What Is Mindfulness Meditation? Benefits, Practices and How it Works
September 29, 2020 | Healthy Aging
In today’s world, many things keep our minds occupied–especially during a pandemic. This is why it’s helpful and important to understand how to pause and practice mindfulness meditation.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of intentionally bringing our full attention to the present moment; noticing people, places and things as they are and without judgement. Sometimes it is easier to recognize when we aren’t mindful rather than when we are. For example, have you ever had the experience of “your mind being somewhere else”? Where did your mind go? Often, we are thinking of things that happened in the past or are planning for the future rather than attending to the present moment. A common misconception about mindfulness meditation is that it involves clearing or emptying your mind – this is not the goal – the goal is to be in the here and now.
While the idea of mindfulness may be simple to understand, it is a lot more challenging in practice. It is very common to notice your mind wandering away from the present moment many, many times, while practicing mindfulness. Part of the practice is being curious about where your mind went and then bringing your attention back to the present moment again and again.
How to practice mindfulness meditation
Luckily, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness. Try different approaches to see what works best for you. Mindfulness meditation is a lot like exercising. After one exercise session, you are unlikely to see benefits even though every exercise session is beneficial for your health. Also like exercise, mindfulness meditation may not feel great in the moment. However, if you set small personal goals, you will be more likely to stick with it to see the benefits over time. Dedicating just three to five minutes of meditation time each day can be extremely beneficial when starting. Eventually, you can build up to twice as long, and from there, maybe even longer.
Here is a basic mindfulness meditation exercise using your five senses:
- Pick up a nearby object to practice with or try this exercise with a bite of food.
- Take a mental note of what it looks like. Notice its color, how the light reflects off it, and its size.
- Next, pick up the object and feel the texture of it against your skin. Take note if it’s smooth, rough, slick, firm, sharp, or if it has any other properties.
- Turn your attention to the sound the object makes. What happens if you were to tap it down on a surface? Does it make a loud or soft sound?
- If it is a scented object, pay attention to what it smells like. Does it smell good or bad? Does the smell remind you of anything you have ever smelled before?
- If the object is edible, such as a food or drink item, place it in your mouth. Notice its taste and the sensations that each flavor brings to your tongue. Is it sweet, salty or sour? What is the experience of chewing and swallowing like?
Here is another mindfulness meditation exercise adapted from mindful.org which focuses on breathing:
- Set aside about six minutes.
- Find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position.
- Bring attention to your breathing in its natural state. Notice the inhale, notice the pause, and notice the exhale.
- Repeat, and take note of any new breath, noting the changes in each inhale, pause and exhale.
- Your mind may begin to wander and pull you out of the present moment. That is okay. Take note of your thoughts and feelings, and allow yourself to return to your breathing.
- Notice how each breath affects varying areas of the body — from your nose, to the chest and the stomach.
- Continue this process until your timer rings, or until you are ready to be done.
Likely, these exercises are a very different way of relating to your world. How often do you breathe without realizing it? Or see an object without paying attention to it in detail? Or eat without truly tasting each bite? We aren’t saying that you need to bring full attention to every moment but rather, it can be helpful to occasionally practice focusing your attention in this way.
What are the benefits of mindfulness meditation?
Trying these exercises can help you become more aware of your experiences, thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. This kind of awareness can help open your eyes to the choices you have on a day-to-day basis. Practicing these techniques can give you the freedom to respond more mindfully, rather than reacting on autopilot.
When we learn to respond intentionally instead of reactively, we often make healthier choices. This is likely why mindfulness can have so many benefits for our mental health and physical health. People that regularly practice mindfulness meditation often report reduced stress, improved mood, better acceptance of difficult emotions, and decreased anxiety. Mindfulness can also help improve immune system functioning, sleep, and reduce symptoms of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease or chronic pain.
We understand how easy it is for the day-to-day tasks of life to get in the way; however, dedicating even a few minutes each day can help you lead a healthier, more mindful life.