Meditation can give you the upper hand in life. It can help you reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, improve your relationships with others, and give you a clearer, more balanced view of the world. But there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding the practice, so it’s important to spend some time trying to understand what mindfulness really is. At MindOwl, we believe that this can’t be done without some solid scientific backup.
Many people have doubts about what they see as ‘new-age spiritualism’, but in reality, you can’t refute the evidence. Even the studies of the studies recognise that mindfulness meditation is powerful. After all, the ‘godfather’ of western mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, grew his practice out of medical school. By combining science and Eastern spirituality, it’s possible to gain greater insight into the way your brain works.
Cast your mind back to a moment when you were either under extreme stress or completely at ease, and became aware that your focus got intense. It may have been a situation of danger where your intensified focus allowed you to think clearly and logically, or it may simply have been a moment of genuine peace and tranquillity, in which you were intensely aware of the wonderful scenes and sensations around you.
Imagine being able to harness that power of focus all the time. That’s what mindfulness is about. Try not to get bogged down by images of hippies sitting cross-legged on a cushion, or Buddhist monks in the Tibetan mountains — mindfulness is for everyone. It’s about connecting with your own well-being and being more observant and intentional in your daily life. For many people, it’s about happiness. And while you may consider it to be an airy-fairy subject, mindfulness is backed up by some of the foundations of psychological science, with concepts such as neuroplasticity highlighting exactly how it works.
We’ll dig further into how mindfulness works a little later. First, let’s talk more about what falls under this umbrella term.
What is Mindfulness?
Before you whip out the cushion and start meditating, let’s explain what mindfulness is. While mindfulness meditation can be extremely effective in helping you find peace, mindfulness training is about far more than just formal practice. Training your ability to harness that intense present-moment focus can bring a wide array of benefits. As Sam Harris (one of the leaders of Western mindfulness) states:
“How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.”
That’s right, the quality of your life – or in other words, your levels of happiness – can be greatly influenced by practising mindful awareness on a regular basis. You don’t need to be in a crisis or staring down the barrel of one of life’s big dilemmas; simply try to bring a mindful approach into your everyday life as often as possible, and you’ll begin to get better at having a cool head when you really need it. This will make you better equipped to deal with the challenges, demands and pressures of modern life.
To get a more tangible grasp of what it means to cultivate mindfulness, let’s consider the definition of Unified Mindfulness, as offered by Shinzen Young. He defines the system of mindfulness as one of “concentration power, sensory clarity, and equanimity working together.”
Basically, this means harnessing that focus through awareness of what’s happening both around you and inside you and being at ease with that. This definition highlights how mindfulness is about far more than just paying attention or being aware of our thoughts.
So why is it important? What are the benefits of mindfulness? Again, Shinzen Young and his 5 Dimensions of Happiness provide a pretty good answer to that. They are:
- Reduce perceived suffering.
- Elevate sensual fulfilment.
- Understand yourself at all levels.
- Make positive behaviour changes.
- Cultivate/discover a spirit of love and service. (Think of this as compassion to yourself and others).
It’s important to be aware of the fact that mindfulness can refer both to a quality of mind that can be accessed throughout your everyday life, and to mindfulness meditation, which is a more formal practice. Both these applications of mindfulness can bring greater happiness, peace of mind, and clarity to your life, and we’ll discuss and interlink them in more detail as we go on.
So, how did mindfulness meditation first come into existence?
What Are the Origins of Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness has its roots in Asia’s ancient societies, with a number of different regions developing meditative practices dating back several thousand years. Most early forms of mindfulness are linked to the Buddhist tradition, which is inherently ethical and guided by overt efforts to live a wholesome everyday life. Buddhist mindfulness is a sort of social practice that encourages practitioners to build an “ethically minded awareness”.
However, Western ideas about mindfulness have moved away from this tradition slightly. While the principles of mindful awareness, concentration, and present moment-centeredness have remained core throughout, mindfulness today comes in many different formats, and much of the spiritual tradition has ebbed away. While it may not apply directly to you, it’s still useful to know the heritage of mindfulness meditation — so let’s look into it a little.
