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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

What Is Mindfulness Meditation? 7 Ways to Start Meditating

What Is Mindfulness Meditation? 7 Ways to Start Meditating

You’ve probably heard about the growing trend in mindful meditation, and all the benefits of the practice. You might even be interested in giving it a try, but don’t know where to start. Maybe you’ve even tried meditating, but had trouble figuring it out.

It took me several years to fully understand meditation, but once I did, I realized that it is actually quite simple. In fact, it is so simple that I can teach it in less than an hour. In this article, I’ll cover the “what, why, and how” of mindfulness meditation in its simplest form, so you don’t have to spend years trying to figure it out like I did.

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness meditation, sometimes called mindful meditation, is a non-religious form of meditation that is basically a training of the mind to help us calm our mind, and live in the present moment. The main goal of the practice is to attain freedom from suffering. We accomplish this by developing self-awareness, or mindfulness, because it is our inaccurate views of the world that trigger our painful emotions and harmful actions.

With mindfulness meditation, we can develop an awareness of the true nature of reality. By observing what is happening within our mind, body, emotions, and the world around us, we’ll begin to see the sources of our suffering. Then we can work to transform them, so we can be free of them once and for all.

There are various techniques in the mindfulness meditation practice. But it generally involves relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, guided imagery, and awareness of the body, mind, and emotions.[1] These techniques are designed to calm your mind, so you can become a more objective observer of yourself and the world around you.

Is Mindfulness Meditation the Same as Meditation?

There is a great deal of confusion about what mindfulness meditation is, as it relates to meditation. The term “meditation” refers to the practice in general. It describes a group of practices that are designed to help calm and focus the mind. The term “mindfulness meditation” refers to a specific form of meditation, as describe above.

You see, there are several different forms of meditation, such as transcendental meditation, relaxation meditation, and contemplative meditation. In addition, most religions have their own form of meditation. While the various practices are similar, their goals and techniques can vary.

My general advice to beginning meditators is to pick one form of meditation, and learn that practice well. Then, if you find that that form doesn’t suit you so well, feel free to try another form.

If you begin by dabbling in all different forms, you probably won’t become proficient with any of them, and your results will be poor. And when you don’t see much results, you’ll just end up quitting within a short period of time.

Why Practice Mindfulness Meditation?

You’re probably wondering why you should practice mindfulness meditation. Well, there are so many benefits that I could write a whole chapter to explain them all, and the scientific research behind them. Here is a summary of what you can expect:

Better Physical Health

Researchers have discovered that mindful meditation helps people overcome many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and chronic illnesses, which cost millions of dollars in healthcare—not to mention all the pain and suffering. The practice also improves the immune system, and slows the aging process.[2]

Lower Stress

Numerous studies have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation improves people’s ability to cope with the pressures of modern life, and avoid the health consequences. By calming their mind, they calm their emotions and achieve greater peace of mind. This also leads to better sleep at night. [3]

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Improved Mental Health

Mindfulness meditation is so effective in treating mental and emotional disorders that mental health professionals are now using the practice to treat various conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, and more. Practitioners are also reporting higher self-esteem and self-confidence.[4]

Improved Relationships

Mindfulness meditation helps practitioners improve their relationships by gaining greater control over their emotions, and by learning how to practice such skills as deep listening, mindful speech, and forgiveness.

Improved Social Skills

Those who practice mindfulness meditation tend to be more outgoing. They develop greater love, compassion, and understanding of other people. This leads to them becoming more open and receptive to others.

Also, as they develop greater inner strength, they become more resilient to personal attacks.

Improved Cognitive Abilities

Researchers have also found that mindfulness meditation helps people enhance their mental capabilities, such as concentration, abstract thinking, memory, and creativity.

Benefits to Organizations

Studies have shown that the practice has many benefits to organizations, such as reduced stress levels, lower healthcare costs, greater teamwork, increased productivity, greater leadership, and increased profitability.

As you can see, the mindfulness meditation practice can improve your life in so many ways. And the great thing about it is that there are no negative side effects, which are usually associated with most medications used to treat physical and mental illnesses.

7 Ways to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

The mindfulness meditation practice is quite diverse. There are various techniques you can incorporate into your busy schedule, some of which don’t require you to sit in meditation. Here are the main techniques.

Sitting Meditation

At the heart of the mindfulness meditation practice is the sitting meditation session. This meditation session usually consists of 3 parts: relaxation meditation, concentration meditation, and mindful meditation. They are described below.

You generally want to pick a quiet time and place to meditate. The time of day you meditate is entirely up to you, but you want to choose a time when you feel alert, as you are trying to develop awareness.

You can sit either in a chair or a meditation cushion, whichever you prefer. Don’t meditate lying down, as you’ll probably fall asleep. The whole idea of the sitting position is to be alert and comfortable. The position of your hands is also a matter of choice. You can either hold them interlaced in front of you, or simply resting on your thighs.

