Starting and Sticking with a Mindfulness Meditation Practice
The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
You may have heard about the benefits of regular meditation:
reduced stress and anxiety
ability to manage emotions
reduced blood pressure
improved memory and focus
ability to manage chronic pain
strengthened immune system
slows down cellular aging
Sounds good, right? But maybe you’ve tried meditating and thought, “This isn’t for me.” Every time you sit down to meditate, your mind begins racing with random thoughts—"Don’t forget to put eggs on the grocery list,” “Call Mom,” “My boss walked by me without saying hello—OMG, I’m in trouble. I’m going to get fired!”
And why the heck does everyone else look so serene while meditating? You can’t get comfortable or stop fidgeting, and something is always itching! You find meditation boring. It makes you drowsy, or you end up falling asleep. It never feels like you’re doing it “right.”
I’m here to tell you that all these thoughts and feelings are normal, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It just means you’re human. Our brains are wired for thinking, planning, and problem-solving, so it’s no surprise that we find it challenging to sit still and stay in the present moment.
If you’re ready to give meditation another go, read on to learn what mindfulness is and how you can incorporate it into your everyday life. It’s easier than you think.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
According to mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
Unlike other types of meditation, you don’t have to analyze, judge, suppress or push your thoughts away. During mindfulness meditation, when thoughts or emotions surface, you observe them intentionally, non-judgmentally, and moment by moment with curiosity and kindness.
So what does that look like? You’re sitting in meditation and start thinking about a disagreement with a family member. You begin to rehash what they said, what you said, what you should have said. Instead of trying to clear your mind or push this uncomfortable thought away, you become the witness to it, sort of like watching a movie. How does this thought make you feel? Are you angry, embarrassed, or sad? How does it feel in your body? Is there a knot in your stomach, a lump in your throat, or an ache in your chest?
Rather than labeling your feelings as good or bad and getting caught up in your emotions, mindfulness allows you to witness and acknowledge them without getting caught up in the story. As one of my teachers says, you witness them with the sense of “Isn’t that interesting?” instead of thinking about them as right or wrong, good or bad.
With consistent practice, mindfulness meditation helps you become more aware of how you react to day-to-day stressors and situations. You begin to recognize your knee-jerk reactions to specific situations, like impatience when your partner interrupts you or anxiety because you’re stuck in traffic. These daily stressors start to hold less charge, and you become less reactive.
The 7 Key Attitudes for Mindfulness
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, our attitudes influence our perspective, emotions, and how we experience the world. By practicing the seven fundamental attitudes for mindfulness, you can create more balance and reduce suffering in your daily life.
Beginner’s mind: Seeing things as if for the first time, with no preconceived opinions or ideas. Don’t let past experiences define what is happening now.
Non-judging: Being an impartial witness to your experience without the need to react on an emotional level.
Acceptance: It is what it is. This doesn’t mean giving up or not trying to change things but accepting them as they are now.
Letting go: Letting go of attachments to things, ideas, or thoughts we perceive as pleasant or unpleasant.
Non-striving: Not striving toward any goal for your mindfulness practice. Instead, experience the present moment and allow things to unfold naturally.
Patience: Things will happen in their own time. Stay in the present moment and resist the urge to move on to the “next thing.”
Trust: Learn to trust yourself, your beliefs, and your intuition.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is a skill anyone can learn, and the best thing about it is that you can do it anywhere, at any time. Let’s take the seven pillars of mindfulness and put them into action.
When most people think of meditation, they think of a formal practice where you’re sitting or lying down. If you’re new to meditation or have trouble staying focused, a guided meditation can be an easy way to get started. Here’s a link to a 7-minute mindfulness meditation practice I recorded just for you. Download it and listen to it anytime. You can also find other guided meditations on Insight Timer, a free meditation app.
You don’t have to be sitting still or lying down. Mindfulness can also be an informal, dynamic practice throughout the day. For instance, noticing your surroundings while taking a walk (the trees and flowers, the sounds of birds or traffic, other people walking by), noticing what it feels like washing the dishes (the temperature of the water, the soapy bubbles, the feel of a glass or plate in your hands) or focusing on one thing at a time (folding the laundry) instead of multitasking (eating while watching TV).
Mindfulness meditation is like any other skill you want to learn. You need consistent practice to see results. More frequent short sessions (5 minutes daily) are better than infrequent longer sessions (30 minutes once a week). Find a time of day that works best for you. Meditating first thing in the morning works for most people and helps them start the day calm and centered.
The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts. It’s to stop them from controlling you
Rajaa Azouqa, a certified mindfulness educator, says, “The mind is like the surface of the ocean. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Mindfulness meditation can help you surf the waves of emotion and increase your resilience to stress.
Does this mean that if you meditate, you’ll suddenly become a calm and serene human being 24/7? Uhh . . . nope. But I can promise you this: More often than not, you’ll recognize your automatic stress responses before they tie you up in knots and handle daily stressors with more ease and grace.
Don’t forget to download the free guided meditation to start your mindfulness meditation practice today! Let me know how it goes.