The Buddhist concept of sati (meaning ‘awareness’ in Pali) represents the root of what we call mindfulness in the modern world. According to Tse fu Kuan, sati has four different meanings:
- Simple awareness – using bare attention from moment to moment
- Protective awareness – having greater control and restraint over the stimuli of the six sense modalities
- Introspective awareness – more vigilantly monitoring the present moment, ignoring the various mental states that constantly ‘colour’ the mind
- Deliberate awareness – making conscious efforts to form inspiring ideas & conceptions
Some people argue that meaning has been lost thanks to “the mystification of mindfulness” which has seen the practice appropriated and repackaged for white Western audiences. On the other hand, though, a psychological approach can give us some useful insight into how mindfulness affects the brain. While Buddhist spirituality and scientific fact may seem like opposites to you at first, the two ideas are more linked than you might think. Let’s take a look at the definition of mindfulness according to psychology.
The Definition of Mindfulness According to Psychology
Scientific studies have discovered a variety of mental and physical health benefits for mindfulness practitioners. These include higher levels of well-being, self-compassion and empathy amongst meditators, as well as reduced chances of suffering from high emotional reactivity, rumination, thought suppression or fear of emotion.
A psychological approach to mindfulness practice can have real benefits. For example, formal practices like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction can be very effective when used alongside traditional medical or psychological treatment. Developed in the late 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) can help treat conditions like chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and cancer, while the seriousness of anxiety and panic attacks, asthma, headaches and fatigue can also be reduced. You can find out more about this dedicated training practice here.
Definitions of mindfulness within psychology can vary. Ruth Baer defines mindfulness as “focusing one’s attention in a non-judgemental or accepting way on the experience occurring in the present moment”, while also resisting “states of mind in which attention is focused elsewhere.” Psychologist Zindel Segal describes mindfulness as “a process of regulating attention in order to bring a quality of non-elaborative awareness to current experience”, which is perhaps a more succinct definition.
Our article on the definition of mindfulness according to psychology delves a little deeper into this issue. For now though, we’re going to focus on one psychology expert whose work provides us with some real insight into how mindfulness impacts the brain.
The Science of Mindfulness
Whether you wrap it up in religious practice or not, mindfulness works because of neuroplasticity.
Neuroscience can help us understand why mindfulness makes us calmer, happier and more resilient. One of the most crucial things we can learn from it is that our brain structures are not set in stone. They can adapt, change and develop depending on our actions and choices — this is called neuroplasticity.
Mindfulness encourages us to take advantage of this by deliberately prompting positive changes in how our brains behave. Actively choosing to reprogram what’s going on upstairs at a cerebral level can help you break unhelpful habits and stop yourself from reacting to the same everyday triggers and events in the same unhealthy ways.
Upasaka Culdasa is another mindfulness advocate whose teachings we can refer to here. In ‘The Magic of Mindfulness’, he uses the example of a disagreement with a partner, neighbour or boss to draw attention to how your reactions, in real-time, feel automatic. That’s because they are. These reactions are based on the programming of your mind, which has been reinforced by a lifetime’s worth of experiences. The emotion of the moment causes you to act based on past experience, meaning that you make the same mistakes and remain stuck in a perpetual cycle.
However, that programming is not as set in stone as we once believed. Yes, it takes time to reprogram your mind, but that’s where mindfulness and meditation practices come in. As Upsaka Culdasa goes on to explain:
“Ultimately, it is mindfulness that will determine whether you live your life reactively, out of past conditioning and unseen programming, or overcome that programming and live with wisdom.”
Medical research has backed this up, showing how the long-term practice of meditation can change physical aspects of your brain, including increased cortical thickness, and increased grey matter in the brain stem.
Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and effort to positively alter your brain. This is because our evolutionary programming doesn’t predispose us to happiness at all. Instead, it equips us for survival. In prehistoric times, humans were built for avoiding predators, catching prey, and defending themselves. The question of a healthy mind was of less importance than staying alive.
As a result, we’re naturally more likely to notice something that threatens us or poses some sort of danger. We then set our mental hardwiring based on that, and changing that programming can take a lot of work. One of the first things we must try to do is to start looking at our thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental way. This is key to meditation.
How to Meditate
How does meditation work in practice? The clue is in the final word of that sentence: it requires time, and it requires learning. For that reason, most people start by practising mindfulness techniques ‘on the cushion’ in a concentrated way, before learning how to pay attention on a deeper level in other areas of life, and gradually growing more and more control over how their mind works.