1. Relaxation Meditation

Remember, the goal of mindfulness meditation is to develop mindfulness. That is, we want to be able to observe ourselves objectively. But we can’t do that if our mind is agitated, and we can’t have a peaceful mind if our body is tense. That’s why we usually start a meditation session with a short relaxation meditation.

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To practice relaxation meditation, close your eyes, and begin following your breath. After a couple of minutes, turn your attention to your body, beginning at the top of your head. As you slowly move your attention down through your body, make a conscious effort to relax the muscles in each body part as you exhale each breath. This relaxation meditation should take about 5 minutes.

2. Concentration Meditation

The next part of a mindfulness meditation session is concentration meditation. If we want to observe something on a deeper level, then we need to be able to keep our attention on it. Concentration meditation will help you develop mental discipline.

If your mind is agitated, then your observations will only be superficial. Concentration meditation will help you steady your mind, so you’re able to observe things on a deeper level. This process is the key to developing greater understanding, that is, wisdom.

For example, if we have a painful emotion we don’t understand that keeps coming up, then we need to be able to keep our attention on it in order to identify the source. Only then can we transform it, so that it ceases to cause us pain and suffering.

To practice concentration meditation, begin counting your breaths 1 through 5 silently in your mind. When you get to 5, simply start over again. Keep your attention focused on the air passing through the tip of your nose. When you find that your mind has wandered, immediately bring your attention back to your breath.

Concentration meditation can be challenging, but it’s important to do your best to keep your attention on your focal point. Your mind is going to wander a lot. That’s normal. Just keep bringing it back to the air passing through the tip of your nose. It will get easier as you progress.

3. Mindfulness Meditation

After doing relaxation and concentration meditation, you are then ready to do mindfulness meditation. The relaxation meditation has helped your body and mind relax, and the concentration meditation has helped you focus your attention. You are then better prepared to observe things on a deeper level.

Remember that the mindfulness meditation practice is a training of the mind. We are training our mind to see with greater clarity. Then we take our improved observation skills and apply them to everyday life. It is much like training in the gym, so we can perform better in sports.

After a few minutes of concentration meditation, transition to mindful meditation. Continue observing your breath. However, instead of counting each one, observe the entire breathing process mindfully. Observe it in a more relaxed manner, without forcing your mind like you did with concentration meditation. When distracting thoughts arise, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

4. Emotional Awareness Meditation

An alternative to the mindful meditation portion of your meditation session is emotional awareness meditation. As the name implies, you’re training yourself to observe your emotions. Over time, this type of meditation will help you gain more control over your emotions, and develop greater inner strength.

To practice emotional awareness meditation, do the relaxation and concentration meditations first. When you finish the concentration meditation, turn your attention to your emotions. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Are you feeling happy, sad, angry, lonely, hurt, restless, bored, or some other emotion?

Some emotions arising from your subconscious mind may be quite subtle, and harder to identify. They tend to manifest themselves into a general mood without seemingly any rhyme or reason.

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Emotional awareness meditation can be more involved than this, but for now, simply focus on identifying the emotions. If you feel ready, you are welcome to explore those emotions deeper. Look at the thinking behind them, and try to look at the situations differently, that is, from a broader perspective.

Other Techniques

The mindfulness meditation practice has several tools and techniques besides sitting meditation to help you develop mindfulness. Here are a few simple tools you can use.

5. Walking Meditation

This is something you can do if you are too restless to do sitting meditation. You can also do it in lieu of the relaxation meditation. Walking meditation is another way to help calm your restless body and mind.

The way to practice walking meditation is simple. Preferably, go some place that is quiet, and has beautiful scenery. Begin walking at a much slower pace than normal. Apply the same techniques used in concentration and mindful meditation described above. But instead of focusing your attention on your breath, focus on your footsteps.

Alternatively, you can focus your attention on your whole body as you walk. Notice the movements of each body part as you take each step.

A variation of the walking meditation is mindful walking. The techniques are the same, but instead of making a meditation session out of walking, practice mindful walking during the normal course of your daily routine. For example, when you’re walking around at work, home, or any other place, walk mindfully instead of getting on your cell phone, or letting your mind wander aimlessly.

What mindful walking will do is prevent your mind from getting too agitated. And the great thing about it is that you can do it anytime of the day without taking up any of your valuable time.

6. Writing Meditation

This is a technique I developed to help people reprogram their subconscious by assimilating positive affirmations, mainly the loving-kindness meditation practiced in Eastern traditions.[5] The affirmations are basically meant to help you become more loving, compassionate, understanding, etc. It also helps you stay committed to your practice.

