Mindfulness is a big deal these days, but there are still many people who haven’t heard of it. If you are one of these, you may have thought that this is just the next big craze – it’s just a fad that will go away! And while the interest in mindfulness may decrease a bit over time, it’s likely that there will continue to be a big following that continues on with it. So if you’re new to it, here is a brief introduction to mindfulness.
What it Is
There are a couple of different types of meditation practices. The “meditation” most of us probably think about is a focused meditation where someone sits cross-legged and stays intent on one thing – either a spot on the wall, or the breath, and continues to bring the attention back to that focal point any time it wanders. This can be very helpful with decreasing anxiety, as well as lowering blood pressure.
Mindfulness is an open awareness type of meditation practice. Mindfulness is an accepting, present moment awareness. This means your attention can move during the practice. Topics of attention include the breath and body, thoughts, and emotions. It combines and develops qualities of awareness, acceptance, kindness and compassion, curiosity, and a bit of courage, persistence, and humor. It’s totally glorified sitting, but for good reason! That act of “sitting”, and being present with what is in the here and now, being aware and tolerant of all that IS, trains us to create space around our lives. Emotional tolerance (for ourselves and others) enables us to work more effectively in our workplace, in our homes, and in our interactions with others. Mental flexibility that is created increases our daily functioning. That time spent sitting, to all outward appearances doing “nothing”, can have a huge impact on a person’s speed in accomplishing tasks throughout the rest of the day.
Mindful self-compassion and yoga are also classified by some as other types of meditation, and volumes of information could be said about each of these. Mindful self-compassion is a meditation where you focus specifically on ideas that cultivate self-compassion. In yoga you practice present moment awareness, with emphasis on awareness of the body.
Benefits of mindfulness and focused meditation
We live in a fast paced world with information available to us 24/7. There is always something more we can or should fit into our schedules. Something more we should keep up with in the news; friends to keep in touch with; family to stay connected to (or make repairs with); and more to learn to keep up with our training, education, or interests. We multi-task until we become noticeably less effective, we schedule ourselves thin until we are ready to have a break down. We ignore our need for rest, down time, and self-care until we become sick. There are exceptions to each of these statements, of course. However, as a general rule we are in great need of slowing down as a society. Many of you will read that statement and think “Ha! I wish! There’s no way…”
It won’t be possible for everyone who reads this page to add an hour of exercise into their daily schedule, to get a massage every week, or even see a therapist on a regular basis! Although research results are associated with those who have meditated for longer periods of time (about 45 minutes a day), I have personally seen many clients benefit from shorter periods of meditation when it is done on a regular basis.
Here are some of the benefits of meditation:
- Mental clarity
- Personal accountability
- Widened space between stimulus and response
- Increased connection with others
- Decreased intensity of unpleasant emotions
- Increased emotional regulation
- Increased understanding of others
- Increased self-confidence, self-esteem
- Acceptance of self and others
- Increased effectiveness
- Decreased stress levels
- Decreased insomnia
- Increased ability to cope with cravings
- Increased ability to cope with pain
- Focus, attention
- Decreased impulsivity
I’m aware that this is a really long list! Not only are these benefits supported by research, I have also seen them in my own practice and in the practice of my clients. The benefits of mindfulness meditation practice will be different for everyone, and there will be more benefits noticed by those who practice more regularly and for longer periods of time. However, even in smaller increments of time, a mindfulness practice can have significant results.
When meditation isn’t a good thing (?!)
Meditation is a good thing. It’s a really good thing. However, if you have a history of trauma or experience dissociative symptoms (“out of body”) and are beginning a meditation practice, it is recommended to have some support or guidance in your practice. It is not unusual for someone to block out or disconnect from their emotions in the face of an overwhelming or traumatic experience. Since mindfulness is about awareness and staying present with the uncomfortable, the practice has the potential to open up the door to a lot of suppressed emotions. Just as those emotions were overwhelming before, they can be overwhelming in the present – even though the threat may have long since passed. Having an experienced practitioner to guide you through this process can be very helpful. Mindfulness is not impossible for those who have experienced trauma, but it needs to be approached gently, with a lot of attention to kindness and acceptance of the need for pacing.
Mindfulness can also be a bit of a challenge if you experience paranoia or severe depression. Again, attention to kindness, acceptance, and pacing are important. For some individuals, a mindful self-compassion practice can be key… And for some individuals, starting a mindful self-compassion practice can open up a reservoir of pain that can be truly intense. Attention, kindness, acceptance, and pacing! Having a guide through your experience may be necessary.
With that said, mindfulness principles can be helpful to all of us.
Yoga as a “back door”
Yoga may be a great beginning for those who find mindfulness to challenging. Yoga incorporates elements of mindfulness within its practice but focuses specifically on the body. Since directed movement is also a part of yoga, the attention is not so much on the emotional experience (although it may come up) as much as the physical. This can be a great way to begin a practice of awareness.
Guided meditations and resources
- There are many guided meditations online that can be found with a “free guided meditation” search on the internet. Tara Brach is one that has free meditations on her website.
- There are several apps available as well. “Insight Timer” has a plethora of guided meditations, and I use it regularly. HeadSpace is another option.
- Mindfulness, an Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic Worldby Mark Williams & Danny Penman is a good book that includes guided meditations.
- Mindful self-compassion gurus include Chris Germer and Kristin Neff (both have websites with guided meditations).
- Online instruction will be available soon in a program available through my website. There is a free brief introductory course, as well as a longer course with more instruction.
- I often blend mindfulness principles and practices into therapy and coaching work with clients.
Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!