The what, how, and why of mindfulness
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of meditation? Is it something positive or negative? Or is it just a mental health buzzword with no actual relation to your daily life?
Meditation is a simple concept that we tend to overcomplicate. Here are the bare bones of what meditation actually is, how to practice, and the ways it can be beneficial in your life.
What is meditation?
Basically... you sit still and do nothing.
That’s it! Well, sort of. The textbook definition says that meditation is “to engage in a mental exercise for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation”. But it’s much more than that. The easiest way to think of it is like a workout or a good stretch for your brain. By practicing meditation on a regular basis, you’re developing the ability to remain emotionally calm and mentally clear in your day-to-day life.
The vague, distant goal of meditation is to reach a mental state free of racing thoughts and uncontrolled wandering. In most meditation practices, you’re not supposed to ‘try’ to do anything when you meditate. Let the thoughts come and go, focus on your breath, and don’t try to ‘stop thinking’.
A lot of people give up on their practice because they feel like they’re thinking too much during meditation, but that is part of the practice! When you sit still with your thoughts, you observe your own consciousness going a mile a minute, thoughts zipping past and wildly meandering down tangents and detours. The more often you practice, the more your thoughts begin to focus and become more still. But a session is successful even if you don’t ‘disappear’ or lose track of time.
Meditation is simply sitting with your thoughts and noting them as they pass by.
In each session, you’re gently guiding your brain to discover the power that you have within your own mind. It’s like starting a new workout routine: the first time you hop on a treadmill is going to be a challenge, but the more you keep at it, the easier it gets. Meditation can work the exact same way.
The first few times you meditate, it may be a struggle to focus your mind or to find peace with your thoughts, but you’ll get there. Through each practice, you’re sharpening your mind’s ability to concentrate, stay positive, and be present.
How do you meditate?
We know how overwhelming it can be to start a practice if you’re never given meditation a shot. Thankfully, there are many resources out there to help you get started: books, Youtube videos, meditation apps, and wellness studios. In a perfect world, you’d be able to sit down with a meditation instructor and they would create a tailor-made practice that matches with your goals in bettering yourself. We get it though: why meet with an instructor when there are free, readily accessible resources waiting at your fingertips?
Remember: you already have everything you need to meditate anytime and anywhere.
Let’s try a short beginner meditation together...
Don’t try to stop thinking or empty your mind, we’re just going to sit for a couple of minutes and focus on our breath. The goal here is being aware of your thoughts, not stopping them.
Get comfortable. Find somewhere quiet where you’ll feel good sitting still for a few minutes.
Inhale, exhale. Breathe normally and observe the way your breath rises and falls. Notice where you feel the breath move in your body: chest, belly, nose…
Do this for 2-3 minutes. Keep your attention on your breath. If your attention wanders somewhere else, just gently refocus on your breathing.
That’s it! How was it? Did you find your thoughts wandering to your to-do list or worrying about something you have to do for work? That’s totally normal. This is an opportunity to step back and notice how busy your thoughts are, and to understand just how unfocused the mind can be. Thinking about what you have to do, or should have done, or want to do is not being present in the moment. Only by practicing this act of focusing the mind can we train it to stay on track.
When you’re ready for a longer meditation, even just five or ten minutes, use these 10 easy steps to meditation as a guide to get started on your own.
Your first few weeks meditating will include some trial and error, too. Maybe you find yourself frustrated that your thoughts feel like they race out of your control, or you get frustrated when your thoughts go to random places when you attempt to “focus on your breath.” Don’t get discouraged, and keep going! There’s a reason it’s called a ‘practice’ and not a performance. You’ll always be working on it.
Why is meditation useful?
Meditation is a practice that only gets better with time and, if done properly, you’ll have more ability to control your reactions to the hundreds of thoughts that enter your mind each and every day. Yes, that means being able to stand up to those depressive, anxious, impulsive thoughts, or any other thoughts that are impacting your mental health in a negative way.
Here are some of the many benefits of regular meditation:
More compassion for others
Feel more in tune with your body
Less aggressive or reactive behavior
Reduced symptoms of depression or anxiety
And the list goes on.
A consistent practice can have a powerful impact on the way your mind reacts to negative situations or feelings. When you’re struggling with your mental health, it can feel like your mind is being hijacked. But in some cases, meditation can help train your brain to acknowledge these emotions and move on—without allowing them to consume you.
It’s really that simple.
Whether your struggle is ongoing, or you’re taking proactive steps for your mental health, meditation can be a wildly helpful practice to undertake. Meditation isn’t just another trend going around social media, there are real benefits that can help you. Give it a chance, and you may find that your mind is capable of much more than you ever realized.