Practicing Mindfulness

It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in our surroundings. Whether they be our immediate physical surroundings or our digital surroundings such as social media, everything is going non stop. With these constant happenings around us it becomes so easy to fixate on small things such as someone else’s life, some future deadline, or even something that we don’t like about ourselves. We begin to fixate on things that don’t even matter in the grand scheme of things. The subject of our fixations cause our minds to wander, we often become upset or anxious, we begin to feel stressed. The, perhaps simple, solution to this is to practice mindfulness and to stop our minds from wandering all together.

Have you ever been worked up about something so small and then it snowballs and ruins a good portion of you day? I know I have. Sometimes it’s something as mundane as one of my roommates leaving a drop of coffee on the counter that I just cleaned last night. Sure, in the moment it’s frustrating because I did just clean the kitchen last night. But, in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Then, that drop of coffee escalates because no one unloaded the dishwasher or put away the dishes in the drying rack. Now I’m angry because I’m thinking about all the times that I’ve taken the time to clean up the shared space in the house and that my roommates don’t help out as much as I think I do. And, just like that I’ve gotten all worked up and I’m in a bad mood for the rest of the morning.

There are a number of ways to practice mindfulness. You can be mindful of your thoughts when something triggers a negative response, such as a dried drop of coffee on the kitchen counter. In that moment you can bring your attention to the present and remind yourself that it’s really no big deal. However, I want to focus this post on meditation primarily because it is something that I have recently started doing and am already seeing the benefits of it. Before I really get into it, I want to remind you that I am new to this journey, but I would still like to share it.

Meditation – The How To

In theory, meditation is quite simple. To begin, you assume a comfortable position, usually sitting crosslegged on a cushion with your eyes closed. Then, all you do is breath naturally and focus on each breath and how your body moves with each breath. Some people find it easier to repeat a mantra such as buddho, where you focus the in breath on the “bud” syllable and “dho” on the out breath. From most of what I read, this should be repeated for at least twenty minutes. During that time, if your mind does wander, it’s fine, but as soon as you notice it doing so, return your attention to your mantra.

Again, in theory this sounds really easy. However, in practice, focusing on your breathing for twenty minutes without letting your mind wander too often is challenging. I have yet to make it through a full twenty minutes without my mind wandering off in some direction, I am getting better at it though! It is also important to note that if your mind does wander, you aren’t to be upset by this or to punish yourself by restarting the twenty minutes. You just need to accept that it wandered and return your attention to your breathing.

Meditation – Why Do It?

Now for the fun stuff. Other than maybe taking a nice twenty minute break from your busy life, why should you consider meditating? As it turns out, there are many benefits to meditation! In the 70’s a Harvard Medical School professor, Herbert Benson, actually studied a group of people who practiced transcendental mediation. At the time, this work by Benson lead many to consider him to be a bit of a quack, but later studies have begun to restore his reputation. Regular meditation has been shown to help with:

  1. Reduces Stress
  2. Improves Focus
  3. Improves Sense of Wellbeing
  4. Improves Memory and Creativity
  5. Enhances Your Immune System
  6. Enhance Cardiovascular Health
  7. Reduces Physical and Emotional Pain

What these all have in common is stress. Stress in small doses can be good for us, such as keeping us alert. However, stress is often more destructive to us than constructive. It is estimated that 75%-90% of all doctor’s visits are related to stress induced ailments. This isn’t too surprising, we live in an age where we feel the constant pressure to be more, do more, do better, and be perfect. Who wouldn’t be stressed? The problem is that when we are stressed, our bodies release hormones that increase blood pressure and boost energy. Essentially, stress is hard on your body. It can cause you to lose sleep, crave comfort foods, lower your self esteem, and contribute to a myriad of other things that are negative to your health. This is why meditation helps. When you force your mind to focus on one thing, such as your own breathing, it can’t go off and trigger stress responses by thinking about that deadline you have to meet. By practicing this regularly, you reduce the effects of the stress response on your body and actually change the way your body responds to stress.

Meditation – The Take Away

It’s pretty easy to conclude that meditating is good for you. You don’t even have to do it every day. By meditating, you induce a relaxation effect and the more often it is practiced, the more significant the benefits. The added benefit of meditation is that there are different types of meditation. If you are interested in taking up meditation, here’s a link explaining the different kinds of mediation: Visual Meditation.

Although I am still new to this whole idea of meditating, I’m beginning to notice positive changes in my life. I get less irritated by things, I feel more relaxed, and I feel much happier. My first exposure to meditation was through a family friend who would go on silent meditation retreats. At first I thought she was a bit weird for doing it, but as I started to do my research I figured why not try it? All I have to lose is twenty minutes here and there.

The reason I wanted to share this post was because we often forget that we need to take care of our minds in order to take care of our bodies. We often forget to take care of how we feel because we can’t see that. A healthy looking exterior does not mean a happy interior. By practicing being mindful I’ve been able to let go of things that really don’t matter. Meditation can’t and won’t get rid of all of the problems a person may experience, but it can help them deal with it in a healthy way.

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