Human beings are not strangers to stress. Roughly 80% of Americans experience either mental or physical stress daily.
Not only is stress a regular occurrence for most folks, but it can be difficult to get rid of, which is why more and more people are turning to meditation. Meditation can not only relax but also reduce some of the major diseases associated with unchecked stress, including stroke, heart disease, and many forms of mental illness.
Meditation has been around for a long time – 5,000 years and maybe even more! It has withstood the test of time because it has been so useful to so many people irrespective of race and culture.
Meditation can be useful for slowing down the mind, relaxing the body, and alleviating many ailments and conditions affecting human beings today such as:
- High Blood Pressure
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Stomach Ulcers/Colitis
- Mental Anxiety/Depression
- Bad Habits (e.g., smoking)
There are many different types of meditations one can use, many from ancient cultures and some from more modern times (e.g., sensory deprivation tank, binaural beats), and each one brings with it its unique methodology and set of benefits for spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health.
However, one of the most popular and widely-researched meditations is that of mindfulness.
Apart from the benefits already listed above through the practice of meditation, the research done on mindfulness meditation has also listed various other benefits it can confer on its practitioners.
These are as follows:
- Improved Memory
- Increased Concentration/Awareness/Attention/Focus
- Greater Sense of Empathy
- Greater Sense of Self-regulation
Further studies have even suggested that mindfulness meditation can alter the gray matter of the brain – the part responsible for memory, emotions, and sense of self.
Mindfulness Meditation Practice
- The practice itself is relatively simple:
- Sit in a quiet space. A chair or cushion can be used as long as the back is supported but not stiff – shoulders and head should rest easily and comfortably while hands rest on the top of the legs.
- With eyes closed, a deep breath should be taken naturally (e.g., no breath control is needed). While the breath moves in and out of the nostrils, attention should be placed on the rising and falling of the chest or the sensation of air moving in and out of the nostrils.
- As thoughts pull attention away from the breath, they should be noticed with uninterest, and then attention should be redirected back to the breath.
- Mindfulness meditation should be performed once or twice daily for about 10-20 minutes to derive maximum benefit from the practice.
Now, although this particular practice is simple, this does not mean it is easy. The mind will continue to wander and pull attention away from the breath. Apart from that, many people tend to get bored with just watching the breath and give up the practice after a while, stating that it feels more like a burdensome chore than a relaxation technique.
4 Mindfulness Meditation Tips
Stay Focused on One Point
As was discussed above, the breath should be the object of focus. Traditionally, at least since the time of the Buddha, the breath has always been the preliminary point of focus during mindfulness meditation.
Today, however, many mindfulness meditation teachers and practitioners change the point of attention during each or every other session. This is a mistake, though, as concentration should be developed to a certain degree before ‘open awareness,’ where anything that passes through the mind is given attention on a moment-to-moment basis but not followed, is given free rein.
Open awareness requires a good foundation of concentration before it can be practiced beneficially. Shifting focus too often will lessen and delay the ability to concentrate for extended periods.
Make the Breath Interesting
One major reason why many mindfulness practitioners abandon the breath as a point of focus so early on is that it can be quite boring to continue to notice it.
To diminish this boredom and uninterest, it is a good idea to gradually keep one’s awareness of subtler forms of the breath.
To make this point clear, the following examples have been given.
- In the beginning, a point on the body should be chosen to help focus on the breath. As was stated earlier, this can be the rising and falling of the chest and abdomen or just the cool air coming in and out of the base of the nostrils.
- Once the attention of the inhalation and exhalation becomes routine, the pauses between the inhalation and exhalation can be brought into the field of awareness.
- Later on, the beginning, middle, and end of each inhalation and exhalation can be focused on to bring even more concentration and deeper understanding of the object of focus. In this case, the breath.
These successive subtler forms of breath awareness will keep one’s interest in mindfulness meditation alive until the point is reached where bodily sensations, emotions, and even thoughts can be noticed and focused on as easily as the breath.
Give The Mind Positive Feedback
The mind is used to having its way! A major problem with this is that it keeps changing its way continuously, and this constant shift is what often causes mental stress and anxiety. It is not easy to stop a habit, especially if that habit has gone unnoticed for years.
However, It is not advisable to ostracize a bad habit. In the case of the wandering mind, punishing it makes it want to wander even more. A more beneficial approach is to give it positive feedback every time it wanders, or better yet, every time it notices it is wandering.
When it wanders, and this wandering is noticed, a sense of accomplishment should be supplied to it – at least it noticed that it was wandering. Letting the mind know that it did a good job by noticing its natural tendency to jump around reinforces this new behavior.
After all, one of the main objectives of meditating in the first place is to become more aware of what is going on in the present moment so as not to get lost in some future machination or live in some past experience.
Mindfulness meditation is about letting go of resistance. Resistance to what is happening at the moment. Any thought, emotion, or sensation that appears within the field of awareness should be noted and allowed to pass.
This is how all the built-up stress and worry within the mind and body are released. Holding on to anything that arises while focusing on the breath will only increase resistance, and that includes any self-judgment or expectations of how the practice should go.
Good practice in this regard is to begin each session by consciously reflecting on any hidden agenda of how meditation should be done or what should be had from it.
By doing so, natural and spontaneous concentration and relaxation take place, and all one’s cares and worries are washed away, allowing one to emerge from a session feeling fresh, light, full of energy, and in a state of positive expectancy.
Anyone can practice mindfulness meditation. It works regardless of belief, religious affiliation, culture, caste, creed, educational background, or social status. It is simple, easy, and to the point.
It does require some patience and practice, but following the above steps will help in “allowing” any obstacles to pass by effortlessly and with much less resistance causing spontaneous relaxation and alert restfulness.