- Author : nashy
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This blog piece was provided by our wonderful friends at Smiling Mind.
Reading about mindfulness without actually experiencing it for yourself is like going to your local café for brunch without tasting any of the food. Just as the point of a brunch outing is to enjoy avocado loaded sourdough, mindfulness exercises need to be practiced in order to enjoy the most delicious meal of all - emotional calmness.
There are, however, some definitions of mindfulness that are a good starting point. This is the one that we at Smiling Mind like and use: “Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity and without judgement”. Mindfulness is essentially about shifting out of automatic pilot and being aware of what is happening right now. Mindfulness is also about the attitudes we bring to our awareness – we want to be open, curious and non-judgmental towards our experience, whatever that may be. This part of mindfulness is so important but often gets overlooked.
However, just like not everyone likes pineapple on pizza (how dare they!), or some people hate coriander in salads (unlucky for them!) – mindfulness isn’t a one size fits all and not everyone is going to find it helpful. There’s even some indication that people prone to symptoms of psychosis should be cautious with intensive mindfulness meditation. If that’s you, speak to your GP, therapist or other health professional for specific advice.
Mindfulness & Meditation
Meditation is a formal way to practice mindfulness. We can also practice mindfulness more informally by being truly present and aware of what we’re doing as we go about our everyday activities, e.g. mindfully drinking your morning coffee by really savouring it as opposed to being distracted by thoughts and barely tasting it.
Mindfulness is something we need to practice, like any new skill it takes time, practice and patience to get better at it!
There is now a huge body of research to show that mindfulness has a positive effect on many mental health issues. Mindfulness calms the mind and relaxes the body, which brings cognitive, emotional and physical benefits. Some of these include:
Cognitive benefits: improved concentration, attention, focus, cognitive flexibility, clarity, reduced rumination.
Emotional benefits: enhanced self-awareness, improved emotional regulation, increased self-compassion as well as compassion for others, increased positive affect, reduced anxiety and stress.
Physical benefits: increased immune function, lower inflammation, blood pressure and heart rate, improved sleep, reduced stress and fatigue.
Mindfulness is a very personal journey and the benefits will be different for everyone. The key is trying it out for yourself, committing to practicing it (remember practice, practice, practice!) and seeing what you discover.
Common Meditation Misconceptions
There are many misconceptions about meditation which can be really unhelpful when learning to meditate. Some of these are:
“My mind is too busy to meditate, I can’t stop my thoughts”
It’s not possible to stop thinking! However, we can change our relationship with our thoughts by observing their content and learning to step back from them, rather than getting so caught up with them.
“Meditation is something I need to master to make it worth doing”
When learning to meditate people often worry that they’re not meditating ‘perfectly’. While it does require patience and persistence, meditation does not require perfection. As renowned Buddhist teacher and author Pema Chodron says: ‘In practicing meditation we’re not trying to live up to some kind of ideal – quite the opposite. We’re just being with our experience whatever it is’
“Meditation doesn’t work because it hasn’t made me feel better”
The goal of mindfulness is to build awareness not to feel better or get rid of uncomfortable feelings. Mindfulness is about how we hold ourselves and see our experience, versus changing how we’re feeling. Over time you will notice that meditation leads to a calmer, more peaceful quality of mind overall, but it does not guarantee positive emotions every moment of the day.
What does meditation actually involve?
Meditation involves choosing an object of focus (e.g. the breath, the body, sounds) and resting attention on that object of focus. You can think of your object of focus as like an ‘anchor’ in the present moment.
No one object of focus is better than another as the underlying principles are the same. Everyone is different, and some people gravitate more easily to certain objects of focus than others. That’s why it’s so important to experiment and find out what suits you!
Once we’ve chosen an object for our meditation, we can think meditation as essentially a
- Lose focus (and notice you’ve lost focus!)
Most people assume that step 1 is the most important step and that if they lose focus they have ‘stopped’ meditating. Each of these three steps is equally important and are all part of meditating. Losing focus, noticing you have lost focus, and re-focusing is what builds your mindfulness muscle. You can think of it as like a bi-cep curl for your brain!
If you want to find out more about meditation and mindfulness, the Smiling Mind app is free and offers heaps of programs to improve your sleep, concentration and stress levels. Start with a 5 minute meditation and see how you feel after a few practice attempts.
Connect with others & check out our discussion with Smiling Mind on the forums here!