Before getting started, throw away any preconceptions you have, because they’re not going to help you.
The truth is, meditation doesn’t require any special powers — you have all the resources you need with you right now, you just need to know how to access them.
Making an effort to meditate regularly will allow you to naturally start growing awareness of your thoughts and emotions throughout everyday life. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
- Give it time: Set aside a specific time each day, giving yourself space and privacy to practise meditation. Maintaining a regular routine during changing times can be hugely beneficial to your wellness.
- Observe: Don’t try to shut down your thoughts. Instead, view yourself as a passive but curious observer. Let the thoughts come and go, but don’t act on them. Simply pay attention to the present moment and let go of judgement. Be aware of what’s going on in your mind and body. The simplest way to do this is to concentrate on your breath.
- Let go: You’ll find this tricky at first and the judgements will pile on, but don’t berate yourself. Simply acknowledge the judgement, before trying to observe it and let go of it. Move back to a non-judgemental awareness and focus on the breath.
- Keep coming back: It’s completely normal for your mind to wander. When this happens, just try to gently bring yourself back to the present and the breath, or any other anchor. You’ll need to do this over and over. Struggling to ‘concentrate’ is not a failure in meditation, it is a part of it.
- Practice: It may sound simple, but meditation can be hard — it takes practice. A little each day and you’ll soon notice mindfulness spilling over into other moments in the day.
One of the most fundamental benefits of mindfulness is that over time it can make us more likely to respond wisely, and less likely to react mindlessly. Regular practice can help us make the principle of ‘Respond, Don’t React’ an ordinary habit, allowing us to experience life in a more balanced, attentive way.
Start Practising Mindfulness Today
Realising that you can use neuroscience to your advantage can open up all sorts of opportunities. At its core, this is what mindfulness is. All you need to get started is a desire to make positive changes to your life.
You can bring mindfulness meditation into your life at any time, in any place. After a while, you’ll notice that mindfulness training can be applied in every moment of every day.
Rewiring your brain in this way can significantly improve your well-being. But how exactly does that work? Let’s spend some more time exploring the positive effects mindfulness meditation can have on you.
Why should I meditate?
Even if on the surface you feel happy, healthy and calm, mindfulness meditation may still benefit you immensely. Neglecting your mind is similar to neglecting your housework. In the same way that after a while, dirt, junk, and mess will pile up in a house, negative thoughts and emotions, stresses and anxieties can grow and become overwhelming with time. Implementing mindfulness meditation practices can reduce the risk of this happening. But let’s dig into the details; what are the tangible, proven benefits of meditation?
Increased empathy and compassion
Within many Buddhist practices, the main objective of meditation is to enhance empathy and compassion. By calming the mind and improving attentiveness, we can learn to treat others with more kindness, patience and respect. This idea is harnessed by compassion meditation exercises such as Loving-Kindness Meditation and Tonglen, which focuses on cultivating love and compassion towards yourself and others. After all, it is an inherent truth that only by practising self-care and self-compassion can we extend these behaviours towards other people.
Less reliance on external sources of happiness
Most humans have learned to look for happiness in external sources such as relationships, money and recognition. And when things go our way, this can be effective. However, we’re ultimately setting ourselves up for failure by relying on circumstances that we can’t control. External factors change constantly, so depending on them can cause our mental and emotional health to be extremely turbulent. Meditation encourages us to find lasting contentment within our minds, rather than relying on external sources; because while it may provide comfort and stability, money does not always buy lasting happiness.
If you’re someone who struggles to sleep at night, mindfulness meditation could be the answer. The practice is proven to reduce fatigue, insomnia and depression, often within weeks. A calmer, less cluttered mind can make it a lot easier to get a good night’s sleep. Some types of meditation are better for this than others — check out our article on breathwork for sleep for more guidance on this.
Unlock your subconscious mind
Our active thinking and decision-making is done by the conscious mind, which processes a single thought at a time and doesn’t store long-term memory. Mindfulness meditation decreases our tendency for distraction, which can lead to a greater connection with the subconscious mind, often a useful source of ideas, inspiration and solutions. Unlocking this hidden potential can enhance our ability to deal with difficult situations and think outside the box.
