observing them objectively and without becoming absorbed and unconsciously reacting to their content. It is also important to observe internal sensations without trying to change whatever is present, including potentially difficult thoughts and feelings.
Kabat-Zinn 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 Wellbeing
Increasing your capacity for mindfulness supports many attitudes that contribute to a satisfied life. Being mindful helps you become fully engaged in activities, makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur 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. They 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 the benefits of mindfulness techniques also 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
- 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:
- Substance abuse
- Eating disorders
- Couples’ conflicts
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Some experts believe that mindfulness works, in part, by helping people to accept their experiences—including painful emotions—rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance.
It has become increasingly common for mindfulness meditation to be combined with psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. This development makes good sense, since both meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy share the common goal of helping people gain perspective on irrational, maladaptive and self-defeating thoughts.
There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensation without judgement. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment. All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation.
- Basic mindfulness meditation: sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. If you mind wanders, allow those thoughts to come and go without judgment and return your focus to your breath or mantra.
- Body sensations: Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
- Sensory: Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches. Name them “sight”, “sound”, “smell”, “taste” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
- Emotions: Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy”, “anger”, “frustration”, etc. Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
- Urge surfing: Cope with cravings (for addictive substances or behaviors) and allow them to pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters. Replace the yearning for that craving with the thought that it will subside.
Meditation: How to Foster Mindfulness
Why continue to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and burnt out when you can experience the benefits of mindfulness and meditation? There are many options available to help guide you on your journey of learning how to meditate. The most important thing is to first make a conscious decision to practice mindfulness for at least a few minutes a day and increase that time as you can. You will soon reap all the benefits associated with Mindfulness Meditation.
Mindfulness can be cultivated through mindfulness meditation, a systematic method of focusing your attention.
You can learn to meditate on your own, following instructions in books or on audio. However, you may benefit from the support of an instructor or group to answer questions and help you stay motivated. There are many options available today and some of them even allow you to join live online!
MJ Allen is here to help inspire both you and your practice. MJ holds a B.A. in Forensic Psychology, a M.S. in Clinical Mental Health and Counseling from Southern New Hampshire University and a Certificate in Meditation Instruction from the University of Holistic Theology. MJ is currently a doctoral student obtaining her degree in Counselor Supervision and Education from Capella University. She is the owner of Presence of Mind Studio, offering in-person, donation only group meditation classes as well Mindful Live, a live stream mediation you can join from anywhere! For more information, visit: www.presenceofmindstudio.com.