Meditation is an ancient form of contemplative practice that was developed as a crucial component of the world’s great spiritual traditions. From mindfulness meditation to creative visualization, the different forms of meditation that have developed throughout the world all have the goal of developing and enhancing serenity, compassion, and wisdom. Only recently has modern science begun to recognize the positive impacts of meditation on the brain, including increased emotion regulation, decreased psychological distress, improved attention, and improved immune system functioning. As a result, people who are not necessarily connected to a spiritual tradition have begun to benefit from this ancient practice as a way of improving quality of life. The following is a brief introduction to a specific form of meditation called mindfulness.
The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to bring your mind fully into the present moment, without being distracted by unrelated thoughts, or unhelpful judgments. We are usually caught up in our thoughts, not realizing we are totally disconnected from what we are doing. This can have many negative consequences, the most important being we miss out on fully engaging in our lives, with our brain on autopilot. New research has shown that when we are caught up in our thoughts, our mood takes a significant dip. Conversely, when our find is focused on the present moment, our mood is usually improved, even when we may be doing something unpleasant.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Below are some instructions for developing a simple daily meditation practice of being mindful of the breath.
Find a quiet place free of distractions. Your mind will offer enough distractions of its own, so a place where there is noise or a lot of activity will make sustained attention significantly more difficult.
Have a seat and close your eyes. There is no right way to sit. You can sit cross legged, full lotus, or upright in a chair. The most important thing is that your sitting position is comfortable, and not distracting itself.
Bring your mind to the sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nose. Just notice the tingling as cool air enters and warm air exits. This is a simple task in that there are not a lot of steps or complex visualizations to keep track of. However, you will find it is a difficult task. You will notice your mind wandering to all sorts of things: physical sensations, planning, daydreaming, rehashing past events. That is to be expected. In fact, the better you become at mindfulness, the more you notice how distracted you become when trying to focus your mind.
All you have to do when you notice your mind leaving your breath, is gently bring it back. Again and again. If your mind wanders 100 times in one minute, bring it back 100 times in one minute. Sometimes people become discouraged because their minds continually wander. In reality, you should congratulate yourself for noticing your mind drifting. This is a significant improvement over never noticing at all.
Watch your breathing for about 5 minutes. Continually aware of when your mind leaves. Continually bringing it back. Afterward, you may notice an increased sense of calm that you can use to set the tone for the rest of the day.
As you become more acquainted with the practice, you can increase the time sitting to 10, 15, 20 minutes. The most important point of developing a daily meditation practice is consistency, so 3 minutes every day is better than an hour once a week.
Try this simple practice for yourself, and see what you notice. You may just find that taking a few minutes to be present is rewarding enough, that you look for other opportunities throughout the day to be present. Just as this practice is focused on the breath, you mindfully focus on driving, eating, drinking your morning cup of coffee, chatting with a co-worker… There are endless opportunities to connect to the present moment.