Meditation is a mental training to improve the ability to focus your attention, and control your emotions. There are many ways to meditate. Mindfulness meditation is one of them, which originated from Buddhist traditions of meditation. Throughout the existence of humans, since thousands of years, people have used mindfulness techniques to build awareness into the present moment with calm acceptance — to deal with the stressful facets of life.
However, we can also practice mindfulness without meditating.
Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment with an attitude of openness. It means that you are paying attention to, and conscious of, what’s happening around you. It reduces stress, outbursts and over-thinking, and increases self-awareness, fulfillment and happiness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the most famous researcher of mindfulness meditation from the West, and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, explains in following words: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Have you ever realized that attempting to stay peaceful and relaxed just before an extremely challenging event typically has an opposite effect – it uploads an additional bulk of agitation into us? Have you realized that attempting to get rid of our irksome habits often appears so tough — or even impossible? Or that real, deeply satisfying happiness and a state of all-round well-being often remain elusive, despite us living fortunate lives?
These, and other such difficult situations that we often find ourselves in today’s world, have been traced to a change that happened in the brains of our earliest ancestors — which they passed down to us. It was a tendency of the humans to go after pleasure, and block out pain, that got biologically hardwired into the brain. We call this the ‘Pain-Pleasure’ principle.
Evolutionary science hints that this automatic behavior pattern got hardwired into our earliest predecessors as a survival mechanism. If they didn’t run from pain, they wouldn’t have survived. And to run from possible pain, they were always looking out for dangers. That jungle-living ancestor’s mind was always on “What’s wrong here that can cause me pain?” mode. It is this that lies as the foundation of the many of our psychological issues that we routinely face in the modern world. We are on a constant watch looking out for what could go wrong around us.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness helps us take away the edginess from our minds. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress. Studies have pointed out that mindfulness training could reduce our flight-or-fright stress responses. Among other benefits, studies have demonstrated decidedly that people who regularly practice mindfulness have –
improved their health and overall quality of life,
reduced the anxiety and depressive states,
increased their concentration, and
achieved stronger ability to cope more effectively with day-to-day stresses.
It is not a modern invention. A growing body of research into the field of mindfulness, using the latest technology and machines, puts a stamp of validation on the exceptional advantages of mindfulness on our psychological health.
There are scientific proofs to its effects: No less than 21 brain scan studies over the ten years have revealed that long years of mindfulness practice reshapes our brain structure – especially the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), the right anterior insula and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Studies have shown that while long-term stress shrinks our hippocampus (memory center of brain), mindfulness training increases the grey-matter density in the same. The changes it causes are happening at our brain levels, which is remarkable.
Find a comfortable place where you can focus and will not be disturbed.
Find yourself a posture that is both relaxed and alert, with your back reasonably straight.
Meditate for as long as you like. Decide how long you’re going to meditate at the outset or set a timer.
Start with shorter periods, just around 5-10 minutes. 10 min of your 24-hour day is just 0.7%.
Steps:Step 1. Take a big breath and relax, with your eyes open or closed. Be aware of sounds coming and going, and let them be whatever they are.
Step 2. Know that you are taking this time to meditate. Drop all your concerns during this period, like setting down a heavy bag. After the meditation, you can pick those concerns up again — if you want to.
Step 3. Bring your awareness to the sensations of breathing. Don’t try to control the breath; let it be whatever it is. Sense the cool air coming in and warm air going out; the chest and belly rising and falling.
Step 4. You may softly count your breaths—count to ten and then start over; go back to one if your mind wanders. It’s normal for the mind to wander, and when it does, just return to the breath. Be gentle on yourself.
Step 5. Once your mind settles down during the first few minutes, try getting more and more absorbed in the breath while letting go of everything else. Open yourself to the simple pleasures of breathing.
Step 6. Be aware of whatever is moving through the mind. Just be aware of thoughts and feelings, wishes and plans, images and memories—all coming and going.Let them be whatever they are; don’t get caught up in them; don’t struggle with or get fascinated by them. Have a sense of acceptance toward whatever passes through the open space of awareness.
Step 7. Keep settling into the breath, with growing sense of peacefulness. Notice how it feels to get caught up in the passing contents of awareness—and how it feels to let them go by. Be aware of peaceful awareness itself. You may bring the meditation to an end whenever you like.
Invite mindfulness into your daily lives. You’ll do yourself a world of good.
It will boost your happiness levels, better your social relationships, and build your immunity. It will decrease anxiety, stress and pain-perception. It will make you more compassionate and attentive. Some say it will also increase your longevity.