Here’s a quick 10 minute start guide.
For many years, I’ve meditated on and off. But, after reading about the astounding findings of mindfulness meditation research, I decided I needed to improve my own practise.
What Exactly Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Consider yourself in a tranquil meadow, surrounded by tall grasses that sway in the gentle breeze. You can observe birds singing in the distant and experience the sun’s warming on your flesh. You become aware of your breathing and begin to feel grounded and centred as you take in the beauty of your surroundings. This is the essence of mindfulness, a practise that encourages us to concentrate on the present moment in order to cultivate a sense of calm and clarity. Mindfulness can help you achieve a more peaceful life, whether you want to reduce stress, improve focus, or simply appreciate the beauty of the world. Many people who have learned this simple practise of being fully present and engaged in the present moment without judgement have reaped enormous benefits. It’s gotten a lot of attention in the last 40 years or so. Researchers have been attempting to explain in biological terms why people who practise mindfulness report that it fundamentally changes their experience of life.
The practise of mindfulness meditation, specifically Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s and 1980s, has been extensively researched in a wide range of fields. It’s been shown to help with anxiety and depression, chronic pain, addiction, and high blood pressure, as well as insomnia, among many other conditions. As I read about these studies, I reflected on my own lapses in meditation practise over the years. I want to be as healthy and happy as possible, and mindfulness practise appears to aid in that endeavour. So I downloaded three books by Kabat-Zinn from Audible: his two books, “Full Catastrophe Living” and “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” as well as a set of guided meditations.
One of the meditations is a 45-minute reclined body scan that begins with your left foot’s toes and progresses to the bottom of the foot, then the heel, then the top of the foot, and so on. Another 45-minute session is a simple sitting meditation in which you become aware of your breath and observe your thoughts as they pass by, acknowledging and letting them go without getting caught up in them. The set also includes two mindful yoga practises. Long, deep, mindful stretches and gentle movements are part of the yoga practise. I’ve been immersed in Kabat-gentle Zinn’s voice and straightforward guidance. It feels good to take some time for myself and re-energize my own practise.
Mindfulness Meditation Practice
Participants in his eight-week course meet weekly for 212-hour group training sessions, do 45 minutes of daily self-work, and attend a daylong retreat. According to Kabat-Zinn, you should practise mindfulness for at least 45 minutes per day. You could do a sitting or reclined practise a few times a week and a yoga practise the rest of the time. While longer sessions are necessary to learn the practise and develop discipline, Kabat-Zinn emphasises that any amount of time you can devote to the practise is beneficial. If you are unable to devote 45 minutes per day, even 10 minutes per day is preferable to none.
Terry Patten, a teacher, author, and longtime meditation practitioner, used to say that the first five minutes of meditation provide the most bang for your buck. That’s when you’re fresh and settling in, paying attention to your breath, muscles, and posture. You’re only now becoming aware of the random thoughts that appear out of nowhere, filling the movie screen of your mind. Sam Harris, a longtime meditator and neuroscientist who created the meditation app Waking Up, offers a different 10-minute meditation on the app every day. He has made it clear that meditation isn’t just about what happens on the cushion. The idea is to sprinkle moments of mindfulness throughout your day… when you’re walking out the door, doing the dishes, brushing your teeth, or conversing with a friend. That’s what the practice is all about. The purpose of sitting meditation is to train people for all the other aspects of life.
Mindfulness practise may appear to be absurdly simple, and in some ways it is. Harris compares it to walking a tightrope, with the instructions going something like this:
- Locate a horizontal cable that is strong enough to support you.
- Place yourself at one end.
- To move forward across the cable, put one foot in front of the other.
- Don’t trip.
“Clearly, steps 3-5 require some practise,” Harris says. “Fortunately, the benefits of meditation training arrive long before mastery.” When it comes to practising mindfulness, more is probably better, but five or ten minutes per day is definitely better than none. There is much to be gained by simply paying attention to what is going on in your mind, even for a brief moment. The important thing is to repeat this brief exercise throughout the day.
Instructions in detail
- Sit comfortably in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion, spine erect but not rigid.
- Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes. Feel for the points on your body that make contact with the chair or cushion. Take note of any sensations you have while sitting, such as pressure, tingling, temperature, and so on.
- Pay attention to your breathing. Pay attention to where you feel your breath the most clearly, which could be at the tip of your nose or in your abdomen as it rises and falls.
- Relax and enjoy the simple sensation of breathing. (Do not attempt to control your breathing. Allow it to happen naturally and watch the process.)
- Allow thoughts to pass, and then gently return to the sensation of breathing.
- As you concentrate on your breathing, you will notice various sensations arising sounds, emotions, possibly an itch or an ache. Simply notice these things as they arise, and then return your attention to your breathing.
- When you notice that you’ve become lost in thought, recognise that thought as an object of consciousness. Then return to your breathing.
- Continue in this manner until you can merely observe all the objects of consciousness sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, and thoughts as they arise and fade away.
The process of doing mindful meditation is simple. However, it can be frustrating to notice how persistent thoughts can be, and it can be humbling to realise how frequently you are carried away by them. But that’s the norm. If you get distracted 100 times, simply return to your breath 100 times without judging yourself. Don’t make up a story about how difficult this is, or how bad of a meditator you are, or how you don’t have time to just sit around. You’re developing the “muscle” or skill of gentle perseverance. And it’s a very useful skill to have.
The research is still ongoing.
The study of mindfulness is ongoing, and researchers are eager to learn why this practise benefits so many people in so many different ways. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is being used in studies at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, for example, to record brain activity in participants before and after taking a mindfulness meditation course. These studies are fascinating, but there are some difficulties. One difficulty is establishing a precise standard definition for mindfulness. Some describe it as a meditation-based practise that improves one’s sense of being present in the moment. Others, however, describe it as a non-meditative state in which subjects set aside mental distractions and focus more on the here and now.
Another difficulty is identifying and categorising the numerous variations of the practise. The majority of scientific research has concentrated on the secular practise of mindful meditation. However, meditation is a component of several religious traditions, each with its own set of meditation practises. Other factors to consider include the ideal length and frequency of meditation sessions. Taking all of these variables into consideration, if researchers can pinpoint which elements are most effective, the therapy could be refined to benefit even more people.
Starting the Practice
There are numerous meditation apps, such as Waking Up, that make it easier to stick to a practise. (I’ve had that app for years on my phone.) It includes hundreds of hours of content centred on various types of meditation, philosophy, and science, as well as conversations and courses with experts and renowned teachers. Headspace, Ten Percent Happier, and Calm are other well-known and highly rated meditation apps with a wealth of extra content to help you stay grounded and peaceful no matter what’s going on in your life. What thoughts are racing through your mind now that you’ve learned more about mindfulness meditation? Will you start practising right now and let those thoughts pass by without judgement? Will you begin a regular practise?
Hi, I’m Garima and I write about life experiences. I have several books available on Amazon. Check them out today! Any purchases or KDP reads will be greatly appreciated. If you like my books, do leave a review. Here’s my author page on Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0BQDZXYNV