Opening your arms to the world of meditation can seem tricky and intimidating. Most of us have heard by now that meditation, particularly mindfulness practice, is good for our health. But where do we begin?
Firstly, what is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness refers to the self-regulation of attention to one’s experiences in the present moment with curiosity, openness and acceptance.” (Bishop et al. 2004).
Mindfulness meditation has been studied in clinical and home-practice settings to understand its effects on the brain, our behaviour, and a range of aspects of mental health. Recent research has shown mindfulness-based interventions play an important role in positive emotions in both acute and chronic circumstances and is an effective treatment for obsessive disorders, depression including relapse prevention, anxiety, insomnia, emotion regulation, drug abuse, and chronic pain.
Mental health disorders are prominent in our fast-paced society but you don’t need a medical diagnosis to feel the need for a little support with the everyday stressors of our busy lives. Thanks to contemporary research we now know even a small amount of mindfulness practice has been linked to positive emotions, better sleep quality, improved attention span and increasing our sense of self-compassion and wellbeing.
Here are some simple ways I’d encourage you to try in order to incorporate mindfulness meditation into your day.
These are activities of any length that you choose to focus on and be aware of your own experience of it. Some examples include: brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, having a shower, walking around the block, chopping vegetables, eating a meal etc. Take note of the sounds around you, physical sensations like temperature, touch and texture, and be open to noticing thoughts you may not have ever noticed before! Do you really like the taste of your toothpaste or did the thought ‘my gums are burning! I don’t like this taste’ pop into your mind? Avoid multitasking and really sit with the activity.
Sit or lie down in a position that allows your spine to be straight and your breath to flow freely. Settle into your position closing your eyes if that helps, and when your ready start to bring your awareness to the physical sensations of breathing. Not changing the breath but noticing what it feels like for you at your abdomen, chest, nostrils or wherever you sense it most. Each time you notice your mind has wandered, simply return to the physical sensation of breathing and continue. Three minutes a day first thing in the morning or even in the park at lunch can really do the trick! Practice is the key. Some people find setting a three-minute timer on your phone helpful to get into the swing of things.
This can be done anywhere – sitting in your backyard, in a park, in your car, or on the bus. As long as you’re not driving you might like to close your eyes to enhance your sense of hearing. Open your ears to the sounds around you, near and far, welcoming whatever comes into your field of awareness. It is important to experience the qualities of sounds as opposed to labeling them as ‘car’, ‘dog’, or ‘message notification’. Notice the volume and intensity. Are they soft, smooth, intermittent or consistent, high pitch, low pitch, near or far? You may be surprised at your hearing capabilities!
We all know pushing against an unyielding force is a taxing and unfulfilling battle. Mindfulness is not about stopping thoughts. The mind is a natural and consistent generator of thought in the form of memories, images, internal ‘chatter’ etc. The exercise here is noticing that your attention has moved away from the intended practice i.e. awareness of physical sensation, sounds, touch, however you are experiencing the present moment, and without judging yourself bringing your focus back to the experience. Eventually you will find that it is less and less tricky to stay focused and easier to notice thoughts and emotions in the mind in a non-judgmental way.
I challenge you to try some of these techniques and experience the countless benefits of mindfulness meditation.
About Katrina Schilling
Katrina Schilling is a naturopathy student at Endeavour College in Adelaide. Her keen interest in herbal medicine, nutrition and natural therapies has infused her with the drive to build a rich career in natural healthcare. Her interest in holistic mental health treatments has evoked a strong interest in mindfulness meditation.
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