Greater calmness and peace of mind
By using mindfulness meditation to note and address your negative thoughts and emotions, you can devise ways of coping with them in the future. Certain forms of mindfulness meditation use anchors or mantras to give relief from worrying thoughts, helping instil a deeper sense of calmness and peace of mind. In fact, studies suggest that the areas of the brain linked to calmness, cognition and happiness have actually been known to physically expand in response to daily mindfulness meditation practice. Mindfulness meditation is one of the greatest ways to develop a peaceful mind.
Reduced stress and anxiety
Mindfulness meditation prompts you to acknowledge your thoughts, feelings and sensations in the present moment, without reaction or judgement. Changing the way we observe and act upon these experiences can make us less likely to get overwhelmed by stress, anxiety or negativity. By looking deeper into our experiences of stress, anxiety and worry, we can learn how to combat these feelings in the future.
Interested in accessing these immense advantages? There are many different forms of mindfulness meditation that will allow you to tap into these benefits. Let’s take our quest for a peaceful mind to the next level and look at some useful mindfulness exercises that you might not have previously tried.
7 Mindfulness Exercises You May Not Have Tried
- Open Attention
Struggling to concentrate is something many people struggle with during meditation. But what many people don’t realise is that we’re programmed to think of attention in an extremely limited way. In life, different circumstances call for different styles of attention; however, humans have adapted to using narrow, focused attention far more than they actually need to. By expanding our awareness and learning how to cultivate open attention, we can become more perceptive, and stop ourselves from becoming stressed or overwhelmed by certain tasks. This meditative practice involves expanding our vision beyond just one object of meditation, and feeling more in touch with our surroundings as a result.
- MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction)
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is an eight-week program that teaches participants how to use meditation to reduce stress levels and anxiety. Created by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, the course focuses on emotional regulation, reactivity and the effects of stress, and it’s proven to be effective in dealing with chronic pain, eating disorders, insomnia, anxiety and depression. To find out more about this subject, check out our in-depth article on MBSR.
- MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy)
Combining aspects of mindfulness training with elements of cognitive therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy helps practitioners to recognise and separate themselves from negative thoughts. By encouraging us to be more aware of our cognitive processes and the relationships we have with our negative emotions and thoughts, mindfulness-based interventions like MBCT can help us understand and cope with issues like anxiety, depression, low moods and bipolar disorders. A variety of mindfulness exercises are used within this program. Our article on the definition of mindfulness according to psychology contains more information about how MBCT works.
- Rediscover your Beginner’s Mind
Originating from the Zen Buddhist concept of ‘shoshin’, the term ‘Beginner’s Mind’ refers to the idea that the more you know about something, the more likely you are to close your mind to further learning. Beginner’s Mind embodies the spirit of mindfulness, by encouraging you to drop preconceptions and prejudices, and try to look at the world with the kind of openness, curiosity and flexibility that a child does. Find out more about this topic in our article on how to foster a Beginner’s Mind perspective.
- Loving-Kindness Meditation
Traditional Buddhist meditation practices were rooted in the idea of cultivating compassion and empathy, towards ourselves and others. Few mindfulness meditation exercises capture this idea better than Loving-kindness meditation, which encourages us to think about those who love us, consider why we are loved, and identify what we love about ourselves. Cultivating specific positive emotions like gratitude for life, or joy and appreciation for others, can help evolve the way we talk to ourselves into a more productive and loving voice, as well as increasing feelings of compassion and empathy towards others. This form of meditation encompasses a number of practices, ranging from ancient Buddhist methods like Tonglen meditation, to more modern compassion exercises, like sending well wishes to each person we speak to over the phone.
- Music meditation
Can you listen to music while meditating? Many experienced meditators say that listening to music while practising causes unwanted distractions and prevents ‘true meditation’ experiences. But if that’s true, then why do the powerful surges of energy and feeling that happen when listening to music have so much in common with the meditative goal of expanding sensory experience? Incorporating music into some meditations can help provide greater insight, reduce stress, or intensify present moment focus. Our article on the subject digs a little deeper.
- Practising gratitude
Gratitude is one of the pillars of mindful living. Bringing your attention to the present moment and focusing on the things you are grateful for can help you become calmer and more accepting of your life circumstances, even in difficult times. Whether it’s a hot cup of tea on a cold day, the sun shining through the window, or the love of a friend or family member, practising gratitude for the things which bring you happiness (however big or small) is a simple mindfulness exercise that can give you an immediate positive boost.
