Meditation is the mental exercise of focusing all your attention, moment after moment, on the object of meditation. This can be your breath, visualization, mantra, anything. During the session, the effort is to keep bringing the attention back whenever it wanders, and to disengage it from being occupied with other things.
“Mindfulness” is the practice of being aware in the present moment, a space of noticing the state of things (internal or external) without judgment. It can be said to be a type of meditation, or a way to integrate meditation in daily life activities.
Thinking about the past—blaming and judging yourself—or worrying about the future can often lead to a degree of stress that is overwhelming. But by staying calm and focused in the present moment, you can bring your nervous system back into balance. Mindfulness can be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, eating, or meditation.
Meditations that cultivate mindfulness have long been used to reduce overwhelming stress. Some of these meditations bring you into the present by focusing your attention on a single repetitive action, such as your breathing, a few repeated words, or flickering light from a candle. Other forms of mindfulness meditation encourage you to follow and then release internal thoughts or sensations.
Key points in mindfulness meditation are:
A quiet environment. Choose a secluded place in your home, office, garden, place of worship, or in the great outdoors where you can relax without distractions or interruptions.
A comfortable position. Get comfortable, but avoid lying down as this may lead to you falling asleep. Sit up with your spine straight, either in a chair or on the floor. You can also try a cross-legged position.
A point of focus. This point can be internal – a feeling or imaginary scene – or something external - a flame or meaningful word or phrase that you repeat it throughout your session. You may meditate with eyes open or closed. Also choose to focus on an object in your surroundings to enhance your concentration, or alternately, you can close your eyes.
An observant, noncritical attitude. Don’t worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well you’re doing. If thoughts intrude during your relaxation session, don’t fight them. Instead, gently turn your attention back to your point of focus.
What if I told you that there was something simple you could do to reduce stress, anxiety and depression that was completely free of cost, took about 20 minutes a day, could actually change your brain for the better, had essentially no negative side effects and didn’t involve driving anywhere or even changing out of your pajamas? Would you be interested? Read on…
Growing scientific evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation can help to relieve anxiety and depression as well as improve attention, concentration and overall psychological well-being. Meditation is also a great way to increase your resilience to stress.
So, what does mindfulness really mean? Here is one definition: Maintaining your attention on present experiences and adopting an attitude toward those experiences that is characterized by curiosity, openness and acceptance.
Mindfulness is not only an awareness of the present moment. It brings together the qualities of a clear mind and an open heart in order to guide wise action. These skills are becoming increasingly important as we deal with the demands of modern life.
Neuroscience and psychological research have provided scientific evidence for the effectiveness of developing a mindfulness practice, yet it is direct experience that allows us to witness the change that mindfulness can make in our lives.
All photographs by Amy Gray