Mindfulness Meditation 101 by Courtney Lopresti, MS

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Think about the word meditation.

What do you see?

Maybe you picture a dark room. Incense. People sitting cross-legged, clearing their minds of all earthly worries. Maybe you think about highly trained monks, the kind who are so adept at the task they can change their body temperature.

Thankfully, meditation isn’t nearly as complex—or intense—as popular culture might suggest. Not only can anyone meditate, but researchers have found that mindfulness meditation can help people combat mental illness, addiction and even chronic pain.

What is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation has nothing to do with clearing your mind and everything to do with listening to what your mind has to tell you. Specifically, mindfulness meditation involves focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting each thought or sensation without judgment.

Headspace, a digital meditation service, likens mindfulness meditation to watching cars speed down the highway. Each car represents a thought or emotion, whether positive (relaxation, happiness, food) or negative (sadness, anxiety, pain). Our automatic response is to run into this metaphoric traffic to chase down all the positive cars and stop all the negative cars; an exhausting if not impossible task. During mindfulness meditation, the goal is to watch each car drive by, acknowledge the thought or feeling attached to that car, and let it continue on its way.

Why is mindfulness meditation good for you?

People who practice mindfulness meditation often report they feel more engaged with the world around them. They also report a decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms, instead finding they are able to more easily cope with adverse events.

These benefits are more than anecdotal. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, conducted an extensive, quantitative analysis on forty-seven trials which studied the effect of meditation on the brain. All of the studies were rigorously conducted and contained no visible bias.

From their analysis, the researchers found that mindfulness meditation can significantly reduce the severity of psychological stressors including anxiety, depression and pain.

“Clinicians should be aware that meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress,” wrote the researchers.

What makes mindfulness so good for you? Some experts believe that the benefits arise from being able to accept the negatives in life without judgment. For instance, people who struggle with addiction may agonize over their drug cravings, wondering if a relapse is imminent or if they don’t deserve sobriety. With mindfulness meditation, it becomes easier to see drug cravings for what they are: an unpleasant sensation that won’t last forever.

How do you meditate?

Mindfulness meditation requires no special equipment, nor does it require an ability to sit still. You don’t need to clear your mind, change your heart rate or purchase any special incense. All you need to do is practice.

• Find a quiet, calm environment and sit down. If you want, you can close your eyes, but you don’t need to.

• Focus on your breathing. How does the air feel when it flows through your nostrils? How much does your stomach move with each inhale and exhale?

• If you lose concentration, gently redirect your thoughts back to your breathing.

• With time, expand your focus from your breath to the rest of your body. Can you feel how your body rests on the chair or ground beneath you? Can you feel your tongue in your mouth?

• Try to avoid judging any thoughts or sensations. Experience them, acknowledge them, and then let them drive down the road away from you.

Meditation can seem frightening, especially at first—it’s not easy to sit alone with your own thoughts. With practice, however, mindfulness meditation can help you live a calmer, less anxious life. Try spending just ten minutes today being a little more mindful. You won’t regret it.

Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. Contact the author at news@sovhealth.com. For more information on Sovereign Health, visit www.sovhealth.com