It took me several years to fully understand meditation, but once I did, I realized that it is actually quite simple. In fact, it is so simple that I can teach it in less than an hour. In this article, I’ll cover the “what, why, and how” of mindfulness meditation in its simplest form, so you don’t have to spend years trying to figure it out like I did.
Mindfulness meditation, sometimes called mindful meditation, is a non-religious form of meditation that is basically a training of the mind to help us calm our mind, and live in the present moment. The main goal of the practice is to attain freedom from suffering. We accomplish this by developing self-awareness, or mindfulness, because it is our inaccurate views of the world that trigger our painful emotions and harmful actions.
With mindfulness meditation, we can develop an awareness of the true nature of reality. By observing what is happening within our mind, body, emotions, and the world around us, we’ll begin to see the sources of our suffering. Then we can work to transform them, so we can be free of them once and for all.
There are various techniques in the mindfulness meditation practice. But it generally involves relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, guided imagery, and awareness of the body, mind, and emotions.((WellMind: How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation )) These techniques are designed to calm your mind, so you can become a more objective observer of yourself and the world around you.
There is a great deal of confusion about what mindfulness meditation is, as it relates to meditation. The term “meditation” refers to the practice in general. It describes a group of practices that are designed to help calm and focus the mind. The term “mindfulness meditation” refers to a specific form of meditation, as describe above.
You see, there are several different forms of meditation, such as transcendental meditation, relaxation meditation, and contemplative meditation. In addition, most religions have their own form of meditation. While the various practices are similar, their goals and techniques can vary.
My general advice to beginning meditators is to pick one form of meditation, and learn that practice well. Then, if you find that that form doesn’t suit you so well, feel free to try another form.
If you begin by dabbling in all different forms, you probably won’t become proficient with any of them, and your results will be poor. And when you don’t see much results, you’ll just end up quitting within a short period of time.
You’re probably wondering why you should practice mindfulness meditation. Well, there are so many benefits that I could write a whole chapter to explain them all, and the scientific research behind them. Here is a summary of what you can expect:
Researchers have discovered that mindful meditation helps people overcome many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and chronic illnesses, which cost millions of dollars in healthcare—not to mention all the pain and suffering. The practice also improves the immune system, and slows the aging process.((HelpGuide: Benefits of Mindfulness ))
Numerous studies have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation improves people’s ability to cope with the pressures of modern life, and avoid the health consequences. By calming their mind, they calm their emotions and achieve greater peace of mind. This also leads to better sleep at night. ((UK Telegraph: Mindfulness meditation lowers stress hormone and decreases inflammation in body, scientists find ))
Mindfulness meditation is so effective in treating mental and emotional disorders that mental health professionals are now using the practice to treat various conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, and more. Practitioners are also reporting higher self-esteem and self-confidence.((Science Direct: Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training ))
Mindfulness meditation helps practitioners improve their relationships by gaining greater control over their emotions, and by learning how to practice such skills as deep listening, mindful speech, and forgiveness.
Those who practice mindfulness meditation tend to be more outgoing. They develop greater love, compassion, and understanding of other people. This leads to them becoming more open and receptive to others.
Also, as they develop greater inner strength, they become more resilient to personal attacks.
Researchers have also found that mindfulness meditation helps people enhance their mental capabilities, such as concentration, abstract thinking, memory, and creativity.
Studies have shown that the practice has many benefits to organizations, such as reduced stress levels, lower healthcare costs, greater teamwork, increased productivity, greater leadership, and increased profitability.
As you can see, the mindfulness meditation practice can improve your life in so many ways. And the great thing about it is that there are no negative side effects, which are usually associated with most medications used to treat physical and mental illnesses.
The mindfulness meditation practice is quite diverse. There are various techniques you can incorporate into your busy schedule, some of which don’t require you to sit in meditation. Here are the main techniques.
At the heart of the mindfulness meditation practice is the sitting meditation session. This meditation session usually consists of 3 parts: relaxation meditation, concentration meditation, and mindful meditation. They are described below.
