Mindfulness and Meditation: What’s the Connection?
“Meditation is not difficult in its concept and essence, but it can present challenges for some. One of the most common is in having the discipline required to stick with it and do it every day, no matter what. The good news is that discipline is not something you either have or you don’t; it is something you develop. It is a choice. You become disciplined by making the decision, every day, to sit down and meditate, even if it’s only for a few minutes. – Liberty Forrest, Meditation Essentials
Mindfulness is the process by which you become attuned and aware of your environment in each present moment. Practicing mindfulness allows you to consciously explore and acknowledge your surroundings, notice details, delve into sensations, and allow yourself a full sensory experience. Learning to be mindful is a process. Start small by recognizing little details and sensations at first. Gradually, you will find that mindfulness is an indulgent way to experience and entertain the ever-changing moments of life.
Let start with an exercise. Do you have a pet? If so, try practicing mindfulness next time you see them. As you pet your dog or cat, take note of everything you are experiencing and feeling. What does their fur feel like? Soft, coarse, long, short, different under the neck? How does your pet react to being touched? Skittish at first, then relaxed, purring softly, rolling over and asking for more, or seeming to be itchy and needy? Are you petting the animal because they asked for attention and rolled over at your feet, because you sensed a needy moment, or out of spontaneity? How does your pet let you know that they’ve had enough? Anything can be an exercise in mindfulness training. If you don’t have a pet, focus on another topic that interests you. What happens when you prepare a meal, go shopping, talk on the phone, work on an assignment, or are in a meeting? Turn these everyday tasks into an exercise in mindfulness.
By simply practicing mindfulness, you’ve already entered the first stage of meditation without even knowing it. PLEASE don’t stop reading now if your mind is shutting down because the mere thought of meditation turns you off. Try to stay open for another 5 minutes.
Once you’ve completed the mindful exercise, take a minute to reflect on your experience. How do you feel? What did you observe? Did you learn anything new? These and other questions will help you to discover the value of being mindful.
Are you thinking that now you’d like to take your awareness a step further and deeper by moving from being mindfulness into meditation? Great.
Meditation doesn’t have to take a long time. It’s just a matter of putting aside a few minutes each day to let your body, heart, and mind relax.
For some people, including me, meditating can be challenging at first. Meditating was not something that came to me naturally. My body did not want to be still and my mind wouldn’t stop racing. With time, I came to learn and accept that any effort into meditation is a positive one. Allow yourself some time and patience. Even just a few moments can benefit you in more ways than you can imagine. Before you know it, you will be regularly practicing meditation. Some people allot a certain amount of time each day for meditating. Others prefer to practice on select occasions when they feel the urge or need. This decision is entirely up to you.
Though gurus and mystics have endorsed meditation for centuries, until recently there were no scientific studies backing up these claims. We now have empirical and scientific studies to validate that meditation actually changes brain function. Here are some benefits of meditation:
- Increased immune function and decreased levels of pain
- Decreased inflammation at the cellular level
- Increased levels of serotonin, resulting in positive emotions and decreased depression
- Lowered levels of anxiety and lowered intensity of stress
- If practiced with a group, increased social connection
- Increased emotional intelligence of yourself and others by putting you in a state of introspection and insight
- Increased compassion, insight, and understanding
- Boosted self-control and ability to regulate your emotions, particularly stress and anger
- Increased concentration ability, attention, and focus
- Better relationships at work and at home
- Improved memory and creativity
Meditation gives perspective. Mindful meditation demands “an open and receptive, nonjudgmental awareness of your present-moment experience,” says J. David Creswell, an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Health and Human Performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University. According to the New York Times, to study the benefits of meditation, Creswell recruited 35 unemployed men and women who were seeking work and experiencing considerable amounts of stress. Creswell collected blood samples and brain scans before he sent half of the participants to a residential retreat center to receive formal mindfulness meditation training while the other half received training on basic relaxation and distracting oneself from worries and stress. ‘‘We had everyone do stretching exercises, for instance,’’ Dr. Creswell says.
The mindfulness group paid close attention to bodily sensations, including unpleasant ones. The relaxation group was encouraged to chatter and ignore their bodies while their group leader cracked jokes.
Three days into the study, follow-up brain scans showed differences in only the participants who underwent mindfulness meditation training. Their brains showed more activity or communication among the portions of their brains that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm. Four months after the study’s completion, those who had practiced mindfulness showed much lower levels in their blood of a marker of unhealthy inflammation than the relaxation group, even though few were still meditating. There is much to be learned about the long term benefits of mindful meditation. We at least know enough to be sure that meditation helps and certainly cannot hurt.
Mindfulness and meditation are not the same thing. But mindfulness is the first step toward successful meditation. That’s because meditation can be hard. Everyone’s mind wanders. It’s tough to stay in the moment. Proper breathing techniques are essential to the meditation process. Because it is the breath that draws us into ourselves and the breath that will draw us back into meditation when our mind wanders.
Here are the first steps to successful meditation:
- Find a quiet spot and sit down. You can lay down as well, but start your practice sitting up. Turn your cell phone off. Give yourself a block of time – 10 or 15 minutes will do.
- Remember that your objective is to stay in the present moment and to observe yourself.
- Begin to breathe and be aware of each breath. Start to observe your mind and your thoughts. If you want, focus on an image, a question, or a mantra. There is no need to control; just observe. Do this for a few minutes, then stop and reflect on the experience.
- Your objective in meditation is to let your body, heart, and mind relax.
Every time you find your mind wandering, simply take note of what you were thinking about when you became distracted. Take a moment, then return to the awareness of your breath. These distractive thoughts may arise repeatedly in the time that you’ve allotted. That’s perfectly fine. Remember meditation is a process and a practice – it cannot be learned in a day.
You are welcome to begin meditating on your own, but experts say that being guided through the meditation process is the best way to gain benefits and to stay with the practice. I want to help you enhance your life and expand your horizons through meditation. In the process, you will increase awareness of your surroundings, gain insights into yourself and others, reduce your stress, and improve your overall health and wellbeing. You can achieve all of this and more by living each day with mindfulness and adding meditation to your daily regimen. Let’s discuss how meditation can help you.
Remember the objective of your everyday world and your entire life, in the words of Walt Whitman, “Happiness, not in another place, but in this place … not for another hour, but this hour.”
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