Our world is seldom at rest. It often feels like we have to run to keep up with life’s increasing pace, which can lead to an overwhelming feeling of stress and anxiety. This is where mindfulness meditation comes into the equation. Meditation does not only help in gaining focus and perspective, it also helps in clearing one’s mind of the thoughts and emotions that can cloud our thinking and impact our mental health.
A healthy mind for a happy life
Contrary to what some people may think, mindfulness meditation is not about escaping your daily troubles. Instead, it’s a way to observe our thoughts and emotions in a peaceful way. As Thích Nhất Hạnh — a celebrated Buddhist monk, author, and mindfulness teacher — puts it: “Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.”
While meditation can be difficult to master in the first place, the results are beneficial enough to at least try to embark on this promising journey. First, mindfulness meditation can help relieve psychological stress. When people meditate, their mind becomes an empty vessel — one that is free from the distressing thoughts and feelings they may encounter in their daily lives. Studies show this reduced brain chatter may lower our stress and anxiety levels. As researchers from Duke University explain: “Mindfulness brings about various positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improved behavioral regulation.”
Mindfulness meditation can also improve focus. “Becoming mindful of an internal state or physiological function, such as one’s breath, can hone abilities such as focused attention, working memory, and acceptance. In turn, this is thought to have long-term positive consequences on attention, body awareness, emotion regulation, and perspectives on the self when mindfulness is trained and practiced over an extended period of time,” write researchers from Yale and other universities. The great news is that their research shows that brief mindfulness meditation sessions may help improve attention even in complete beginners!
In addition, you can use mindfulness meditation to practice empathy and kindness. People report that meditation made them emotionally stronger, helping them become more grateful and more appreciative for the positive aspects of their life as it stands in the present moment, which in turn made them gain peace and calm in their own lives, as well as greater empathy and kindness towards others. In this manner, mindful meditation can help you better connect with people around you.
Finally, mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia. Many people struggle to fall asleep because they are fighting toxic thoughts and worries that prevent them from peacefully closing their eyes. While further investigation is needed, early research suggests that mindfulness meditation may be effective in treating some aspects of sleep disturbance.
What’s more, those positive effects are not short-lived. Mindfulness meditation may reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to mind-wandering, worrying, and poor attention. That’s a lot of benefits for a practice that is essentially free, so how can you incorporate mindfulness meditation into your life?
The practice of mindfulness meditation
At its heart, mindfulness meditation is a habit to build, which means it takes time and commitment. Don’t beat yourself when you skip a mindfulness meditation session, and just gently bring yourself back to the routine until it becomes a habit. Here are some basic principles you can use to give mindfulness meditation a try:
- Sit down. There is no need to invest in any sort of specific tools to get started with mindfulness meditation. You just need to find a quiet spot where you can sit comfortably.
- Relax. Make sure you are in a stable position, and relax your muscles. You can go through each part of your body starting with your head and finishing with your toes, consciously relaxing each part as you scan through.
- Focus on your breath. Focus on every inhaled and exhaled breath and try to make it deeper to gain focus, following the sensation of your breath as it goes in and out of your body. It can make it easier at first to count your breaths as you inhale and exhale.
- Be gentle. When you notice that your mind has wandered, don’t judge yourself, and gently bring the focus back on your breath.
You may find it helpful to set a timer, starting with five or ten minutes, or to use a meditation app to guide you through the process. Many apps offer a daily meditation practice that is suitable even for the most novice people. If you are struggling to build a meditation habit, you can also consider group meditation. Even if these sessions are not as frequent as solo meditation, a little mindfulness is better than no mindfulness at all.
Remember, mindfulness meditation is a learning journey. It can be challenging to build the habit, but there are many proven benefits that can positively impact your mental health, and help you live a happier, calmer life. Give it a try, experiment with meditation apps or group sessions, and if you fall off the bandwagon, don’t blame yourself: you can always try again tomorrow!
In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn — the founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, also known as MBSR: “Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.”