Starting to incorporate meditation like mindfulness into your life for the So, you ask, where do I begin start, how often do you have to do it, what do I do? This article outlines some of the basics of mindfulness and answers some of the most commonly asked questions.
What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness refers to the self-regulation of attention to one’s experiences in the present moment with curiosity, openness and acceptance” (Bishop et al. 2004).
Meditation has been a traditional practice for self-regulation in many eastern cultures and religions for centuries. Now, in the West meditation has been studied in clinical and home-practice settings to understand its effects on brain structure and function and how this impacts our cognition and behaviours (Gotink, Meijboom, Vernooij, Smits, & Hunink, 2016). Contemporary research has shown that mindfulness-based interventions play an important role in positive emotions in both acute and chronic circumstances and is an effective treatment for obsessive disorders, depression including relapse prevention, anxiety, insomnia, emotion regulation, drug abuse, and chronic pain (Gotink et al., 2016; Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, & Burney, 1985). Mental health disorders are prominent in our fast-paced society but you don’t need a medical diagnosis to feel the need for some support with the everyday stressors. Keeping up with family, work, and personal commitments while making sure to balance your lifestyle with fun, spontaneity and hobbies, all the while remembering where you’ve put your keys can at times be overwhelming. Fortunately, we now know that even a small amount of mindfulness practice (minutes) is linked to positive emotions thereby increasing our sense of self-compassion and wellbeing.
"Awareness is not the same as thinking. It is a complementary form of intelligence, a way of knowing that is at least as wonderful and as powerful, if not more so, than thinking.”
What can mindfulness meditation do for you?
Improve sleep quality including onset and maintenance
Lengthen attention span and ability to concentrate
Improve and regulate mood
Reduce stress and anxiety
Reduce length and depth of depressive moods
Reduce likelihood of depression relapse
Cope with and manage chronic pain
Where do I start?
If you are brand new to mindfulness I encourage you to find a guided version and practice the basics to understand what it means to feel it instead of think it. Once you have a grasp, mindfulness can be brought into your day-to-day living for greater awareness of the present moment and relief from mental overload. You may like to consciously practice common daily tasks and activities mindfully as a different form of meditation.
Where? There are now a number of phone and computer applications with guided meditation audio as well as local classes at yoga studios and community spaces. The best way to find something you like is just to give it a go. My personal recommendations are Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer of mindfulness in western cognitive therapies, Headspace, and the Mindfulness Teachers Network SA where you can find 8-week or intensive programs and links to helpful guided meditation resources. Sometimes it can be a matter of finding the right guide with a voice and vocabulary that suits you so don’t give upon the first or second try.
The attitude you bring
Don’t think about it, experience it. This. Moment. Now. Mindfulness is about noticing how you physically feel in your body in a particular moment, what thoughts you can hear in your mind, or what associated emotions and intangibles are occurring for you in that time. Mindfulness is about having a non-judgmental attitude and noticing when we do judge (and not judging the judging). It is about noticing and acknowledging, not wanting or trying to change how things are or how you feel, and learning to view things just as they are instead of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘black’ or ‘white’ (also known as dialectical thinking). There is no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness.
I truly believe the only way to learn is to experience it for your self - you can read theory of meditation for years and still not truly understand it. By practicing again and again you will begin to learn the ways of your own mind, automatic processes and reactions, and to hear the chatter and self-talk that can affect our mood without us realizing.
Every little bit of meditation you can manage is valuable and worthy of congratulations. It is also considered one of the most difficult things the human mind can do so before you write it off as impossible, do your best to accept its difficulty with great curiosity and just give it a go.
The point of mindfulness is not to reach nirvana or enlightenment or eternal peace… in fact, the act of mindfulness embodies a non-striving attitude. The best practice you will get is getting off track with your thoughts and realizing this, then you can exercise one of the most constructive parts of mindfulness, the bringing your mind back to the present moment.