An Introduction to Meditation and Mindfulness

by | Jan 22, 2024 | Mindfulness

“The core invitation of mindfulness is for you to befriend yourself. That means recognizing and inhabiting your own intrinsic wholeness and beauty in the only moment any of us ever has—namely this one.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

The mind produces thoughts. That’s what it does! And those thoughts are seductive and can hijack our attention. For this reason, many of us spend an inordinate amount of time in our thinking brain. We are thinking of our “to do” lists, the argument we had last night with our partner, worrying about our parents’ health, our futures, and ruminating about the near and distant past.

When our minds are engaged in past or future thinking we are missing our lives, as they occur moment to moment, within the present moment. We are also cutting ourselves off from the full experience of this life. Thinking is not our only form of intelligence, nor our only way of engaging with the world around us. We may be missing out on the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of our environment, and the feelings or intuition our body wisdom is trying to tell us.

Meditation, including mindfulness, is non-judgement awareness of what is happening in the present moment. It is a skill that can be developed and used to calm the mind, create space between ourselves, our thoughts, and emotions, and train our brain to focus. The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes. In so doing, we develop a deeper relationship with ourselves which allows for greater clarity of purpose in our daily lives.

When we practice anything repeatedly, we develop an increase in neural connections in the brain related to that skill. We see the same thing happen in those that practice meditation on a regular basis. The impacted areas of the brain are those involved in our senses (vision, hearing, etc.), our ability to process emotions, and our ability to think and to focus. The benefits of a regular meditation practice include a reduction in anxiety and depression, improved ability to focus, and improved sleep. It has also been used as an adjunct in the treatment of hypertension, diabetes, and chronic pain.

There are many different ways to practice meditation and mindfulness. You may experiment to find which style you like best and is most helpful to you. Be patient. Meditation is the most difficult simple activity you will ever do. It takes time and regular practice to become more comfortable with it.

To get started:

  • Set aside time in your daily routine to practice. You will notice benefits in as little as 5 minutes a day.
  • Choose a calm, comfortable environment free of interruptions in which to practice.
  • If you have a history of trauma, it may be triggering to attempt non-guided meditation. If this is the case, there are several apps that provide guided meditations. Some are listed below.

I will share with you a noncomprehensive list as well as some resources to help you begin your journey.

Meditation Styles

Classic Seated Meditation: Sit in a comfortable position in a chair or on the floor. Set a timer for the time you would like to meditate or use a meditation app for a guided meditation. You may either close your eyes or allow your eyes to soften their focus on a point a few feet in front of you. Focus on your breathing. Feel it in your nose, your chest, or your abdomen as you breathe in and out. When you notice that you have become distracted, gently label your thoughts as “thinking” and gently return your focus to your breath. This meditation helps to calm the mind and train it to focus.

Body Scan Meditation: This meditation may be done in either a seated or supine position. Slowly scan the areas of your body from head to toe, or toe to head. As you scan, pay attention to the bodily sensations you notice. Just as important, notice any lack of sensation, as this is often the case when beginning this type of meditation. It helps to notice areas where the body comes into contact with the floor, the chair, where your hands land on your lap, etc. This meditation helps us to bring more awareness to our bodies and its sensations and allows for better discernment of how emotions feel in our bodies.

Walking Meditation: You may choose to do this meditation in a fixed space, walking back and forth, or may find a quiet trail or park in which to walk. To begin, walk at a normal pace. Focus your attention on the sensations of walking. How do your feet feel against the walking surface? Notice the swing of your hips and the muscles in your legs. Slow your pace down. Is it harder to balance when walking very slowly or when walking at your normal pace? Notice this. Stop for a moment and notice the sights and sounds around you. Consider incorporating this form of meditation into your regular exercise routine.

Tara Brach RAIN Meditation: Recognize what is happening. What thoughts or emotions are arising? Allow the experience to be there without trying to push it away or control it. Investigate your experience with curiosity and without judgement. Nurture the experience with compassion.

Websites and Apps
Headspace app
Insight Timer app
Calm app
Smiling Mind app – good for kids and young adults

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