Mindfulness meditation and its health benefits
by Janette Grant 1st June 2018
What is mindfulness meditation? How often do we hear about meditation and mindfulness or even mindfulness benefits these days? The words are frequently interchangeable and often, in a simplified way, refer to the similar idea – that of calming our frenzied minds. Mindfulness and meditation complement each other, like two sides of the same coin and they often overlap. But each also has its own specific definition and purpose and the main difference is that meditation is the large umbrella term for the practice of reaching ultimate consciousness and concentration, to acknowledge the mind and self-regulate it. It can involve many techniques to achieve this – one of which, is mindfulness. So mindfulness is a form of meditation, along with yoga, silence, breathing etc. There are many forms of meditation, but with mindfulness we bring our full mind to the present and focus completely on the moment. Being mindful of our breath, for example, is a common form of mindfulness during meditation and this improves our awareness of being in the present – this is called mindfulness meditation, or mindfulness buddism.
The practice of meditation predates mindfulness, which is often aligned with the Buddha when he discovered that focusing completely on his breath allowed him to see reality and reach meditation quicker. Whereas meditation is thought to have its origins in prehistoric religions.
What are the health benefits of combining both mindfulness and meditation?
There is much evidence to suggest that harnessing our mind to be in the present can improve our mental and physical health. A recent study has found that practicing mindfulness can have a positive affect on glucose levels, showing that improved focus and self control can help fight obesity and unhealthy eating habits. Mindfulness meditation has also been linked to improved sleep quality amongst older adults who would normally end up using sleeping pills. It has been associated with improved focus, reduced dependency on opioid drugs and lowered anxiety and depression levels. And even more impressive is that research has recently shown that mindfulness exercises and positive thinking can have a beneficial effect on the DNA of breast cancer patients, which suggests that mindfulness meditation can have an even more extensive effect on our bodies than we even thought!
Mindfulness meditation helps us become aware of what is already true moment by moment, rather than attempting to make us different from how we are -mindfulness training additionally present with whatever is happening in our lives – no matter what that is. How does that help? Surely we want to suffer less and tune into the natural wisdom? Isn’t that making changes from how we are? Well yes…it is…suffering less and becoming more aware of our inherent wakefulness are changes from how we experience ourself most of the time, but…the only way to alleviate suffering and find our inherent wisdom is to dig more deeper into the present moment and into ourselves as we already are – not by trying to change what is happening.
Buddhists teaches how to practice mindfulness in helping escape from our direct experience; we try to get away from our pain and hang on to pleasure, but this just perpetuates our suffering. And we cause more suffering when we try to hang on to our ego.
Instead, when practising mindfulness meditation – paying precise, nonjudgmental attention to our experiences as they happen – we do not reject anything. In this way, we do not struggle to get away from difficult experiences – we merely practise being able to be with them. Equally importantly, we need to practise mindfulness during pleasant experiences as well; we often struggle to simply stay present with happiness and instead turn it into worrying that it won’t last or we try to keep it from disappearing.
When we are mindful, we show up for our lives; we don’t miss them through distraction or in wishing things could be different. Instead, if something needs changing, being mindful means that we are present enough to understand what needs to be done. But being mindful should not prevent us from actually participating in our lives and taking care of our own and others’ needs; the more mindful we are, the more compassionate we will be.
Remember – mindfulness meditation is all about being mindful of whatever happens. It is not about trying to stop ourselves thinking – this is not the aim. Many people think that meditation is about emptying our mind, but this is certainly not true for mindfulness meditation. So remember…when you are aware of thoughts running through your mind (and they will), just include them in what you notice…don’t try to get rid of them. It won’t work anyway, and it’s not what mindfulness meditation is about. We are just trying to be with ourselves as we are – not trying to change ourselves into some preconceived idea of what we think we should be.
As we’ve already discussed, mindfulness meditation can have an enormously beneficial impact on our lives and so even as a beginner, if we just take ten minutes out of our day to be mindful – when drinking our tea, taking a break from work, or just focusing on our breath before sleep – there’s an amazing amount of power when we simply focus our mind.
There are many books and audiobooks etc. available about Mindfulness meditation, but some of the most popular items are:
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life – this book is written by the father of modern day mindfulness – Jon Kabat-Zinn and he shows us how to cultivate mindfulness in our lives and awaken us to the possibilities of each present moment.
Guided Mindfulness Meditation (audio CD) – this audiobook is also read by Jon Kabat-Zinn and he explains how the power of mindfulness can bring change to our personal lives, and the world around us, from learning, growing and healing.
The Headspace Guide to Mindfulness & Meditation: 10 minutes can make the difference – this book is for beginners and expert meditators alike and it teaches skills to combat the negative aspects of our busy lives. These powerful techniques will help us to quiet the mind, feel less stressed and less tired and achieve calm and fulfilment.
Stress Less Cards – 50 Inspirational Mindfulness & Meditation Exercises – these cards contain 50 effective exercises to help us relieve stress and deal with anxiety whenever we need it. The techniques can be easily memorised and used anywhere to stop that stress reaction and help us relax.