About Mindfulness Meditation
“Every one of us has the seed of mindfulness. The practice is to cultivate it.’ Thich Nhat Hanh
Meditation is a practical tool with which one can observe inner and outer experiences with compassion, acceptance and neutrality. Consistent and regular meditation practices promote calmness, inner stability and reduce impulsive, reactive behaviours. We learn to disentangle ourselves from the daily ebb and flow of emotions, anxiety and stress and to connect with our lives and with others in a deeper and more profound manner.
Meditation trains the mind, in particular the attention, to live in the present moment. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not restricted to conscious meditation practice only. It can be said that you are meditating or mindful when you are gardening, drawing, painting, playing with your pet, dancing, singing or listening to music.
In effect, any activity that helps you to live fully in the present moment is said to constitute meditation. There are several supportive strategies that help create a conducive environment for awakening our true nature.
Myth No.1: Meditation is a Religious Practice
Although people of many religious backgrounds have used meditation, it is not associated with any specific religion. Meditation is a spiritual practice, regardless of your religious beliefs.
Myth No.2: Meditation is Difficult and Not All of Us Can Do It
Many people think of meditation as an esoteric practice that is only practised by holy men, sages and gurus sitting in the Himalayas. This is far from the truth. Many busy professionals, homemakers and millennials enjoy the benefits of meditation. It’s fun and easy to learn when you don’t try too hard to become attached to the result.
Myth No.3: You Need to Empty Out Your Mind First
This is one myth that ends with many people giving up in frustration. Meditation does not involve emptying out your mind (a near-impossible feat). On the contrary, it involves observing the ebb and flow of your thoughts without engaging with them.
Myth No.4: It Takes Years of Dedicated Practice to Reap the Benefits of Meditation
You can enjoy multiple benefits of meditation within a few weeks of starting to make it a regular practice. Meditation offers both short term and long-term benefits. Beginners often report feeling more relaxed, calm and enjoying better sleep within a few weeks of regular practice.
Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past.
Interactions between neurons in the brain are the basis of thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Brain waves are created due to electronic impulses between the neurons. Whilst there are different types of brain waves, alpha waves are associated with higher creativity and imagination; hence, the phrase ‘brain wave’ refers to an intelligent or brilliant idea.
Alpha waves are known to be produced when we experience different states of awareness, such as conscious mindfulness, meditation or daydreaming (when the brain rests in a default state).
Meditation is also known to improve cognitive ability and the effect stays with the practitioner through the day. A study conducted by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital indicates a definite correlation between meditation and positive changes in the brain’s grey matter.
The MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) showed that, after eight weeks of regular meditation, the brain showed denser grey matter in areas of the ‘hippocampus’. The hippocampus is responsible for controlling self-awareness, memory, learning, compassion and reflection. Another similar study conducted on Tibetan Buddhist monks showed that the hippocampus areas were extremely dense.
Mindfulness meditation helps you to stay in the present moment, and the mind is no longer troubled by thinking about the past, including events that occurred just a few moments ago.
In addition to stress, people who suffer from anxiety and depression tend to experience sleeplessness. Their thoughts, which are usually disturbing in nature, dominate their mental space and prevent the mind, and therefore the body, from slipping into a state of stillness.
Meditation helps Reduce Hypertension
Meditation can help to control hypertension or high blood pressure.
Although hypertension can be transmitted genetically, the most common causes can be attributed to lifestyle factors. Poor dietary choices, late nights, overwork, overeating and prolonged stress can all cause hypertension.
Very often, ‘normal living’ is unfortunately not so normal, as far as the mind and body are concerned. Waking up to a busy day, cooking, cleaning, earning a living, raising a family, carrying out duties and paying off debts can all contribute to stress.
One of the fundamental benefits of meditation is the increased awareness and focus on breathing.
During moments of stress, anxiety or panic, breathing tends to become shallow and fast. Sometimes, we may even forget to breathe for some moments. The truth is that most of us do not breathe deeply and fully, even when we are not stressed – and we are always stressed!
Short, quick and shallow breathing is associated with stress responses.
Meditation helps reduce stress and promotes mindful breathing. Here are five important health benefits of slow and stress-free breathing.
• The body’s muscles automatically relax. Slow, focused breathing results in the relaxation of the muscles.
• As we breathe well during meditation, fresh oxygen pours into every cell and rejuvenates all organs and improves health at the cellular level. You are likely to experience higher levels of stamina and improved mental abilities, including concentration and memory.
• Mindful breathing meditation helps the body flush out toxins from the lymphatic system. A build-up of toxins is responsible for a number of health conditions.
• Meditation breathing also promotes the release of endorphins. Due to enhanced oxygen supply, the brain releases endorphins which calm the body down and ease pain. Regular meditation practices support pain management.
Here is a short summary of the benefits associated with meditation:
• Reduction in stress, hypertension and anxiety
• Improved quality of sleep
• Better mental clarity, memory and focus
• Improved immune function
• Improved skin health
• Anti-ageing effects
• Improved creativity and decision-making ability
• Promotes a compassionate and loving approach
Wide Acceptance of Mindfulness Practices:
Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular in the twenty-first century. People are learning to become more mindful in multiple ways, regardless of physical location.
Mindfulness therapies help you develop skills that involve recognising the ‘auto-pilot’ mode. The skills are aimed at helping you develop an uncritical attitude towards yourself as well as toward others.
Some important mindfulness skills include:
• Observation Paying keen attention to what is going around you and within you
• Description: You should be able to describe your observations in words
• Non-judge mentality: Being able to observe and participate without judgement
• Focusing on one idea at one time: Being able to reduce distractions and focus on only one thing at one time
• Effectiveness: Doing whatever works rather than second-guessing ourselves and overthinking around an issue