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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

I’ve Tried Mindfulness Meditation, Here’s Why You Should Try it Too

I’ve Tried Mindfulness Meditation, Here’s Why You Should Try it Too

In our fast-paced society today, we seem to be in a constant struggle to keep up. While the advancement of technology has its benefits, we are now being constantly bombarded with information and feel pressured to connect and respond all the time. As a result, we often feel stressed, overwhelmed, and in a constant state of anxiety.

Maintaining such a frenetic lifestyle is clearly unsustainable for our physical and emotional health. Yet, despite this, we continue to pound at a furious pace to get ahead.

If this describes you and what you are going through, it is time to take a pause and give some attention to the present moment. When we do that we focus at where we are,we tend to gain a better perspective of what we are doing, and enjoy doing it more.

Practicing mindfulness in our daily lives has a lot of benefits. Studies have shown that it improves many facets of our physical and emotional well-being, such as reducing stress, improving learning, memory, emotional regulation, and empathy.

What is Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness is the psychological process of being fully present in the moment.

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When we are being mindful, we are not caught up in our thoughts about the past, the future, or reacting to the things that are happening around us. We become fully aware of what we are directly experiencing in the moment through our senses, and our state of mind through our thoughts and feelings.

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    In order to be mindful, we need to first acknowledge our thoughts without judging them

    Practicing mindfulness does not mean that we are actively trying to stop thinking. It involves noting and accepting our thoughts and feelings as it is – without judging them or trying to change them. For example, if we are feeling irritated with our friend that he or she is late, we note these feelings of irritation and then let it be. We do not ‘judge’ these feelings as right or wrong, or react based on these feelings by behaving angrily.

    Believe it or not, being mindful is a basic human ability

    This ability to be fully present is something that we all naturally possess. It is easier to be fully in the moment when we are doing something that we enjoy, such as when we are listening to music or watching a movie. However, we tend to get caught up in the default mode of worrying, reacting, and feeling overwhelmed when we are in the day to day.

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    Mindfulness meditation is the perfect way to cultivate mindfulness

    In order to get away from all the distractions and regain mindfulness,we need to intentionally set aside time to practice being fully present in the moment. Mindfulness meditation is the formal practice of mindfulness. The intention of practice is to help us regain stillness and mindfulness in places where there is no distraction. The more we practice, we will become better at intentionally being mindful when we are going through our day to day life.

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      My Story on Mindfulness Meditation and How it has Changed My Life

      After hearing so much about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, I decided to give it a try. After all, a number of very remarkable individuals (i.e. Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Ariana Huffington and Lebron James) have all incorporated meditation as an essential part of their daily routine. I was intrigued, and very curious about what mindfulness meditation can do for me.

      My first few attempts at meditation were frustrating. Given that I had read so much about its wonderful benefits, I initially expected to feel different immediately. I had concerns that I was not doing it correctly, and did not know what exactly to expect. It took a lot of perseverance and willpower to continue making it a daily practice, since I could not see any positive benefits right away.

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      The first time I noticed that my meditation practice had any impact on my life was when I was stuck in traffic and running late for a work meeting. Normally, I would have gotten quite frustrated and irritable, even though it was technically my fault for leaving house late.

      To my surprise, I kept my calm throughout the ride. I was aware that being irritated and frustrated would not help the situation. Hence, I consciously made the decision to focus on being in the present moment, and had a enjoyable conversation with the Uber driver. I gradually started noticing the same pattern when I was faced with other unpleasant experiences. I had become better at managing my negative emotions, and it has also helped me greatly in managing my anxiety in my day to day life.

      Mindfulness meditation is something that gets easier with practice. Every time we meditate, we build new neural pathways in our brain that helps us process our thoughts and emotions better.

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        If you are new to mindfulness meditation, here are some of the tips that helped me through my practice

        Technology can help you become more mindful too

        If you are new to mindfulness meditation, using a guided meditation app such as Headspace, Breathe, or Calm, is a good way to start. Headspace offers a free 10-day guided meditation program for beginners, which gives you a really good introduction to what mindfulness and mindfulness meditation is.

        Don’t obsess over doing it ‘correctly’

        As a beginner, you may have some concerns about what the right way to meditate is. Meditation is a highly personal practice, and there is no ‘correct’ way of doing it. Take your time to find out what seating or lying postures work best for you, and your ideal environment and time of the day for meditating.

        Feel it until you make it

        It is okay if you do not know what to expect, or if your experience of meditation is different from mine. You may also experience a different impact of meditation on your life. What is most important is that you return to the practice day after day, whether you had a positive session or not.

        Have you ever tried mindfulness meditation? If you have, share with us how has it impacted your life?

        More by this author

        Sophia Goh

        Professional Counsellor and Psychotherapist, M.A. Counselling

        I’ve Tried Mindfulness Meditation, Here’s Why You Should Try it Too

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        Published on April 9, 2021

        What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

        What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

        Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

        What Is Mindfulness?

        Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

        Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

        However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

        It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

        Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

        Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

        The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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        How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

        Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

        Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

        Benefits on Your Mental Health

        Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

        • Autonomy
        • Agreeableness
        • Conscientiousness
        • Competence
        • Empathy
        • Optimism

        Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

        Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

        MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

        • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
        • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
        • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
        • Prevention of major depressive disorders
        • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

        However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

        Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

        Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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        To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

        Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

        Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

        What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

        Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

        • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
        • Awareness of the present moment
        • Openness to experience whatever comes up
        • Acceptance that the mind will wander
        • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

        A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

        There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

        Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

        Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

        The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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        1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

        Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

        The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

        2. Breathing Meditation

        Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

        In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

        The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

        3. Body Scan Meditation

        A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

        When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

        4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

        In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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        Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

        The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

        In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

        Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

        Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

        Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

        There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

        Final Thoughts

        Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

        It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

        More About Practicing Mindfulness

        Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
        [2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
        [3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
        [4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
        [5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
        [6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
        [7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
        [8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
        [9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
        [10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
        [11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
        [12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
        [13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
        [14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
        [15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
        [16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
        [17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
        [18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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