You generally want to pick a quiet time and place to meditate. The time of day you meditate is entirely up to you, but you want to choose a time when you feel alert, as you are trying to develop awareness.
You can sit either in a chair or a meditation cushion, whichever you prefer. Don’t meditate lying down, as you’ll probably fall asleep. The whole idea of the sitting position is to be alert and comfortable. The position of your hands is also a matter of choice. You can either hold them interlaced in front of you, or simply resting on your thighs.
Remember, the goal of mindfulness meditation is to develop mindfulness. That is, we want to be able to observe ourselves objectively. But we can’t do that if our mind is agitated, and we can’t have a peaceful mind if our body is tense. That’s why we usually start a meditation session with a short relaxation meditation.
To practice relaxation meditation, close your eyes, and begin following your breath. After a couple of minutes, turn your attention to your body, beginning at the top of your head. As you slowly move your attention down through your body, make a conscious effort to relax the muscles in each body part as you exhale each breath. This relaxation meditation should take about 5 minutes.
The next part of a mindfulness meditation session is concentration meditation. If we want to observe something on a deeper level, then we need to be able to keep our attention on it. Concentration meditation will help you develop mental discipline.
If your mind is agitated, then your observations will only be superficial. Concentration meditation will help you steady your mind, so you’re able to observe things on a deeper level. This process is the key to developing greater understanding, that is, wisdom.
For example, if we have a painful emotion we don’t understand that keeps coming up, then we need to be able to keep our attention on it in order to identify the source. Only then can we transform it, so that it ceases to cause us pain and suffering.
To practice concentration meditation, begin counting your breaths 1 through 5 silently in your mind. When you get to 5, simply start over again. Keep your attention focused on the air passing through the tip of your nose. When you find that your mind has wandered, immediately bring your attention back to your breath.
Concentration meditation can be challenging, but it’s important to do your best to keep your attention on your focal point. Your mind is going to wander a lot. That’s normal. Just keep bringing it back to the air passing through the tip of your nose. It will get easier as you progress.
After doing relaxation and concentration meditation, you are then ready to do mindfulness meditation. The relaxation meditation has helped your body and mind relax, and the concentration meditation has helped you focus your attention. You are then better prepared to observe things on a deeper level.
Remember that the mindfulness meditation practice is a training of the mind. We are training our mind to see with greater clarity. Then we take our improved observation skills and apply them to everyday life. It is much like training in the gym, so we can perform better in sports.
After a few minutes of concentration meditation, transition to mindful meditation. Continue observing your breath. However, instead of counting each one, observe the entire breathing process mindfully. Observe it in a more relaxed manner, without forcing your mind like you did with concentration meditation. When distracting thoughts arise, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
An alternative to the mindful meditation portion of your meditation session is emotional awareness meditation. As the name implies, you’re training yourself to observe your emotions. Over time, this type of meditation will help you gain more control over your emotions, and develop greater inner strength.
To practice emotional awareness meditation, do the relaxation and concentration meditations first. When you finish the concentration meditation, turn your attention to your emotions. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Are you feeling happy, sad, angry, lonely, hurt, restless, bored, or some other emotion?
Some emotions arising from your subconscious mind may be quite subtle, and harder to identify. They tend to manifest themselves into a general mood without seemingly any rhyme or reason.
Emotional awareness meditation can be more involved than this, but for now, simply focus on identifying the emotions. If you feel ready, you are welcome to explore those emotions deeper. Look at the thinking behind them, and try to look at the situations differently, that is, from a broader perspective.
The mindfulness meditation practice has several tools and techniques besides sitting meditation to help you develop mindfulness. Here are a few simple tools you can use.
This is something you can do if you are too restless to do sitting meditation. You can also do it in lieu of the relaxation meditation. Walking meditation is another way to help calm your restless body and mind.
The way to practice walking meditation is simple. Preferably, go some place that is quiet, and has beautiful scenery. Begin walking at a much slower pace than normal. Apply the same techniques used in concentration and mindful meditation described above. But instead of focusing your attention on your breath, focus on your footsteps.