Instead of reciting, listening to, or meditating on the loving-kindness meditation, you simply copy the affirmations by hand in a notebook. You do this for about 10 minutes a day. That’s it. You can do it at any time, and you don’t even need a quiet environment.

After a few days, the affirmations will begin manifesting themselves in your behavior, as your attitudes about other people will begin to change. It is great for healing and improving your relationships.

7. Mindful Activities

You can turn just about any activity into mindfulness meditation. Choose an activity that requires little attention, such as washing dishes or folding clothes. These types of activities are so routine that we do them without thinking, and we usually just let our mind wander off. Now you can use them to help you develop mindfulness.

To perform activities mindfully, start by doing them slower. Don’t be in a hurry to finish them, like you usually do. Pay close attention to every action you are performing. For example, when folding clothes, pay close attention to how you’re folding them, how the clean clothes smell, and how they feel to the touch. You may even want to fold them a little neater than you usually do.

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I know this may sound boring and unproductive, but it’s quite the contrary. What you’re doing is calming your mind, and keeping yourself grounded in the present moment, where all reality is taking place. And when you calm your mind, you’ll begin to see the whole world on a much deeper level. Now, how exciting is that?

Suggested Practice

“It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.” — Confucius

The great thing about mindfulness meditation practice is that it is flexible. There are several techniques you can combine to suit your lifestyle and busy schedule. You can also change things up, so you don’t get bored, or if things change in your life.

If you’re new to the practice, I would start with about 5-10 minutes of sitting meditation, that is, sitting quietly doing the relaxation, concentration, and mindfulness meditations described above. Gradually increase the duration of your sitting meditation sessions to about 20 minutes or more.

I would also suggest adding some walking meditation, loving-kindness writing meditation, or mindful activity to your routine. These not only will help you calm your mind, but they will also keep your mind from getting so agitated in the first place.

It’s important to practice regularly, such as every day or every other day. It’s okay if you miss a few days. Just try to get back on your routine as soon as you can. Also, don’t be hard on yourself if you struggle with the practice in the beginning.

As you meditate, you may notice things going on in your mind that you never saw before. That’s normal. It is the arising of mindfulness, and part of the learning process.

Over time, you will become more observant, and everything around you will become clearer. Not only will you be able to see everything on a deeper level, but you will also begin to see how everything is interconnected. When this happens, the whole world becomes new and exciting again. This is enlightenment.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, mindfulness meditation is not as complicated as you may have thought, and the benefits are tremendous. Sure, there is more to the practice than I have described here, but the basics are quite simple. Remember that you don’t have to do it perfectly to get the benefits. You just have to do it.

One of the great things about the practice is that you can realize some of the benefits rather quickly, especially with the loving-kindness writing meditation. That is a simple practice that yields tremendous results.

The benefits are real, and well within your reach. Just imagine what your life would be like with better health, more control over your emotions, better relationships, and better sleep. Your life would certainly be much more fulfilling.

Here I’ve given you a blueprint to help you get started. If you’re serious about learning how to meditate, I suggest you print this article, read it again, and keep it as a reference. Then get started, and soon you’ll begin to realize the peace and happiness you’ve been searching for your whole life. Good luck!

More About Meditation

Featured photo credit: Martin Sanchez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Charles A. Francis

Author, meditation teacher, and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute

How to Cope with the 5 Common Stressors In Life and Feel Better 10 Ways a Silent Retreat Improves Your Mental Health Why Do I Feel Depressed Every Once in a While for No Reason? The Beginner’s Guide to Practicing Self-Compassion Meditation 20 Best Guided Meditations for Sleep and Insomnia

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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

Stress affects everyone, invariably in different ways. Regardless of how stress shows up in your life, when it does, it takes over, making it difficult to stay in the present moment or show gratitude for what and who we have in our life. In the eye of the stress storm, everything is tossed around into oblivion, and self-care ideas go out the window.

However, this is the moment when self-care is the most important. When you notice that you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or powerful emotions, it’s time to get back to a sense of balance by showing yourself love and compassion.

How Does Stress Show Up?

On a physical scale, stress tends to be behind many of our typical ailments, such as headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, or body aches and pain.[1] When we’re in stressful situations, our body activates our fight-or-flight response through the stress hormone, cortisol.

According to the American Institute of Stress, when the body is in this mode due to stress, “the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.”[2]

While our fight-or-flight response is extremely helpful when we’re in situations that risk our survival, not every situation is that dire. However, the body doesn’t know how to differentiate between such scenarios.

Rather, we become accustomed to seeing every stressful situation as life-threatening, and we become locked into this fight-or-flight response automatically. This causes us to burn out because our body is constantly fighting or fleeing from threats that are not causing us any real harm.

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On a mental and emotional scale, stress affects your thoughts, feelings, and ultimately your behavior. Everything is interconnected. When stress takes a toll on our bodies, this has a domino effect on how we process our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see correlations between depression and anxiety when it comes to dealing with stress.

