Do you have friends and family members who encourage you to “live in the moment”? Do you have difficulties doing just that?
Are you always thinking about the mistakes of the past or pondering what’s going to happen in the future? Do those constant thoughts about past experiences and fears about future challenges make you stressed and anxious?
If so, you’re not alone. Everyone’s mind wanders. Just close your eyes for a few minutes and your brain probably won’t start thinking about how you feel today but will more than likely revisit yesterday’s lunch with your co-workers, move ahead to all that planning you need to do for your upcoming trip, or reflect on how you’re going to handle that important chat with your spouse later tonight.
So how do you stop that from happening…and why should you rein in those thoughts of past and future in favor of being “in the moment”? And how can being “mindful” of what’s happening now help reduce your stress level?
What is mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness teaches you to pay attention to the present. Sounds easy, right? But it really isn’t. For most people, mindfulness – a focus on the “now” – needs to be practiced. But before that, it needs to be learned, and working with a counselor or a coach is a great place to start.
Basically, mindfulness meditation revolves around breathing, mental imagery, and awareness of body and mind. It doesn’t require any expensive props or tools and can benefit the user even if it’s done for only a handful of minutes each day. Furthermore, it can be practiced anywhere at any time.
The idea of mindfulness meditation has actually been around for quite some time. Research shows that it has been part of daily rituals for Buddhist monks for the last 2000 years. In more modern times, researchers such as Herbert Benson – a pioneer of scientific research on meditation – wrote dissertations in the 1970s that praised meditation and the idea of mindfulness, stating that blood it had the ability to reduce blood pressure, slow racing hearts, and alter brain activity to a more relaxed state.
Then, in 1979, University of Massachusetts Medical School professor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, developed the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program, which is now used widely around the world to help individuals combat stress and anxiety and deal with chronic pain and/or other ailments. It’s been employed in schools and universities, businesses, sports teams, prisons, hospitals, and even in the military. Kabat-Zinn’s program has helped countless individuals deal with difficult environments, avoid burnout, and learn how to cope with stress as well as other disorders or illnesses.
Why choose mindfulness meditation?
We are constantly coping with stress. Truly, very few people can attest to being anxiety-free. Things like modern technology, TV, and social media often add to that anxiety. That means that most of us would benefit from learning mindfulness meditation, even if we feel that our problems aren’t overwhelming.
But if you are experiencing family issues, marriage problems, job-related anxiety, illness, or anything else that puts undo stress on your life – stress that is interfering with daily activities – mindfulness may certainly be the right tool for you.
At first you might be resistant to giving mindfulness meditation a try. That’s natural. Maybe you have a mistaken image of what meditation and mindfulness really are. Many people do. But it’s wise to remember that it has nothing to do with going into a trance or emptying your mind or letting someone else “into your head”. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s not about stopping your thoughts or emotions but, rather, noticing them without judgment. It allows you to be “alone” with your thoughts, which – naturally- can be scary at first but helpful as you continue to delve further into this practice.
How do I get started?
If you’re brand new to meditation of any sort, it’s helpful to have a guide. If your counselor or therapist has suggested you might benefit from mindfulness meditation, that person will likely help you get started and keep assisting you until you’re confident you can practice mindfulness meditation on your own.
There’s really nothing you need to do to prepare for this kind of therapy. Just bring yourself and an open mind. Mindfulness meditation works best when you begin with a good attitude and the knowledge that this practice could help you make huge changes in your life, beginning with a noticeable reduction in stress.
Mindfulness meditation is also most advantageous when you learn to commit to the practice. Whether that means getting up a few minutes early each morning to spend 10 minutes on mindfulness, taking a mid-afternoon break, or finding some alone time before bed, consistent practice not only helps you get better at slowing down those racing thoughts and getting rid of negativity, but it also allows you to develop a tool you can call upon for the rest of your life.