Meditation has been a staple in many cultures around the world for thousands of years, and it helps our bodies and minds in many different ways. Today, researchers are starting to gain a new understanding about the benefits of mindful meditation — whether participants are seeking pain management, coping with emotional difficulties, or simply striving to experience better overall well-being.
If you wish to learn more about meditation and how it could help you, read on for mindful insights from our yogis.
What is Mindfulness?
A recent psychological study defined mindfulness as the “non-judgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.” Mindfulness is a form of meditation that works to focus your attention with purpose on what is happening right now, accepting it openly and without judgment.
A History of Mindfulness
Mindfulness has its roots in ancient Buddhism, though many Eastern and Western religions feature some type of meditation technique used to shift thoughts from preoccupations and towards a larger life perspective.
More recently, scientists have helped to bring mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine, along with aromatherapy and essential oils. Their research has demonstrated that mindfulness can be used to improve both physical and psychological well-being.
Benefits of Mindfulness
There are several ways in which mindful meditation can improve the overall well-being of those who incorporate it into their lives. Some of those benefits include:
Recent Research Study
A 2016 study published in Biological Psychiatry has proven that meditation is much more than just a placebo. By employing a control group that did not participate in the practice, the study found that the mental state could be vastly improved with mindfulness practice.
Thirty-five unemployed men and women were recruited and their brains were scanned prior to the study. Half of the participants were taught formal mindfulness at a residential treatment facility, while the other half received what they believed to be meditation training.
After three days, the participants reported that they felt refreshed and more able to handle the stress of their current situations. However, follow-up scans revealed surprising differences in those who had actually participated in mindfulness training.
There was a marked increase in the amount of activity found in the areas of the brain that deal with coping with stress and focus. Even after four months, those who practiced mindfulness were found to have lower levels of inflammation markers in their blood samples, even though few continued to meditate.
Meditation has been used countless times in conjunction with traditional medicine to improve both physical and mental health. Physically, mindful meditation has been shown to treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, alleviate gastrointestinal issues, and strengthen the body’s natural defenses against common colds, respiratory infections, and the flu.
Meditation and Mental Health
Some experts believe that practicing mindfulness in meditation aids in the alleviation of mental health issues by allowing patients to accept their experiences and painful emotions, rather than react to them with aversion. When combined with psychotherapy, meditation helps patients gain perspective on maladaptive thoughts and irrational feelings.
Mental issues such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and relationship conflicts have all been addressed with meditation.
Mindful Meditation Practices
Practicing mindfulness through meditation starts with focusing your attention. You can learn mindful meditation from books, audio recordings, or with an instructor. How you proceed is dependent upon your beliefs and goals. While each method differs slightly, the common thread between all mindful meditations are regular concentration practices:
Going with the Flow
Once concentration is firmly established, you will simply observe your inner flows of emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations. You should reserve all judgment about whether they are good or bad.
In each moment-to-moment experience, you will also notice external sensations such as touches, sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. You are not supposed to latch on to these sensations, just as you are not to attach yourself to any thoughts. You only need to pay attention to current thoughts flowing through the mind so you can discover which mental habits cause suffering and which inspire well-being. Practicing Acceptance
More than anything else, practicing mindfulness is about accepting any experience that arises in your consciousness at the given moment. If you find yourself daydreaming, planning, or criticizing, gently redirect your mind to the sensations you are experiencing in the present.
Cultivating Mindfulness Informally
Try cultivating mindfulness outside of meditation in an informal manner by focusing your attention on your sensations experienced during day-to-day activities. As you brush your teeth, pet your cat, or enjoy lunch, observe all the various sensations you experience and fully concentrate on them as they occur. Eventually, you will feel more participatory in your everyday life.
The most important idea is to continue the practice even when it does not seem to be working. Over time, you will find greater happiness and deeper self-awareness. If you miss an intended meditation session, simply start over without dwelling on it.
Different Meditation Techniques
There are many ways to experience mindfulness and practice meditation, but most beginners find it best to start simple. Some different meditation techniques and practices include:
- Calming your mind by lighting candles, listening to soft music, or spritzing your space with essential oils. Roll-on products offer an easy way to introduce natural essential oils into your meditation routine.
- Sitting in a comfortable position, whether it’s a straight-backed chair or on the floor.
- Focusing intently on your breath and on the sensation of air flowing in through your nostrils and out of your mouth. Notice how your stomach rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation.
- Widening your focus to become acutely aware of your ideas, sensations, and external stimulations.
- Embracing each thought, feeling, and sensation without any judgment. Simply concentrate solely on your breath.
- Repeating any desired mantra silently to yourself, focusing on nothing else.
- Noticing each body sensation, like tingling, itching, or pain, and acknowledging it.
- Allow all emotions to be present without judgment. Accept each fully before letting them go.
- Considering your cravings and urges without fear.
The Here and Now
We live in a very busy world. If you are planning the day’s events while driving to work and listening to the radio, you are not fully concentrating on the moment or experiencing your life with eyes wide open. You should never lose your connection to the “here and now” because you are rushing to accomplish numerous tasks.
Sometimes, it is truly worth it to spend the time we have smelling the roses. Try mindfulness and discover how these different meditation techniques can improve your life.