25 May Part 2: Why Meditate? And what is Mindfulness?
“One does not practice meditation to become a great meditator. We meditate to wake up and live, to become skilled at the art of living. The thing about meditation is you become more and more you.”
I would love to accredit this wonderful quote to someone. It really sums up why one embarks on a meditation practice.
We tend to relate to our environment cognitively, that is through the lens of our thoughts. Our likes, dislikes, and past experiences shape how we approach this moment, even though most of the time the past has no bearing on now. Through meditation, we can interrupt this autopilot. Living in our heads constantly creates a barrier to experiencing what is truly going on in reality. Are we living in and through our thoughts? (thinking about what might be going on based on what we know, thinking about the past or the future). Or are we experiencing reality as it is? Meditation and mindfulness helps us to learn about our minds, what makes us tick, what triggers a reaction or what makes us uncomfortable. With practice and over time, we can learn to respond mindfully rather than automatically react.
This understanding of ourselves, whilst being kind and non-judgemental about what we find, improves the relationship we have with ourselves and those around us.
The physical and mental health benefits are many too! Here are some of the key benefits:
1: Understand your pain. Paying attention to your senses can help you to re-connect with your body and learn where is causing the problem.
2: Lower your stress. Meditation helps to regulate emotions, meaning we are less likely to trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response in the face of a perceived stressful situation.
3: Connect better. Becoming kinder to ourselves, giving ourselves more empathy naturally leads to an appreciation of another – we all are going through personal battles so we can connect on a deeper level.
4: Improve focus. The concentration we apply during meditation to remain focused on the breath strengthens the neurons in our brain responsible for attention, memory & focus.
5: Reduce brain chatter. We learn to notice the constant chatter that is always there and the content begins to be of less importance.
Few digestible sources for further reading:
The benefits of a meditation practice may be very subtle. Perhaps the external rewards are non-existent, but over time it cultivates a greater connection to the present moment as we wake up to our body, mind & senses – this can be called mindfulness.
Although the term mindfulness may seem distant to us, reserved for Buddhist monks only, it is in fact a universal human ability that we will all possess. It’s about accessing it rather than trying to create it. The definitions are varying, but at its core, mindfulness is simply being aware of where we are and what we are doing, feeling with a sense of curiosity without over-reacting or judging what we may find.
So the formal meditation practice strengthens the quality of mindfulness, which we can apply all day every day at any moment. Mindfulness and the human abilities of attention, awareness, and acceptance, which perhaps have gotten lost in the whirlwind of our lives, grow with practice over time. Whether on the cushion or chair, this training can help us meet the many things that arise in our daily lives, and enable us to fully experience them, with all our senses.
6 tips to meditation:
1: Begin by sitting. This will give more comfort and endurance. Standing or lying down is fine at times when appropriate, but standing gets tiresome for long periods. Lying down can also lead to sleep.
2: Close your eyes. Shutting of this sense-perception helps us turn inside.
3: Breathe naturally. Let the air flow naturally and peacefully, as it does usually.
4: Release physical tension. Listen to your body’s signals and relax muscle groups as needed.
5: Allow the mind to be. Many thoughts racing are normal. Allow them to pass without attaching meaning to them.
6: Have patience. This is not a quick fix to ‘get it’ – allow time.
If you are beginning to practice regularly, you may want to explore different posture which could be more suitable to your body and practice. Here are a few ideas on different postures that you can try from the meditation app Headspace: www.headspace.com/meditation/positions.
*It is important to consult a health practitioner before trying any breathing or stretching exercises, especially with any underlying health conditions.
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