How to Bring Mindfulness Into Your Daily Life
Once you’ve got to grips with the basics of mindfulness meditation, you’ll find that aspects of the practice can be brought into your daily life. For instance, you might start becoming more present when interacting with others, or you may begin to notice the sensations, smells and flavours of a favourite meal in more detail.
Bringing mindfulness into your daily life can enrich experiences which you previously took for granted, giving you a new outlook on various aspects of life. Taking a more everyday approach to mindfulness also reduces feelings of stress or pressure that you may associate with more formal meditation.
So, how do you practise mindfulness throughout the day? Let’s explore a few useful situations in which you can employ daily mindfulness techniques.
While dieting can be helpful for some people, it can also lead to unhealthy habits such as fasting, calorie restricting, or accidental binge eating. Mindful eating, on the other hand, is about encouraging a healthy relationship with food by thinking carefully about what you eat and drink. Eating mindfully means taking time to enjoy your food, savouring each bite, engaging with physical sensations, and being aware of how foods make you feel. For more on this subject, check out our article on how mindful eating can improve your relationship with food.
Taking a mindful walk is a great way to expand your awareness of your surroundings and immerse yourself in the sounds, smells, and sensations of the outdoors. Notice the feeling of the breeze on your face, the sound of birds in the trees or of cars driving past, the sensation of your feet touching the ground. And walking isn’t the only form of exercise in which mindfulness can be applied. Our article on mindfulness in sport digs a little deeper into how mindful techniques can improve awareness, focus and receptivity in sport.
Mindful Breathing Exercises
Becoming more mindful of breathwork can supercharge your meditation practice. Mindful breathing techniques can be used to either calm us down, energise us, or find an appropriate balance between the two. While breathing is a key part of meditation, it is important to note the distinction between meditation and breathwork. Breathing exercises can help increase calmness, reduce stress or release pent-up energy, and crucially, they can be practised at any time of day, wherever you are, making them perfect for daily mindfulness.
Take a Mindful Bath
Most of us enjoy the soothing relaxation of a warm bath; however, have you tried turning this into a mindful experience? Try to breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, then exhale for eight seconds. Repeat this simple breathing exercise, before turning your attention to the smell of your bubble bath, the sound of bubbles popping around you, and bodily sensations like the warm water on your body. Move from your upper body to your lower body, experiencing and appreciate different sensations with curiosity and without judgement. This is a simple way to enhance a normal experience by being mindful. And don’t worry if you don’t have a bath — this can easily be done in the shower too.
By being more mindful about how we interact with others, we can begin to recognise and resist negative or aggressive reactions to those around us, helping us become more empathetic, compassionate and honest. Mindful communication means paying better attention to those around you, experiencing conversations in the present moment rather than thinking ahead, and responding to what has been said rather than just waiting for an opportunity to say what you think. Here are a few tips on how to practise mindful listening:
- Put your phone away – Don’t check your phone when talking to others — pay full attention to the conversation.
- Make eye contact – Maximise your engagement in conversation by giving yourself a physical point of focus that stops your mind from wandering.
- Let Them Finish – Rather than jumping ahead in conversations, allow the speaker to finish talking and ensure you take in as much information as possible.
- Consider the Perspective of Others – As we discussed earlier, mindfulness is about becoming less reactive, and more responsive. Before making quick judgements, allow yourself to fully process conversations and try to see things from alternate perspectives.
Implementing these basic techniques within your daily life can significantly improve your ability to listen and interact with others in a mindful way, making you more present and aware in all areas of life. Exploring everyday mindfulness, while simultaneously looking into and trying out meditation programs and techniques like MBSR or Loving-Kindness meditation can significantly improve your mental health and quality of life. We’re almost done for today — but before we wrap up, let’s recap with 9 top tips for bringing mindfulness meditation into your life.
Do Meditation Apps Work?
Another popular way of accessing the effects of mindfulness meditation interventions in your daily life is by using meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm. But do these apps actually work?
Apps can be a great place to start when you’re looking for techniques to help you relax, but it’s important to remember that meditation is much more than just relaxation. Meditation apps usually offer a quick fix, making grand promises they can’t live up to in order to entice potential customers. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and effort to reap the rewards of meditation and mindfulness practice; if you expect a few hours of meditation app use to improve your quality of life, reduce your blood pressure or alleviate chronic stress, for instance, you’re basically setting yourself up for failure.
