meditation-sunset

Meditation and mindfulness, once associated with ‘hippy culture’ are fast becoming mainstream and fashionable. Classes are popping up all over the place, some workplaces are using the techniques to improve employee wellbeing and productivity, and the NHS is now using mindfulness therapies for conditions including depression or anxiety.

Most of us have a vague idea about what mindfulness and meditation are, with images of monks, the Dalai Lama and the idea of inner peace probably springing to mind! What they are exactly on the other hand, and how to incorporate them into our daily lives remains elusive for most people. This week, I am going to tell you how to do this and also why you should be doing it – the benefits are pretty mind-blowing!

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Amazing Health Benefits

  1. Reduces stress levels and anxiety
  2. Improves happiness and wellbeing
  3. Enhances relaxation
  4. Improves sleep
  5. Improves energy levels
  6. Lows blood pressure
  7. Boosts the immune system
  8. Can help with weight loss
  9. Regular practice can slow down the ageing process

These techniques can also enhance your life even if you are feeling great already! In fact, successful businessmen and women have used meditation to further their success and it has been shown to enhance problem solving ability and creativity. Other interesting research in the field, has found lower reoffending rates in criminals who are taught meditation and improved behaviour, learning and attendance amongst school children.

What is Mindfulness?

Modern life has a tendency to make us rush around, often multi-tasking, feeling stressed or on ‘autopilot’ whilst worrying about all the other things we should or shouldn’t be doing. In other words our minds are constantly busy and we are often distracted. Mindfulness is basically the opposite of this; it is about being fully present in the moment.

One definition of mindfulness is

“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”.

Another good way to understand the concept is to think about how you feel when you are totally absorbed in an activity you enjoy – perhaps playing a sport or game, cooking or reading a bedtime story to your child – you are completely present and undistracted, all of your focus is on what you are doing, and there are no thoughts racing through your mind distracting you.

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A good way to start introducing mindfulness into your life, is to choose an activity you do every day – it could be having a shower, brushing your teeth or your commute to work – and practice mindfulness for the duration of that activity. (This is one of the great advantages of mindfulness – you can literally practice it anywhere, anytime).

Focus on your five senses; simply ask yourself, what can I see, what do I hear, can I smell or taste anything and what am I touching – you might feel the seat or ground beneath you supporting you, for example. When worries or thoughts pop up, simply bring your attention gently back to your five senses and the present.

Meditation

Meditation takes this to the next level, allowing you to reach deep levels of relaxation for the body and mind. In this deeply relaxed state, healing, regeneration and re-energising take place on a cellular level. You feel rested, refreshed and soothed in a way that no amount of sleep or chilling out in front of the TV will ever give you.

Regular meditation will help you to be more mindful during your day, and practicing mindfulness will enhance your meditation practice. Eventually over time, with regular practice of both, the benefits spill over into your everyday life. You become less at the mercy of external factors, in other words more resilient to and better able to cope with stressful situations (an inevitable part of life!).

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Breathing Meditation

A breathing meditation involves focusing attention on your breath, to the exclusion of everything else. With practice this quietens the mind, as you will not be thinking about anything else, apart from the breathing. This allows your brain to have a much-needed rest from the constant chatter going on the rest of the time. This allows rest and relaxation to take place on an incredibly deep level.

At first, you will probably find that your mind is very busy and wanders a lot, this is perfectly normal and the last thing you want to do is get stressed about it or try to force it to be quiet (impossible!) Instead, when a thought arises, observe that thought, then imagine it floating away like a cloud in the sky and bring the focus gently back to your breath as many times as you need to.

TIP: The brain is like a muscle and needs training, so the more you practice the quieter the mind becomes and the easier meditation becomes. As with exercise though, if you don’t use it you lose it, so meditation is something to build in to your routine, just like healthy eating or exercise.

You will feel the most benefits if you practice most days or at least a few times per week. Many people find that if they choose the same time of day to meditate they are more likely to stick to it.

A Simple Breathing Meditation

  1. Find a quiet place, where you won’t be disturbed and turn off your phone!
  2. Sit in a comfortable upright position – either cross-legged in the traditional lotus position or in a chair if you prefer your back to be supported (don’t lie down as you are more likely to fall asleep!)
  3. Close your eyes and bring your focus to your breathing.
  4. Breathe naturally in and out through the nose, observing the breath entering and leaving the nostrils and allowing any tension to leave your body with each exhalation.
  5. For the next 5-10 minutes, keep your focus and attention on your breath. Each time your mind wanders away from the breath and starts worrying, daydreaming or thinking, bring it gently back to focusing on the breath again.
  6. Start with 5-10 minutes and over time aim to build up to 15-30 minutes.

 

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Other Types of Meditation

There are many different types of meditation and different ways to practice.

Transcendental Meditation (TM) is the most researched method with over 600 studies having been carried out; Transcendence (Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal) is a great book outlining all this incredible research. It does require a 4-day course to learn the technique, for more information and free introductory talks, you can visit the official TM website: http://.tm.org/home

Mindfulness meditation is another great method and some fantastic courses are run by the Mindfulness Project: http://www.londonmindful.com. They also have courses on mindful eating, mindfulness for pain, happiness, parenting and on-line courses are available for anyone outside of London.

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