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Getting Started With Mindfulness Meditation

You may have read about the benefits of meditation. But, you aren’t exactly what it is and how to get started. If so, then keep reading this introductory guide to mindfulness meditation.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When we are mindful, we carefully observe our thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. Mindfulness can also be a healthy way to identify and manage hidden emotions that may be causing problems in our personal and professional relationships. It means living in the moment and awakening to our current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.

Mindfulness is frequently used in meditation and certain kinds of therapy. It has many positive benefits, including lowering stress levels, reducing harmful ruminating, improving our overall health, and protecting against depression and anxiety. Research even suggests that mindfulness can help people better cope with rejection and social isolation.

Kate Hanley, the author of "A Year of Daily Calm adds that “It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it.”

“By choosing to turn your attention away from the everyday chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus so that it can quiet down,” says Hanley.

Breathing practice, mental imagery, mind and body awareness, and relaxtion are common examples of mindfulness meditation.

The benefits of mindfulness.

Why should you become more mindful? Because it comes with the following proven health benefits:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety

  • Enhanced ability to deal with illness

  • Facilitation of recovery

  • Decrease depressive symptoms

  • Improves general health and sleep

Additionally, mindfulness can improve workplace performance and alleviate work-related psychological distress. For children, mindfulness can improve their academic success and provide a buffer against bullying. And, college students who practiced mindfulness had lower rates of problematic drinking.

The basics of mindfulness practice.

As explained on Mindful, “Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses.” With that in mind, here’s an overview of how you can tune into mindfulness throughout the day:

  • Set aside time and space -- no special equipment required either.

  • Aim to pay attention to only the present moment.

  • Let judgments pass.

  • When your mind does get carried away by thoughts, return to observing the present moment.

  • Don’t judge yourself when thoughts pop up. Recognize that your mind is wandering and gently bring it back.

“That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results will accrue.”

Get started with these simple mindfulness practices.

1. Write a goal statement.

“Most successful people will tell you that one of the greatest secrets of their success is setting goals,” Charles A. Francis writes on HuffPost Life. “Not having a goal is like trying to get directions from Google Maps without entering a destination. You won't know where you're going, or when you arrive.” So, you need to establish goals when starting a meditation practice and sticking with it.

“Write down your meditation goals,” adds Francis. “Decide how long and how often you're going to meditate, and how you're going to learn the techniques. They don't have to be elaborate, but they should be specific.”

Also, “don't make your goals overly ambitious, or you won't follow through and get discouraged.” Francis suggests “that you write a short goal statement, and post it some place you'll see it every day, such as your bathroom mirror, or near your computer monitor.”

2. Start small.

“It’s a myth that you have to sit for at least 30 minutes a day to gain any benefit,” says Michelle Kirsch on mindbodygreen.”Try starting with one minute of switching everything off and sitting in silence, and see how that goes. If it feels good, you might even try working your way up to five minutes.”

3. Pick a time, trigger, and quiet location.

“This doesn’t have to be an exact time of day,” writes Patrik Ebblad. “Pick a general one like in the morning when you wake up or during lunch. The trigger should be something you’re already doing like brushing your teeth, eating lunch or something else that’s a part of your regular routine.”

Additionally, make sure that you find a quiet spot, such as a spare bedroom or backyard. It honestly doesn’t matter where you practice mindfulness. It just has to be a spot where you won’t be disturbed.

4. Get comfortable.

Ebblad also recommends that you, “Find a position that’s comfortable to you, whether it be sitting or lying down.” Sitting, however, “is preferred if you have a tendency to fall asleep sleep while meditating (and don’t want to do that).”

Also, go ahead and loosen up your belt and “unbutton your pants so that nothing gets in the way of your breathing.”

5. Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath—on what it feels like to breathe.

“What are the sensations associated with air coming in through your nose, filling up your lungs, and then coming back out again through your mouth?,” asks Nick Wignall. “Your only goal is to be aware of and notice how it feels to breath. Your job is to feel, not think. Any time you find yourself drifting into thought, bring yourself back to sensation.”

Most importantly, keep this mind: “You’re not doing any kind of special deep breathing here, just regular, normal breathing.” As Wignall says, “The point isn’t to slow your breathing down or even relax. The point is to train your attention. How you breathe doesn’t matter; it’s the focusing that’s important.”

6. Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily life.

What if you can’t stand meditation? Or, you’re having difficulty squeezing it into your daily schedule? Then Jeena Cho, in an article for Forbes, has five simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your daily schedule:

  • Mindful walking. Instead of aimlessly walking from point A to B, focus on the senses that you feel at that moment.

  • Mindful eating. When you eat, stop whatever is you’re doing and just eat.

  • Mindful speaking and listening. Be present in all of your conversations and don’t rush to add your two cents.

  • Mindful showering and washing. Instead of worrying about the past or future, pause and feel the shower.

  • Practice yoga. Take a class or do this from home, or even in your office, when you have some free time.

7. It’s okay to get distracted.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you get distracted. “This is completely normal and to be expected,” says Wignall. “In fact, getting distracted from simple awareness mode into thinking mode is a necessary part of the practice.”

“The whole point of practicing mindfulness is to A) notice when you’ve started thinking, and B) shift your attention back to the sensation of breathing,” adds Wignall. “It’s only when you’ve gotten distracted that you have the opportunity to work your mindfulness muscle and bring your attention back to your breath.”

Finally, if don’t be afraid to seek outside help when getting started with mindfulness. There websites like Mindful, apps like Headspace and Calm, and local meditation groups in your area that can get you started and keep you motivated to stick with it.

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