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Mindfulness and meditation are hot topics these days and both are given a lot of press for helping people survive the stresses of modern living.
If you hear the two terms but don’t fully understand what they mean or how they differ to each other then you’re not alone.
Here is a handy guide to each, to help you decide if they are something you would like to incorporate into your daily life.
The principal of mindfulness is to be more present in daily life. This means consciously bringing your attention to the experiences and sensations happening in the current moment, rather than letting your mind drift away into the past or future, as they are prone to do.
It is common to spend time looking backwards into past events; analysing actions, feeling regret, thinking about things other people have said or done or wishing to re-write history. Your mind naturally does this to enable you to learn from past mistakes, which assists your future decisions. However, spending too much time in the past can cause you to miss what is happening today, as well as encouraging feelings of depression, grief or powerlessness.
The same can be said for spending mental time in the future; planning, considering scenarios, predicting outcomes and goal-setting. It can be great to daydream or visualise where you want your life to go, but much like looking backwards, if you spend too much time thinking ahead then you miss what is happening right now. A lot of time spent with your head in the future can encourage feelings of stress or anxiety.
Living in the present—being mindful about what is happening to and around you—encourages gratitude for the life you are living today and allows you to enjoy things more fully without your head being off elsewhere. You can do this in any situation (which is not so easy with meditation).
Being mindful is something that requires conscious and regular practice before it becomes more of an automatic way of being, but over time your brain can be trained to automatically think in a more mindful manner and you may find that your reactions to external factors can become calmer as a result.
Ways to practice mindfulness:
- Engage in hobbies that require constant concentration on your actions, such as crafts, colouring, jigsaws, puzzles, anything that takes all of your focus.
- Use certain times or actions of the day act as a trigger to be mindful. For instance when showering, which is a common time to let your thoughts run into planning the day ahead, aim to bring your consciousness back to the present and enjoy the sensations you’re experiencing; the feel of the heat on your skin, the sound of the running water, the smell of the products and the way your body feels that day.
- Study something intently: a flower, a piece of art, the sky, a photograph, anything that holds your attention.
- Tune in to your five senses. Be aware of how things taste, look, smell, sound and feel. This can help keep you in the moment as well as bringing previously unnoticed joys to every day events.
- Some of the reported benefits of mindfulness include:
- Stress reduction
- Lowered feelings of depression or anxiety
- Improved sleeping
- Lowered blood pressure
- Enhanced coping abilities
- Increased feelings of gratitude
Meditation is a practice of quietening the constant chatter of your mind and letting your body sit in studied stillness. The idea is to clear your mind of thoughts and simply be. If a thought comes into your mind, you can gently acknowledge it and then let it go, returning to the still mind-state of meditation.
To meditate, find a quiet, comfortable space and sit in an upright position to allow deep and easy breathing. It can help to mark an area of your home as the space you meditate in and make it a calming and comfortable place to return to. This will encourage your mind to settle before the meditation even begins.
There are a number different ways mediation can be practised:
- Eyes closed
- Eyes open (focusing on a set spot or a flickering candle can help with this)
- In silence
- Listening to gentle music or natural sounds
- Guided by another person or recording, which could involve visualising yourself in a soothing place (such as a forest or by the sea) or exploring a particular topic or feeling.
- Concentrating on the in-and-out action of your breath
- Repeating a mantra that resonates with you, keeping it slow in rhythm with your breath
Time can pass quite slowly when you first begin to meditate, especially in silence. Starting with sessions of a few minutes at a time would be a good introduction, building up the duration over time. Much like mindfulness, it is something that requires regular and consistent practice to improve your technique.
Some of the reported benefits of meditation include:
• Reduced stress
• Lengthened attention span
• Possible reduction of age-related memory loss
• Lowered blood pressure
• Improved general health
Incorporating Them into Your Life
Both mindfulness and meditation carry a long list of health benefits and no known negative side effects. They can be done in conjunction with each other or alone.
The key is not to stress over doing either of them correctly, they are called 'practices' for a reason and some sessions will go more smoothly than others.
Relax, try out different methods and do whatever feels best for you.