Alternatively, you can focus your attention on your whole body as you walk. Notice the movements of each body part as you take each step.
A variation of the walking meditation is mindful walking. The techniques are the same, but instead of making a meditation session out of walking, practice mindful walking during the normal course of your daily routine. For example, when you’re walking around at work, home, or any other place, walk mindfully instead of getting on your cell phone, or letting your mind wander aimlessly.
What mindful walking will do is prevent your mind from getting too agitated. And the great thing about it is that you can do it anytime of the day without taking up any of your valuable time.
This is a technique I developed to help people reprogram their subconscious by assimilating positive affirmations, mainly the loving-kindness meditation practiced in Eastern traditions.((Psych Central: Reprogram Your Brain to Improve Relationships and Heal Past Wounds)) The affirmations are basically meant to help you become more loving, compassionate, understanding, etc. It also helps you stay committed to your practice.
Instead of reciting, listening to, or meditating on the loving-kindness meditation, you simply copy the affirmations by hand in a notebook. You do this for about 10 minutes a day. That’s it. You can do it at any time, and you don’t even need a quiet environment.
After a few days, the affirmations will begin manifesting themselves in your behavior, as your attitudes about other people will begin to change. It is great for healing and improving your relationships.
You can turn just about any activity into mindfulness meditation. Choose an activity that requires little attention, such as washing dishes or folding clothes. These types of activities are so routine that we do them without thinking, and we usually just let our mind wander off. Now you can use them to help you develop mindfulness.
To perform activities mindfully, start by doing them slower. Don’t be in a hurry to finish them, like you usually do. Pay close attention to every action you are performing. For example, when folding clothes, pay close attention to how you’re folding them, how the clean clothes smell, and how they feel to the touch. You may even want to fold them a little neater than you usually do.
I know this may sound boring and unproductive, but it’s quite the contrary. What you’re doing is calming your mind, and keeping yourself grounded in the present moment, where all reality is taking place. And when you calm your mind, you’ll begin to see the whole world on a much deeper level. Now, how exciting is that?
“It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.” — Confucius
The great thing about mindfulness meditation practice is that it is flexible. There are several techniques you can combine to suit your lifestyle and busy schedule. You can also change things up, so you don’t get bored, or if things change in your life.
If you’re new to the practice, I would start with about 5-10 minutes of sitting meditation, that is, sitting quietly doing the relaxation, concentration, and mindfulness meditations described above. Gradually increase the duration of your sitting meditation sessions to about 20 minutes or more.
I would also suggest adding some walking meditation, loving-kindness writing meditation, or mindful activity to your routine. These not only will help you calm your mind, but they will also keep your mind from getting so agitated in the first place.
It’s important to practice regularly, such as every day or every other day. It’s okay if you miss a few days. Just try to get back on your routine as soon as you can. Also, don’t be hard on yourself if you struggle with the practice in the beginning.
As you meditate, you may notice things going on in your mind that you never saw before. That’s normal. It is the arising of mindfulness, and part of the learning process.
Over time, you will become more observant, and everything around you will become clearer. Not only will you be able to see everything on a deeper level, but you will also begin to see how everything is interconnected. When this happens, the whole world becomes new and exciting again. This is enlightenment.
As you can see, mindfulness meditation is not as complicated as you may have thought, and the benefits are tremendous. Sure, there is more to the practice than I have described here, but the basics are quite simple. Remember that you don’t have to do it perfectly to get the benefits. You just have to do it.
One of the great things about the practice is that you can realize some of the benefits rather quickly, especially with the loving-kindness writing meditation. That is a simple practice that yields tremendous results.
The benefits are real, and well within your reach. Just imagine what your life would be like with better health, more control over your emotions, better relationships, and better sleep. Your life would certainly be much more fulfilling.
Here I’ve given you a blueprint to help you get started. If you’re serious about learning how to meditate, I suggest you print this article, read it again, and keep it as a reference. Then get started, and soon you’ll begin to realize the peace and happiness you’ve been searching for your whole life. Good luck!