It’s also unrealistic to expect a mindful meditation app to provide you with the same level of education that a qualified meditation teacher could. There are a wide variety of different courses and disciplines which tackle mindful meditation in more detail, from Mindfulness-Based Therapy to Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. Try attending a meditation center for education on how to reduce psychological stress and depression symptoms, and at the same time build your own independent practice so that you don’t end up relying on meditation apps as a crutch.
9 Top Tips to Help You Embrace Mindfulness Meditation
- Seek Out the Simple Pleasures in Life
Seeking out simple pleasures that you usually take for granted will bring the essence of mindfulness into your daily life. Enjoy a delicious meal, a hot bath, a bird’s song, or a sunny morning, immersing yourself in that experience and being grateful for its existence.
- Practise Mindful Self Compassion
Be kind to yourself. Use compassion meditation sessions and Loving-kindness exercises to practise self-compassion, forgiveness and acceptance. It’s a cliché, but if you can’t love yourself, how can you be expected to love others?
- Learn More About Mindfulness Psychology
The best ideas from modern psychology can help boost the power of Eastern traditions. Taking a psychological approach to the practice of mindfulness meditation can help us see how much impact we have over our own brains. By learning more about how the mind works, we can devise ways of making positive changes to it.
- Practise Daily Mindfulness Techniques
Whether it’s mindful walking, mindful communication, or a simple body scan, there are many ways you can integrate simple mindfulness techniques into your daily routine, as we’ve discussed. Supplementing formal meditations with this more natural approach can help you increase mind and body awareness, improve your attention skills, and become more grateful for the good things in your life.
- Try Some Guided Meditations
If you’ve got internet access, you’ll be able to access guidance and support on pretty much all forms of meditation. Joining our meditation community will give you access to a number of guided sessions, which are perfect for developing your understanding of mindfulness meditation and giving you the skills to practise on your own.
- Use Breathing Exercises to Cultivate a Peaceful Mind
Breathing exercises can help you cultivate a peaceful mind and get more in touch with your body sensations. Techniques such as Diaphragmatic Breathing, Buteyko Breathing, and Alternate Nostril Breathing can be used in particularly stressful situations, or just as part of your daily routine to help foster calmness, balance, and peace of mind.
- ‘Begin Again’
In mindfulness meditation, every breath is an invitation to ‘Begin Again’. This mantra can be a big help when it comes to normalising mindfulness within your life. Practising meditation can be frustrating, and it’s extremely common to get distracted again and again; repeating to yourself ‘Begin Again’ both in formal practice and in your everyday life can help you face up to situations and challenges with calmness, clarity and resilience. In the long run, this should improve both your mental and physical health.
- See, Hear, Feel
All internal and external sensory experiences can be broken down into 3 categories: See, Hear, and Feel. By labelling our day-to-day experiences based on these categories, we can become better at observing and separating ourselves from our thoughts and feelings, rather than getting caught up in them.
- Practise Acceptance
Practising acceptance on a day-to-day basis can prevent you from getting bogged down by circumstances you can’t control, leading towards a more positive and carefree outlook. Repeating phrases like “I feel down right now, but I won’t always feel this way” either before sleeping, during meditation, or in difficult situations, can help you become a more accepting, equanimous, and tolerant person.
Hopefully, by the time you read this sentence, you’ll have a much better idea of what mindfulness meditation is. But don’t worry, no one expects you to be an expert!
On this page, we’ve explored the spiritual traditions of mindfulness meditation, its application in the modern Western world, and what psychological and medical professionals have to say about its benefits and uses. Speaking of which, we’ve also looked into how mindfulness can be used to help you find internal sources of happiness, increase feelings of empathy and compassion, combat difficult emotions and enhance present moment awareness.
After exploring why you should consider bringing basic mindfulness meditation practices into your life, we offered a step-by-step guide into what a typical session might look like. We also explained how mindfulness can be implemented throughout your day, considering daily mindfulness techniques like mindful walking, mindful eating, and taking a mindful bath.
On the other hand, we considered some more extreme or less well-known mindfulness-based therapies and techniques, which include MBSR, MBCT, Music Meditation, and Open Attention exercises. If you’re interested in diving deeper into mindfulness and finding out how it can have a significant impact on your life, these techniques and methods could be perfect for you.
