Mindful Meditation

Kirsten Schuder
Meditating on a Beach

People perform mindful meditation (also called mindfulness and mindfulness meditation) to produce harmony and balance in their thoughts and minds. Mindful meditation has documented health benefits and is seen as a form of meditation that can be used to control stress and even optimize performance.

Overview

Mindful meditation can help people focus on the here and now while meditating.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness meditation expert Dr. Romie Mushtaq explains the concept of mindfulness. "Mindfulness is about paying attention without attachment, staying in the present. Staying in the present without the attachment of the past or the future increases well-being and decreases anxiety and depression."

What mindfulness teaches people is to stop reliving painful experiences from the past and worrying so much about the future. People practicing mindfulness shift their focus on the present. In shifting thoughts to the present, people think without attachment or judgment upon themselves. Acquiring the skill of focusing on the here and now, instead of upon unproductive thoughts, is what promotes health and well-being.

Roots in Hinduism

Mindful meditation, a western meditation based upon Buddhist meditation practices, has become popular in western culture. According to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Central Pennsylvania, mindfulness meditation was created upon the basis of Vipassana meditation, a Buddhist form of meditation. However, Dr. Romie points out, the practice of mindfulness was present even as early as the Hindu religion, which predates the Buddhist religion.

According to Mindfulness Meditation Institute, mindful meditation is the practice of focusing on the breathing, thoughts, and body sensations to improve concentration and focus. When you practice mindful meditation techniques instead of running on "autopilot" you become more connected with what is going on in your body and mind.

Getting Started

Practicing mindful meditation is not difficult. With a series of simple steps, mindful meditation is easy to practice every day. The Insight Meditation Center expressed that in training the mind in meditation to focus on our internal processes, it helps us gain control of our physical and mental aspects.

Shambhala Sun describes the steps to perform mindful meditation. Start with two ten-minute sessions twice a day at first, then increase time as you become more proficient.

Create a Meditative Environment

Your space for meditation does not have to be big. It just has to be a place where it will enhance your focus. Try picking a place in your house or apartment where you can sit comfortably, and where noise is as minimal as possible.

Frame of Mind

It is recommended that before you sit down to practice meditation, you tell yourself that you are going to take the time to train your mind.

Maintain the Right Posture

The way we sit can affect the flow of energy. Sit up straight, either in a comfortable chair or on the floor on top of a cushion with your legs crossed. Place your hands comfortably on your thighs. Make sure your head, spine, and hips are all in a straight line.

Maintaining this posture will help keep you alert and prevent you from falling asleep.

Maintain the Appropriate Line of Sight

Shambhala Sun recommends to keep your eyes open, but that you cast your eyes down towards your nose. This will help restrict the amount of visual stimulation your eyes receive and improve focus.

Breathe Mindfully

Shambhala Sun explains techniques from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk that authored books on meditation and teaches Buddhist practices on breathing mindfully.

It's a simple yet empowering practice. You train your mind to notice your breath as you inhale and exhale. Concentrate on the feeling and sensation breathing in and out produces. It should feel comfortable and natural. You can breathe in for the count of five, or shorter if this is more comfortable for you.

Train Your Focus

Harvard Publications through Helpguide.org suggest the following techniques while in meditation. After you observe your breathing, merely observe the thoughts, feelings, and sensations without placing judgments upon them.

  • Starting at the top of your cranium and working your way down to the tips of your toes, observe how your body feels, let the observations pass, and move on to the next part of the body.
  • Observe what stimuli you receive through the five senses, then let those sensations pass.
  • Observe what you are feeling by putting a label on it (happy, sad, angry), and then let it pass.
  • If you have a chemical dependency, notice the craving for the substance, tell yourself that the feeling will pass, and feel the craving exit your body.

Dr. Romie's Tips

Dr. Romie points out that the purpose of meditation is not to "quiet the mind." A quiet mind is the product of practicing meditation.

"There is no such thing as completely quieting the mind. People almost always have thoughts pop up during meditation. If you get into the practice of merely observing those thoughts and letting them go, you are teaching the mind to acknowledge the thoughts, but not dwell on them or experience any angst attached to those thoughts."

Benefits

Effectiveness

As Harvard Health Publications points out, most studies in meditation do not prove effectiveness in meditation because of poor research design. However, when the meta-analysis included in JAMA was performed, the researchers focused upon 47 studies employing sound research techniques, and out of those studies, improvements in anxiety, depression, and chronic pain were detected.

Stress Reduction and More

Dr. Romie points out that stress is responsible for many illnesses and symptoms that send people to the doctor's office, and that mindful meditation is helpful with many conditions and symptoms. "Research supports the use of mindful meditation to decrease symptoms of chronic headaches, migraines, high blood pressure, heart disease, post-operative pain, and reducing the side effects of chemotherapy."

The University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness lists the benefits they observed after decades of research in health outcomes experienced as a result of participating in their course in mindful meditation:

  • Improvement in symptoms of physical illness and mental disorders

  • Enables people to achieve a states of relaxation

  • Decreases in chronic pain

  • Encourages feelings of enthusiasm for living

  • Increase in feelings of self-worth

  • Increase in coping skills for acute and chronic stress

UMass states that doctors refer their patients to the program to help with health problems such as:

  • Headaches
  • Stress
  • Chronic pain
  • Stomach discomfort caused by intestinal disorders or illness
  • Insomnia or other sleep disorders
  • Hypertension
  • Anxiety

As Week Publications reports, meditation changes the body's response to stress and chronic stress, lowers cortisol levels, and trains the body to avoid the fight or flight response. The military uses mindfulness meditation to help training, soldiers with symptoms of PTSD, and substance abuse.

Dr. Romie adds, "Mindfulness meditation's effectiveness in health and wellness is well-documented in scientific and medical research. Also, it is easy to teach and perform, it is cost effective, and it does not require a prescription."

Improvements in Executive Brain Function

Dr. Romie explains why mindful meditation helps improve brain functioning. "Mindfulness meditation helps improve our brain and body's responses to stress. Because mindfulness meditation decreases the stress response and resulting stress hormone levels, overall brain functioning is improved. Studies evidenced that people who practice meditation regularly show improved functioning in the deep structures and cortex of the brain."

Improvements in Work Performance

Wired depicts companies such as Google that incorporate regular meditation sessions into the workday and even make up their own mindful meditation techniques to improve work performance. Even though many people may eschew the spiritual basis of meditative practice, mindful meditation appeals a wide variety of people because of the improvements in employee and team focus, team cohesion, and overall company success.

Resources

If you are having problems practicing the steps of mindful meditation, having an audio-guided mindful meditation is a helpful resource to get you started on your mindful meditation journey.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Mindfulness Awareness Research Center and UC San Diego Health System Center for Mindfulness offer free meditations to either download from their website or free iTunes downloads.

Dr. Ronald Siegel, who teaches at Harvard Medical School, offers free audio downloads for mindful meditation on his website, the Mindfulness Solution.

Keep Practicing

As reflected in the results of the research on meditation, mindful meditation even without its spiritual foundations can reap benefits for the person practicing meditation on a daily basis.

People gain the most benefits from mindful meditation through consistent practice. It is best when you have a loving attitude and patience toward yourself. Your meditation sessions will be most productive with the right frame of mind.

Mindful Meditation