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Mindfulness meditation has many positive effects on your mind and body, including stress reduction, reduced depression, and increased focus and productivity. It’s important to practice mindfulness meditation with guidance from a trained and qualified teacher – to get the most benefit from it. Here’s a simple guide to mindfulness meditation to help you begin your own meditation practice.

What is the difference between Mindfulness and Meditation?

Firstly Mindfulness is about:

  • The quality of your attention in any given moment
  • Being present instead of lost in thought
  • Observing the experience we are having without judgment
  • Developing self-awareness of our thoughts and emotions
  • Becoming more thoughtful, compassionate, and empathetic
  • Living your life deliberately

You can find more information about mindfulness and tips for practising it in my blog post Mindfulness Tips for Beginners.

Meditation is just one way you can practise being mindful. You don’t need to practice meditation to be mindful but you do need to be mindful to meditate.

History of Meditation

For thousands of years, monks in Eastern countries have been practicing meditation. In more recent times, it has grown in popularity in the West. Here is some trivia about meditation:

  • Originating in China and India, monks were the first to practise meditation.
  • People in western culture started practicing in the late 1800s.
  • The 1950s saw large-scale immigration from Asia to America, due to the communist invasion in China. This brought Asian teachers to the West and strengthened and widened their audience.
  • During the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s, people used it to reach a state of higher consciousness.
  • It was during the 1970s that the health and lifestyle benefits of meditation started to become more clearer.
  • Over time various studies have shown its effectiveness in treating a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional stressors.

 

Types of Meditation

Meditation can be likened to travel – there are different ways to arrive at your destination, e.g. boat, plane, train, car.  There are many methods, techniques and styles – some specific to a spiritual or cultural tradition, time period, text, teacher or individual philosophy (e.g. Vipassana meditation is from Theravada Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation is from Vedantic Hinduism).

Examples of meditation techniques include:

  • Relaxation – Yoga Nidra
  • Sound – music, chanting, singing bowls
  • Mantra – affirmations, mala beads, transcendental
  • Moving – Tai Chi, Chi Gong, walking, labyrinths, dancing, yoga
  • Art – drawing, mandalas
  • Insight – finding a solution to a problem or answer to a question

 

Mindfulness Meditation

The style that I practise and teach is Mindfulness Meditation, as I love its simplicity and practicality, as well as the many pleasant side effects! Mindfulness Meditation is:

  • A method for achieving mental clarity and emotional calm.
  • A mental discipline that requires focussed awareness.
  • A technique that uses attention regulation such as focussing on the breath, senses or body sensations to train our minds to be present.
  • Secular, practical, and easy to learn with many physical, mental, and emotional benefits.

 

Benefits of Meditation

Physical Benefits (as you become more aware of your internal and external body sensations):

  • Decreases restlessness – as you learn it’s okay to be still and do nothing.
  • Releases muscle tension, body aches, and pain – as you begin to tune into your body’s needs and what it’s trying to tell you. A body that’s constantly on high alert is a recipe for stress and often, chronic disease.
  • Helps the body relax and sleep – as you learn to switch off the mind chatter.
  • Develops the ability to tune into your senses – providing greater enjoyment of day-to-day experiences.
  • Increases productivity at school, work, and sport – as your body feels rested and refreshed.

Emotional Benefits (as you become more aware of your feelings and reactions to them):

  • Enables the ability to feel and process emotions without being overwhelmed by them – as you practice allowing and accepting rather than avoiding.
  • Builds self-esteem and resilience – as you learn to accept and not judge your thoughts and feelings.
  • Improves the ability to react in a more thoughtful, calm, and less reactive way in challenging situations – as you learn to pause and engage other parts of your brain.
  • Builds peaceful and harmonious relationships with friends and family – learning about your own emotions creates empathy for others.

Mental Benefits (as you become more aware of distracting thoughts and things that stress you):

  • Quiets the mind chatter and excessive thinking – by staying present and not thinking about the past or the future.
  • Relieves stress and increases the ability to cope with stressful situations – as you get to know yourself and begin to build your inner strengths and resources.
  • Enhances focus and concentration – as you learn to regulate your attention.

 

How Meditation Works

  • It brings the body back into a state of rest and repair (homeostasis).
  • It gives an anxious mind something else to do (instead of over thinking).
  • It creates a mental space or pause between impulse and action (allow you to respond in a better way).
  • It helps you stay present (as you have to pay attention).
  • It increases grey brain matter (learning and memory).
  • It preserves our telomeres (caps on the end of our chromosomes that shorten with age and disease).
  • It turns the stress response off (shrinks the amygdala and weakens it signal).

 

Meditation Tips

The basic idea behind mindfulness meditation is simple – you sit in a comfortable position and focus on something like your breathing. When your mind wanders, you bring it back to its original task.

The goal of mindfulness meditation is not about achieving a state of bliss (although that can be a pleasant side effect) – it’s about training yourself to recognise when you’re distracted from what you’re doing and, in time, not be so easily distracted. In other words, focus on one thing at a time.

Whether you’re just beginning to get into meditation or are already a regular, here are some tips for ensuring you get started and stay on the path.

  • Be motivated, dedicated, and disciplined even if you don’t enjoy it at first (just like eating vegetables or exercising).
  • Set realistic goals for yourself, and be kind to yourself even if you become uncomfortable, restless, impatient, or emotional.
  • Let go of yourself and be.
  • Don’t treat it as escaping from reality but rather as embracing it more fully.
  • Prepare, so you are ready to meditate and don’t come up with excuses not to.
  • Be consistent – it’s better to do 10 minutes per day than one hour a week.
  • Like physical exercise, 20 minutes will be more beneficial than 10, so try to work your way up to this but start with what is practical for you. 5 minutes is better than nothing.
  • Keep it simple, to begin with, e.g., breath or relaxation meditation.
  • Practice a type of meditation for at least a week before trying a different one. So you don’t get overwhelmed with all the options out there.

 

Possible Obstacles

Overcoming your initial roadblocks in meditation practice is often part of what prevents people from getting started. Following are some possible solutions to the most common obstacles faced during meditation:

  • Drowsiness or falling asleep – sit up, don’t meditate in your bed or bedroom (unless you are using meditation to get to sleep.
  • Restlessness and impatience – go for a walk, shake your body.
  • Emotional responses – crying, yawning, giggling sighing, farting area all normal!
  • Hyperventilation or dizziness – breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth as though you are holding a straw between your lips.
  • Pain or physical discomfort – a little bit is okay but change position if it becomes too distracting.
  • Negative connotations and guilt – self care is not selfish! You can’t look after other people if you don’t look after yourself.
  • Disengagement – focus on the breath or senses or the feel of the ground beneath you (make sure your feet are touching the ground.

 

Personal Insights

  1. What benefits of meditation interest you the most?
  2. How could you use meditation in your life?
  3. Where could you set up a meditation space in your home, what posture would suit you best and do you need any equipment?
  4. How long do you think you could dedicate to meditating each day and at what time?
  5. What obstacles or challenges (if any) have you encountered when beginning to meditate?

 

If you need some more assistance, please see my How to Meditate blog post for further instructions and my 7 Obstacles to Meditation.

If you’d like to try a mindfulness meditation, here’s my Mindful Breathing Meditation for Beginners on Insight Timer (free meditation app).

And if you aren’t already a subscriber register for my newsletter and you will receive a free copy of my Quick Guide to Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners, as well as my complete library of meditations to listen to any time.