Self-Care Ideas to Combat Stress

Below are five self-care ideas for combating stress in your life. Consider implementing them into your daily routine for the best results.

1. Start a Brain Dump Writing Exercise

When you’re overwhelmed with thoughts, it can become very difficult to stay present and focused. This could affect you at work, in school, or in your relationships. It’s as if your mind were filled to the brim with thoughts that are constantly competing for your attention. If left unattended, this can affect your performance or your state of being, so it’s important to turn to self-care ideas in these moments.

One exercise to get this under control is called a brain dump, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Start by getting comfortable with a pen and paper or your favorite journal. Without any special formatting or introduction, just start writing any and all thoughts that come up.

Consider your paper a blank canvas onto which you’re going to spill every thought, no matter how small or unimportant. This can look like a laundry list, a jumble of words, or a paragraph.

Don’t focus on how it looks or how well it’s organized. The idea is to give your thoughts an exit. Once they’re on paper, they’re no longer swimming in your head for attention.

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Once you have them written down, leave them as they are. We have a tendency to want to fix our thoughts. Instead, allow them to simply exist as they are—they’re not right or wrong. Consider coming back to this exercise daily or whenever you feel like you have a lot on your mind.

2. Sweat It out

There is nothing more therapeutic than moving the physical body when it feels the weight of stress. Energetically, we carry our day in our body, mostly in our neck, shoulders, and hips. If we’ve had a particularly difficult day, that energy is going to feel tense and unsettling. This is why it’s so important to move and really break a sweat!

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America[3]:

“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

Find what exercise regimen works for you, and commit to it for a few days per week for your mental and physical health. Scientists have also found that even 10-15 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a tremendous effect on your body. Go for a run, take a spin class or a power yoga class, or dance the stress away in Zumba. Whatever gets your heart rate up and breaks a sweat is one of the perfect self-care ideas to keep the stress away.

3. Seek the Care of a Therapist

Sometimes writing out our thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem quite enough. This is common and to be expected. After all, we are complex human beings who want to understand and process our emotions on a deeper level. This is why spending time in a regular therapy session is so beneficial!

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In the presence of a professional, we can open up about what stressful situations we’re going through. We don’t have to keep our emotions bottled up, and we know that our honesty will be protected and safeguarded.

Additionally, when we’re feeling stressed, we often want to simply vent and get things off of our chest. Having someone on the receiving end who will simply listen and hold space is a truly healing gift. We can often leave the session feeling more empowered, seen, and offloaded of the stress we brought in.

Lastly, we may be able to receive guidance from our therapist on a particular situation we’re struggling with. Having someone else’s perspective on something we’re too emotionally close to can be just the right solution and a great addition to our self-care routine.

Here are more self-care ideas from a therapist: Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

4. Interrupt Your Day

When it comes to self-care ideas, this may seem like a derailing technique, but give it a shot! Interrupting your day means introducing something entirely new or random into a routine that is very monotonous or typical.

If your work or school day is the same sequence of events every single day, bringing in an interruption can be quite conducive to your productivity and creativity. This can look like pausing in the middle of the day for a yoga stretch at your desk or in your office. It could be playing your favorite playlist in-between meetings or taking a walk outside for lunch. Not only does this stir up new energy for your day, but it can also help you de-stress

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As I said above, when we’re too close to a situation or conflict, we have a harder time breaking away. We’re so emotionally and mentally invested that we don’t see how that proximity is affecting our health. So, interrupt yourself when you’re feeling stress coming on, and do something fun, random, and refreshing to feel good.

5. Get Some Energy Work Done

Energy work is anything that is being done to improve the circulation and energetic flow of the body. This could be a massage, a Reiki session, chiropractic adjustment, or acupuncture[4].

Moving the body helps move the energy that is blocked or stuck. This is why exercise is so important. However, sometimes we need a session where that work is done for us by a licensed professional.

In such treatments, we have the luxury to relax and receive the benefits of the treatment, making it a beautiful way to squeeze in self-care!

You can find even more stress management techniques in the following video:

Final Thoughts

Stress is, unfortunately, a common part of every life. It affects everyone, but to what extent it affects you is personal. One thing is for sure, and that is that stress has a tremendous effect on our physical, mental, and emotional state.

This is why regular exercise is so important, as well as mental stimulation and emotional release. These self-care ideas won’t necessarily guard you from ever feeling stressed again, but they will certainly help you manage it better and offer amazing health benefits along the way.

More Self-Care Ideas

Featured photo credit: Alisa Anton via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Mayo Clinic: Stress Management
[2] The American Institute of Stress: How the Fight or Flight Response Works
[3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Physical Activity Reduces Stress
[4] Medical Acupuncture: Does Acupuncture Reduce Stress Over Time? A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients

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