Meditation is the process of acknowledging, quieting, and resting our busy minds in support of relaxation, regulation, and heightened inner awareness. It encompasses a variety of techniques such as compassion, love, patience, and mindfulness. Meditation practice is concentrating one’s focus on something such as an image, sound, or feeling. Examples include repeating a mantra, visualizing or gazing at an object, engaging in a series of yoga postures, and observing our breath sensations of inhaling and exhaling.
Research has shown that both psychological and physiological changes occur in the body during meditation. For example, studies show that people who are meditating perspire less, have a slower rate of respiration and lower blood pressure than normal, and feel less anxious.
Meditation needn’t be practiced with any fixed format. Simply aim to keep your heart open, your breath rhythm relaxed, and your seated position comfortable. Hold a flexible space of loving kindness, where there is no right way or wrong way. "The brain responds to repetition with more gusto than it does to duration," says Daniel J. Siegel, MD, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and author of The Mindful Brain. If you don’t have 20 minutes, you can meditate for just three minutes a day. "Just as people practice daily dental hygiene by brushing their teeth, mindfulness meditation is a form of brain hygiene—it cleans out and strengthens the synaptic connections in the brain." You can meditate for 15 to 20 minutes or just 2 to 3 minutes, while sitting, washing the dishes or walking in the woods, while stopped at a traffic light, or as a brief body scan before bed.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which one focuses on being rather than doing. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, a scientist, professor, meditation teacher and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says that mindfulness is, "paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” By developing a deeper relationship to the present moment, awareness, acceptance, patience and wisdom begin to blossom.
Examples include complete focus on a task like drinking tea, slow deliberate steps, active listening, and heightened attentiveness to sensations like taste, smell, touch and sound. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a secular program that helps people with pain and other life issues. It is based on the principles of acceptance, non-judgment, letting go, patience, and openness.
People are now recognizing that mindfulness is an effective tool for reducing stress and increasing psychological functioning during or following life challenges such as quitting smoking or chronic illness.
In a 2011 study, participants experienced positive effects such as more energy, less physical pain, enhanced quality of sleep, and increased well-being. A randomized controlled study on the Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery (MBCR) found a 65% total reduction in mood disturbance.
Quality of life improves through mindfulness practice, a gateway to developing compassion for both oneself and for others. It cultivates a connectivity mindset, instead of a narrow mindset.
Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation include:
Calming and Centering Body and Mind
Overcoming Cravings, Triggers, and other Obstacles
Improved Balance and Resilience
Increased Social Connection and Resilience
Increased Immune Function
Strengthened Frontal Lobe Connections
Reduced Tension, Stress, and Softened Energy
Enhanced Wisdom and Perspective
Feelings of Gratitude and Compassion
Improved Sleep, Memory, Productivity, Creativity, and Focus
Reduced Anxiety, Stress Hormones, Chronic Pain, or Inflammation
Through the practice of mindfulness, you can learn to pause and take a breath. It is a way to interrupt or awaken from habitual thought or behavior patterns, and gives rise to gentle awareness and more freedom to respond skillfully.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” – Viktor Frankl
Think you can’t possibly sit still and clear your mind? Not to worry. Most of us experience that noisy chatter in our minds. As you focus on your breath, try to imagine yourself as the sky and your thoughts as passing clouds. When you notice a thought come up, simply acknowledge and gently release it. Feel however you feel and steer away from judging yourself.
Making a point to engage in mental stillness could be one of the most important health practices of our time. Mindfulness benefits are cumulative, so you may not notice changes right away. But with repeated practice, it quiets your fight-or-flight response and sculpts an inner ‘shock absorber’ that helps you begin to feel more spacious and grounded and remain calmer in the midst of stress. Within every challenge lies an opportunity for personal growth and expansion. How you face any challenge is up to you.