Finally, our 9 top tips on how to embrace mindfulness meditation recapped and pinned What’s the difference between meditation and mindfulnessdown some of the best techniques and exercises to adopt both in daily life and in formal practice, to help make mindfulness meditation a useful part of your life. Don’t worry if this feels like an information overload — you should take in and try whatever you feel may be beneficial, and gradually build your knowledge of mindfulness meditation and what it can do for you mind and body. The goal of mindfulness isn’t to become an overnight expert; it’s all about gradual gains and improvements in life. If you’d like to continue reading about this subject, check out our article on the difference between meditation and mindfulness.
Frequently asked questions:
Who is Jud Brewer and What Does He Do?
Neuroscientist and author Judson Brewer has done a lot of work on evolutionary-based mental processes like negative reinforcement or negativity bias, explaining how mindfulness can help people increase awareness, reduce anxiety, and break bad habits like smoking or compulsive eating.
He discusses how mindfulness can be used to help us transition from relying on the cognitive control of the prefrontal cortex (which goes offline when we’re stressed) to developing greater clarity and awareness about how our brains are operating. Over time, this can help us let go of old habits and make new, healthier ones.
Jud Brewer’s work encourages participants to be curiously aware, following this pattern: notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go, and repeat. This principle can be particularly useful when it comes to the power of mindfulness for reducing anxiety. Mindfulness can help us to rewire our brains, get rid of unhelpful thought patterns, and combat various different types of anxiety. Generalised feelings of stress and anxiety can be dealt with in this way; however, specific psychological issues like eco-anxiety can also be better understood and managed using mindfulness techniques.
Expanding awareness and attention can allow us to cope with other emotions too, such as frustration, anger and dissatisfaction. Our article on meditation for anger management explores this application in more detail.
What are the 7 principles of mindfulness?
Mindfulness means different things to different people, but broadly speaking, most mindfulness advocates agree on these 7 key principles:
- Present Moment Awareness
- Letting Go
- A Beginner’s Mind Attitude
Any mindful technique or exercise you try is likely to tap into one of these fundamental principles.
How do I live in the moment?
Living in the present moment is a crucial pillar of mindfulness. But what does this actually involve?
The best way to truly live in the moment is to ignore your phone and other distractions, and engage fully with your surroundings. Notice the senses; smells, flavours, sensations, emotions, experiences, and interactions with people. Practise mindful communication. This is living in the present.
Does mindfulness work for anxiety?
Scientific research has shown that mindfulness can help people cope with and reduce anxiety. By changing brain structures related to attention, concentration and emotional regulation, mindfulness practitioners can make themselves better able to deal with anxiety and stress. This process, which can be initiated by consistent daily practice, is called neuroplasticity.
What’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness?
It’s common for people to get confused about the distinctions between meditation and mindfulness. Fundamentally, mindfulness is a quality of the mind as well as a type of meditative practice, whereas meditation is generally a more formal process of training the mind or encouraging peace and relaxation.
Mindfulness meditation intertwines the two ideas using a range of techniques and methods. You can find out more about the differences here.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.
[…] Mindfulness meditation breeds resilience. It weakens the chain of associations that keep people obsessing about their problems or failures, meaning they are more likely to show resilience and try again. Due to the neuroplasticity of our brains, our ability to focus, pay attention, and calm down (the most important responses to facing obstacles) all benefit from meditation. The Zen Buddhist approach to life focuses on how meditation can also help you access your subconscious mind, which is a source of great wisdom and insight. […]
[…] in the present moment, conscious of the senses, and in a state of awareness or concentration. Mindfulness meditation absorbs these principles within a practice which has the potential to significantly boost your […]
[…] the same thing. People may say they meditate every day, but it doesn’t mean they practise mindfulness meditation, and they could say they practice mindfulness throughout the day without sitting down on an item of […]
[…] Reports reveal that many professional athletes also prefer meditation including popular Olympic gold medallists such as Kerri Walsh, May Treanor, and Lebron James. They find it one of the most effective tools to refocus and understand the situations. Classroom meditation practices can also help students to gain more control over their thoughts and with time, they will be able to enjoy the improved focus on studies. You can guide students to follow mindful breathing practices along with a mindfulness course. […]