An Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation

I’m a big proponent of being in the NOW. Also known as being mindful or present.

The goal of being mindful is to be focused on life that is in front of our eyes; to do things deliberately and purposefully and not be distracted by our racing minds. If you think this doesn’t affect you, or that you are ‘good’ at this, well, you are probably wrong. It takes real practice to have a fully aware presence of being all the time. Hell, the monks devote their entire lives to it.

“Meh, I’m sure it’s easy if I just tried” says your skeptical-know-it-all-self.

Ok, try this: close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly for a minute. If you can successfully go that entire minute without thinking about anything in your outside life beyond just feeling the sensations of your breathing and being, than I apologize for my presumptions nature and please teach me your secret.

For the rest of us mortals, we will have to rely on meditation and mindfulness to quiet our hyper-active minds.

Meditation and mindfulness are amazing tools to help you with every aspect of your life. You can start small and progress your way into the practice. You aren’t expected to be able to meditate for hours on end initially–nor is that necessary to see great benefit.

Case in point: I used to be a mega-worrier. I would worry about bills, appointments, speculation, other people, this, that, and so on. Then I found Buddhism and was introduced to the practice of being mindful–aka: in the present. This led me to finding meditation and Stoicism as I realized the power of mental training and pursued further study.

Now, after incorporating these practices into my daily life, I can honestly say that I no longer suffer from a chronic-worry frame of mind. I do stress from time to time but it’s a fraction of what it used to be–again, thanks to these practices.

meditation

Photo Credit: OaklandNative

These concepts can be life-changing if you put in a dedicated effort. They take practice. The more you practice, the more results you will see (obv).

Initially, the results may seem slow, but if you keep at it you will start finding yourself making better decisions on average, and you will notice you are more calm in stressful situations than you might have been before your practice.

Mindfulness:

Google definition:

1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
2. 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, used as a therapeutic technique.

Wikipedia Definition:

Mindfulness as a psychological concept is the focusing of attention and awareness, based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation. It has been popularized in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Despite its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness is often taught independently of religion.

Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people suffering from a variety of psychological conditions, and research has found therapy based on mindfulness to be effective, particularly for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.

Benefits:

  • Greater connection with the body
  • Improved personal relationships (you are in then now)
  • Better acceptance of stressful thoughts and emotions
  • Positive improvements to your mindset
  • Improvements of memory, concentration and cognitive ability
  • Dramatic reduction in stress levels and anxiety
  • Fall asleep faster at night (you own your thoughts)
  • Overall feeling of well-being
  • More productive
  • More focused
  • Increased creativity
  • Develops a greater capacity to deal with adversity
  • More confidence
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties
  • And on and on and on

Mindful Techniques:

1. Mindful driving:

Turn off your music and put away your cell phone. Focus on seeing the road, and your surroundings. Try to notice minute details. Try to see as much as you can. *A technique I use is to do breath meditation while driving. Count 1 in breath, and 1 out-breath. Repeat to 50 or 100.

 2. Mindful Eating

This is a big one for me. I can’t stand any distraction when eating. Music, TV, and phones must be off and away when I sit down to eat. Not only is this a great mindfulness technique, but it also allows you to enjoy your food that much more. You really haven’t tasted your food until you’ve tasted it in a mindful state.

3. Mindful Waiting

Instead of feeling rushed and worry about how long your wait is taking, spend the time to be completely in the now. Focus on other people and things. Read signs and notice their design. Focus on corners and cracks and ceilings and walls and try to spot imperfections. Look and see what others never do.

 

Meditation:

Google definition:

The action or practice of meditating. synonyms: contemplation, thought, thinking, musing, pondering, consideration,reflection, deliberation, rumination, brooding, reverie, brown study,concentration;prayer;

Wikipedia Definition:

Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself.

The term meditation refers to a broad variety of practices (much like the term sports) that includes techniques designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy or life force (qi, ki, prana, etc.) and develop compassion, love, patience, generosity and forgiveness. A particularly ambitious form of meditation aims at effortlessly sustained single-pointed concentration single-pointed analysis, meant to enable its practitioner to enjoy an indestructible sense of well-being while engaging in any life activity.

Benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Lowers the levels of blood lactate, reducing anxiety attacks
  • Decreases tension-related pain, such as, tension headaches, ulcers, insomnia, muscle and joint problems
  • Increases serotonin production
  • Improves mood and behavior
  • Improves immune function
  • Increases energy levels
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Stabilizes emotions
  • Increase creativity and inspiration
  • Increases happiness
  • Develops intuition
  • Helps solve problems
  • Helps identify our subconscious thoughts
  • Helps gain clarity and peace of mind
  • Reduces the severity of problems in our lives
  • Sharpens the mind

Meditation Techniques:

Counting the breath is the technique that I started with when I first started on my Buddha journey. While I have learned other techniques since then, I find myself using this technique as the root of my practice. When most people think of meditation they usually visualize a hairless monk sitting in a lotus position with eyes closed and an erect, chest-up posture. While this is a form of meditation, it is not what meditation is. It is not some spiritual or zany practice. It is a technique for clearing your mind. That is all.

Meditation is the act of clearing the mind of all thoughts.

Let’s try a 20-breath count: Close your eyes and count your in and out breaths to 20. Ready go.

How was that? Freaking awesome huh? You are now more relaxed and aware. You just meditated. Cool huh? That probably seemed easy enough right? Well, the first few breaths will always be easy, it’s the 20-50 and 1000 breaths that are difficult. Each extra breath you take becomes that much harder to stay focused. Your mind will constantly try to drag you back to distraction. Your mind is like a toddler that is hellbent on getting your attention; it will kick and scream and beg and nag until it gets his way. This is where  the practice of mediation comes in.

Meditation is a practice, and just like a sport or the piano, you have to deliberately focus on improving the skill through deliberate practice. To practice you should pick a goal number of breaths and work to constantly improve this number. You will start to notice how long it takes before your mind gives into distraction. Aim to improve this number of breaths consistently. Just make sure you don’t let your determination to improve stress you out and distract you. That would be counterintuitive.

How to Count Your Breath (Print: Breath Meditation)

  1. Close your eyes and take a moment to relax and calm yourself
  2. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice the rise and fall of your breathing.
  3. Count 1 in breath as you inhale and 1 as you exhale. Continue counting 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, and so on until 100
  4. When your mind begins to wander picture the next number in your head and return to feeling your breath
  5. Let your thoughts come and go. They will inevitably invade your mind; the key is to not get frustrated.

Simple 5-Meditation Technique

  1.  1. Set a 5 minute timer
  2. Close your eyes  and relax. Take deep breaths and think of releasing the tension from your body on each exhale
  3. Clear your mind of thoughts. Let the invading thoughts pass you buy like a cloud floating through your mind. You see the thoughts and you are letting them move on slowly–Instead of trying to force them out which will cause anxiety.
  4. *You can also visualize an open field or being in a forest, something relaxing and simple. Sometimes it’s difficult to see black and be completely blank. I find that if I see myself walking through a field of tall grass or sitting on a mountain viewing the scene, it helps focus while keeping the ‘life thoughts’ out of my head.

The other forms of meditation that you can research on your own include:

  • Walking meditation
  • Passage meditation
  • Visualization mediation
  • Guided meditation
  • Yoga
  • Guided meditation

My advice is to start with breath meditation. Controlled breathing has many benefits in and of itself, and when combined with meditation, you have a powerful platform for improving your mental and physical health. Becoming a better breather will also make you better at other things you do like sports, lifting weights, etc.

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4 thoughts on “An Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation

  1. Thanks for sharing this post. It’s very interesting. I have been having difficulty in breathing lately, due to stress and pollution. I was told meditation can greatly help. So I am out looking for meditation info, and you gave me a lot

    • Sam,

      You are more than welcome. I used to worry a ton about stuff like bills, school, work, etc, and it caused me a ton of anxiety. These concepts, specifically being more mindful and practicing meditation as often as I think of, have literally changed my life.

      I couldn’t recommend them more.

      Because mental stress is a creation of our own mind, you can literally eliminate it with enough practice.

      Best of luck with your practice!

      (try yoga sometime, it’s awesome)

  2. I enjoyed reading, and totally agree with the benefits of meditation. As you mentioned there are many meditation techniques. I recently started practicing transcendental meditation. I experienced benefits immediately; increased energy and lower stress. One of the reasons I enjoy TM is because it is very easy to do. The technique requires no effort or concentration , it’s very relaxing. I highly recommend you do some reading about TM, including some of the studies that have been published in medical journals.
    See you at the box.
    -Steven

  3. Steven,

    I’ve see transcendental meditation here and there through my own study but never an actual how-to or explanation of what makes it different.

    I’m def going to look into it. Already have 5 tabs open…

    Thanks for the recommendation!