More than likely, you've heard the term before. And by now, you've probably heard at least a few people suggest that it's a good practice to establish for mental, emotional and physical health. One of the most common misconceptions people have is that, in order to meditate, we must be able to keep the mind free of any thoughts. A blank slate. So maybe we try that for 1 minute, go .5 seconds without a thought if we're lucky, and promptly decide that we are no good at meditating and give up. No wonder more of us aren't meditating! The fact is that, for most ordinary humans, the expectation to free the mind of all thought is downright impossible to meet. Good thing that's NOT actually required in order to meditate!
While there are many practices that can be referred to as meditation, the practice that's getting attention (and most of the incredible research results) these days is simply called "Mindfulness Meditation". Dr Dan Siegel, the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, defines it this way:
Paying attention, on purpose, to the unfolding of present moment experience with a sense alertness, attention to detail, and with kindness and compassion.
Sounds simple, huh? Well, in a way, it is! The most challenging piece of this particular practice is accepting that our mind WILL wander, that our attention will scatter, and that the practice itself is to keep coming back to paying attention. We might come back 50 times during our 5 minute meditation. We might come back 500 times. The game is to keep coming back. And, to come back with the kind and compassionate attention Dr. Siegel noted. We don't berate ourselves for daydreaming, or for having imaginary arguments with our spouse, or for mentally creating the grocery list...we just start again. And again.
Check out this short and sweet video that walks you through how to practice.
Why practice at all? Well, a great deal of research has been done on the effects of mindfulness meditation in the past several years. We know now that meditation effectively reduces physical and emotional pain, changes the structure of the brain in beneficial ways, reduces hypertension and blood pressure, increases immunity, increases contentment, and reduces overall healthcare costs for it's practitioners. Besides all of that, because meditation makes us more resilient in the face of stress, we feel calmer and better able to handle the inevitable upsets of life as they arise.
All of these benefits come with consistent daily practice, and most of the studies listed above occurred over an 8-12 week time frame. It's best to start with a small time period that you can commit to practice every day, rather than trying to jump right into longer sessions. Start small and keep it simple. Give yourself 5 or 10 minutes a day (or 3 minutes if that's what you can do) to practice, and do it every day for a month. Then, leave a comment and let me know how things went! Or, schedule your next appointment with me online now and we'll incorporate mindfulness meditation into your next yoga session or massage! Either way, I hope you feel empowered to give this simple and effective practice a try.
Be well and breathe deeply.
Certified Yoga Teacher
Licensed Massage Therapist
CI-Certified Personal Trainer