Mindfulness meditation is a practice that we cultivate to become more aware of the present moment, of our surroundings, and of our own bodily sensations and thoughts.
Mindfulness meditation includes different ways to attend to the present moment, one of which is using the breath as an anchor. Whenever thoughts come rushing in during the practice of meditation, we always return back to observing the breaths that come and go. The aim is to observe the breath in its natural form, without trying to change its course.
Other than focusing on breathing, noticing our bodily sensations is an important part of mindfulness meditation. Bringing awareness to the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are important aspects of cultivating bodily awareness.
Mindfulness meditation should not be mistaken as an escape ticket out of hard situations. In mindfulness meditation, the goal is not to replace any feelings, but rather to cultivate the ability to be present with whatever we’re currently feeling.
How to Meditate
Making meditation a consistent habit is an important aspect of the practice. Our minds and bodies are better programmed to maintain a habit if it is part of our every day routine. So, if you are a novice practitioner, make sure to have a certain time of the day carved out to practice. But, don’t feel any pressure! The process of learning meditation techniques has beneficial effects itself.
Keep an open mind. Meditation does not promise good feelings after every practice, so hold space for the fact that every practice will be different from the other. There’s simply no such thing as “I can’t meditate.” There’s only showing up and trusting the process. So, make sure to give yourself enough time to be curious without judging yourself.
Prep your mind for meditation. Before you sit down to meditate, remind yourself why you want to keep up with this practice and try to notice how you feel afterward. Having the willingness and intention to meditate is important in order to keep up with your practice. While meditating, our goal isn’t to completely silence out the mind. Instead, we’re trying to develop the necessary perspectives to simply attend to what’s going on in our thoughts, feelings, and body. Whatever you’re experiencing during meditation is okay. Be mindful of the moment and just focus on your practice.
Practice self-compassion, one of the pillars of mindfulness. There are three different components of compassion we need to consider: the compassion we receive from and give to others and the compassion we have for ourselves. The first asks us to accept compassion shown to us by others. The second requires us to acknowledge another person’s pain and offer comfort. And self-compassion allows us to observe our inner critic and instead choose to extend kindness and care toward ourselves. All of these approaches ring especially true during challenging emotional times. If meditation is hard to keep up with or you feel like “you can’t do it right,” instead of dwelling on negative thoughts about yourself, remind yourself of the power of compassion and understanding. Some days may feel hard and some may be easy. Your experience may change over time. Create a space where you’re not harsh on yourself and try letting each experience be what it is.
What Should I Do Before I Start My Meditation Practice?
Meditation is shaped around focusing on breathing and turning inward. So, finding a comfortable spot where you can focus on the present moment without being interrupted is very important. We can only turn inward, noticing our body and mind, if we’re comfortable and in a safe environment. That being said, keep in mind that you can also integrate mindfulness into your life in other informal ways.
Often when we say meditation the first image that comes to mind is someone sitting cross-legged for long periods of time. Perhaps this image evokes a response of, “I can’t do that, so I can’t meditate either!” But meditation postures vary and you can find what works for you. You can sit down on a chair with your feet touching the floor or you can also sit cross-legged. The best sitting position is one that feels the most comfortable for you. You can also meditate while lying down, but be mindful of your body's tendency to relax and fall asleep. Even though it is, at times, common to fall asleep during meditation, one of our intentions while practicing is to stay aware of the present moment.
Meditation and Stress
Stress and anxiety are among the most common experiences in our modern daily lives. Everyone knows stress at a point in their lives and many suffer from its continuing effects. However, through meditation we can reduce our stress levels and create much needed relaxation. Mindfulness meditation has demonstrated significant stress reduction through evidence-based programs such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
However, it should be noted that mindfulness or meditation alone cannot serve as treatment for chronic stress or anxiety as there may be other underlying causes.
Practicing mindfulness meditation can help us cultivate new habits and change our brain structure in regions associated with regulating attention and emotion. Research shows that mindfulness meditation not only helps reduce stress levels but also increases one’s tolerance for negative thoughts in times of stress.