Mindfulness meditation is my preferred type of meditation for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I find most other forms of meditation to be too stimulating.
Many people find formal meditation difficult to achieve, because they can't sit still, are antsy and distracted, can't stay focused, can't be disciplined enough, etc., Mindfulness helps remove these barriers partly because of its simplicity and partly because of the powerful impact it has on the autonomic nervous system which helps you relax instantly.
Numerous studies using neuroimagery on the brain have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation changes areas of the brain that are associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, compassion, introspection, anxiety, stress and fear.
Basically, it stimulates the frontal lobes of the brain which increase our stress reducing neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin, GABA, endorphins and enkephalins. and reduces norepinephrine the neurotransmitter that sets off the stress response system.
Because the frontal lobes are connected to all other parts of the cerebral cortex, including our intellect and the thalamus it can override the constant internal chatter and is involved in the gaiting process of sensory information.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
This results in a cascade of benefits to our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Like all meditation it quiets the mind, but it goes well beyond that.
- Quiet the inner commentator (inner dialogue)
- Inner peace
- Instant Relaxation
- Reduction of stress
- Alleviates anxiety and depression
- Increases joy, happiness and pleasure
- Lowers blood pressure
- Boosts neurotransmitters
- Turns off the stress response system (fight or flight)
- Balances the autonomic nervous system
- More self-awareness
- Reduces cravings for addictive substances
- A richer, deeper and more meaningful life
- More compassion and empathy
- Enhanced immunity
Studies have also shown that mindfulness can help people stop dwelling on negative thoughts or ruminating over their troubles and put things in a new perspective. It is also found to be an effective adjunctive therapy for reducing cravings and preventing relapse in people recovering from an addiction.
A variety of studies have documented that mindfulness meditation also stimulates melatonin, our primary hormone that helps us sleep, thus making it a supreme natural sleep aid.You can read about eight of these great benefits in more depth on the following page.
Conditions that Respond to Mindfulness Meditation
Chronic stress is a root contributing factor to all psychological and physiological health conditions. Therefore, because one of the primary benefits of mindfulness meditation is reduction of stress, then there isn't any health condition that cannot benefit from the practice. However, the following conditions usually respond the most favorably:
- Anxiety disorders
- High blood pressure
- Attention Deficit
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Chronic pain syndromes
- Dysautonomia (Autonomic Nervous System Dysfunction)
- Heart disease
- Migraine headache
- Irritable bowel and other bowel disorders
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Addiction (food, sugar, carbs, nicotine, sex, gambling, caffeine, alcohol etc)
- Chronic fatigue
Furthermore, it has also been found to boost the immune system, something we can all benefit from, but especially those with a chronic health condition.
How to Do Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is easy and doesn't require any special training. Although you can find numerous seminars that provide formal training, that isn't really necessary.
You can learn the basics in a few minutes and immediately put them to use in my simple little Ebook, Meditating for Health, but here's a few tips to get you started.
Whether it's a spiritual practice, a psychological technique or a health strategy, I don't believe in making anyone or anything a God and I don't like getting caught up in custom, worshipping the guru, formalities, etc. I like to boil things down to the bare bones, extract the basic premise and then do my own thing with it. I encourage you to do the same. I find when we get focused on the custom, mentor or guru, tradition, etc., then what we are trying to achieve becomes much more difficult to attain and the "real" experience gets lost.
The simplest and most basic practice uses the breath for the focal point (or anchor) of the meditation. This is the easiest way to learn and once the basic principle is mastered, then you can carry it over to many other focal points.
The goal in mindfulness meditation is to quiet the noise. The noise is anything around you that disrupts the meditation process. There is inner noise, like thoughts and the inner commentator, and outside noise like people, sounds etc. As you become more skilled with mindfulness, you can learn how to make the noise become a focal point.
- Lie down, or sit down.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, with your mouth closed.
- Breathe from your abdomen, not your chest.
- Let your breath out through the nose in a slow and controlled manner. (Repeat)
- During this process you stay focused on the breath and the process of breathing.
- Follow the breath in and out. To use the words of Dr. Charles Gant, an expert in mindfulness, "feel the feeling, sense the sensation, moment to moment. Feel the feeling, the touch, the warmth and the pressure of the abdomen as your breathing."
- If thoughts intrude, which they ultimately will, then just acknowledge them and release them without judgement. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, says "this is what minds do." Gently and persistently bring the mind back to the breath.
You can place your hand on your abdomen to help anchor your focus more if needed. Then you can focus on the rise and fall of your hand as you breathe in and out.
If additional help is needed to stay focused, you can say quietly in your mind each time you breathe in and breath out, "In" and "Out." This uses your intellect to keep thoughts from intruding in the process.
In the depths of mindfulness, there is no distinction between the breather and the breath, the feeler and the feeling, the experiencer and the experience - they are one in the same.
Deep breathing exercises have a variety of benefits physically, emotionally and spiritually as well, so using the breath as the focal point in the manner I have described doubles the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits that can be attained. Even when I use a different focal point I usually like to combine it with the breath.
If you struggle with feelings of restlessness or inability to sit still when meditating, as many people do, you can use mindfulness itself to overcome this barrier. I teach you how to do this on my overcoming meditation restlessness page. Additionally, you may want to look at this instant relaxation technique and being one with yourself technique.
Mindfulness Every Day
So that's the basics of mindfulness meditation. Once you master this technique, then you can apply it to a variety of other focal points or anchors. For example, you could use music, the sound of rain, silence, a tree, wind, or a body part.
One of the aspects I love the most about mindfulness meditation is that all the benefits can be achieved in a few short minutes, you don't have to find long periods of time in your day to sit down for a formal and disciplined meditation session. Just a few minutes here and there suffice just fine and produces instant relaxation, inner peace, reduced stress, etc.
However, keep in mind that meditation is only one method to attain mindfulness; there are many other ways it can be achieved throughout your daily life activities; like gardening, baking, walking, exercising and even making love. By simply becoming aware and focused on the experience of the moment, whatever the moment may be, and quieting your inner commentator, mindfulness can be reached. As you learn how to put it into practice in your day-to-day life on a regular basis, life becomes a meditation.
Mindfulness meditation originated in Buddhism, however the principles are free of any religious code and can be practiced within the context of any belief system.
Massion AO, Teas J, Hebert JR, Wertheimer MD, Kabat-Zinn J. Meditation, melatonin and breast/prostate cancer: Hypothesis and Preliminary Data. Medical Hypotheses 44 (1995) 39-46
Tooley GA, Armstrong SM, Norman TR, Sali A. Acute increases in night-time plasma melatonin levels following a period of meditation. Biological Psychology 53 (2000) 69-7
Dr. Charles Gant, Mindfulness Webinar