If you have a digital device connected to the Internet (which I assume you have), then you’ve probably heard about mindfulness meditation. Maybe you even read some articles on this topic and decided to give it a try.
Given the overwhelming popularity of this meditative practice, it’s almost impossible not to hear or read about it.
From reducing work-related stress and preventing depression, to cultivating peace of mind and promoting robust health, mindfulness meditation appears to be the miracle solution that mental health professionals have been searching for over the last few decades.
As you can see, starting from the year 2000, the number of studies on mindfulness meditation has increased dramatically which means researchers are onto something big that could potentially reshape our approach to mental health.
Although this practice originates from Buddhist philosophy – and many might consider it a purely religious practice – mindfulness is far from being a mystical approach that only ‘the enlightened’ ones can comprehend.
Mindfulness is a way of life; an attitude characterized by awareness of the present moment. When you approach life with a mindful perspective, you no longer get caught up in painful memories and future worries, but instead, live in the ‘here & now.’
And since this super-accessible practice has brought numerous benefits to those who’ve embraced it, I want to offer you an A-to-Z guide on how to live in the present moment.
If you’re thinking about giving mindfulness meditation a try – but don’t quite know where to begin from – this comprehensive guide will provide you with all the answers you need.
What is Mindfulness?
Ask one thousand Buddhist monks what mindfulness is, and each will give you a different explanation.
In a way, mindfulness meditation is simple and complex at the same time. It’s easy to practice, because it doesn’t require extensive preparation or in-depth knowledge, but it’s difficult to capture in one definition.
Nevertheless, let’s look at three definitions which I believe best capture the essence of mindfulness.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines mindfulness as:
“The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Buddhist monk) believes:
“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.”
In his book The Mindful Brain, Daniel Siegel (Professor of Psychiatry) explains that:
“Mindful awareness, as we will see, actually involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself. Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.”
Based on these three definitions, it seems that mindfulness is not just a technique, but a way of being that involves both awareness and self-awareness.
But how does a mindful approach to life (and self) lead to increased mental health and wellbeing? What are the inner workings of this practice? Continue reading below to learn all about it.
Who Can Practice Mindfulness Meditation?
Before we get to the benefits of mindfulness meditation, I want you to know that anyone can adopt this amazing practice.
From top business executives to health junkies and even average Joes like you and I, anyone who wishes to live more consciously and achieve mental resilience can use mindfulness to get there.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60; if you’re breathing, thinking, and living, you’re the perfect candidate for mindfulness meditation.
In fact, some experts even discuss introducing mindfulness programs in kindergartens and schools as a replacement for detention.
If you’re wondering who can practice mindfulness meditation, the answer is ANYONE.
Why Does it Work so Well?
We’re living in a world that’s continually forcing us to change and adapt to new situations. Every day, we deal with countless challenges, both at home and the office.
We spend most of our waking hours working and planning for the future. And when we do get a well-deserved break, we usually waste it in front of the TV or daydreaming about a better life.
The point is that we rarely get a chance to live in the moment, to experience what goes on here and now, as opposed to letting our mind wander into the past or future. And by doing so, we miss out on the most ‘real’ and authentic part of our lives – the present moment.
Mindfulness is all about getting back in touch with our present self. When this practice becomes part of your daily habits, you learn to put aside the past and future – which are often the source of depression, anxiety, and stress – and enjoy the pure beauty of the present moment.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Mindfulness meditation produces changes at a much deeper, biological level.
Your brain on mindfulness meditation
To understand how meditative practices impact us at a biological level, we need to look at one fundamental structure – the default mode network.
The default mode network is comprised of neurons from different parts of the brain which come together to form an intricate structure which activates during passive rest and mind-wandering.
In other words, if you’re not focused on a given task or activity, your mind will automatically switch to default mode.
This system is responsible for the persistent chit-chat that goes on in your head when you’re having a slow day at the office or lying on the sofa watching TV.
When on default mode, your mind loses sight of the present moment and wanders through memories and imaginary scenarios. This system is also responsible for your occasional lack of focus and self-awareness.
But here’s where it gets interesting!
According to recent studies, “meditation is associated with reduced activations in the default mode network.”
So, by suppressing the default mode network, practices such as mindfulness meditation can boost our focus and level of awareness (and self-awareness).
The Surprising Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Anyone who’s practiced mindfulness meditation for an extended period can confirm its positive effects on both physical and mental health.
By cultivating present-moment awareness, this practice can induce a state of relaxation that counteracts the harmful effects of anxiety and stress.
But what do researchers say about mindfulness meditation?
- Online mindfulness-based interventions (online programs, apps, etc.) have a small to moderate effect on mental health.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) shows better results compared to antidepressant treatment.
- Furthermore, MBCT also proves to be effective in preventing depression.
- The mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can reduce the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
- Mindfulness-based interventions can improve mental health and wellbeing in children and adolescents.
- In the workplace, mindfulness can improve individual and organizational performance.
- By cultivating awareness and acceptance, mindfulness can improve sleep quality.
As you can see, this amazing practice has both curative and preventive effects, keeping you safe from problems such as anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.
But the positive impact of mindfulness on your overall health and wellbeing can also translate to:
Once you begin to practice mindfulness meditation regularly, one of the first positive effect you’ll notice is a significant increase in your ability to focus.
It’s not easy to keep a clear head and focus on a specific goal when you’re bombarded by so many distractions.
Fortunately, mindfulness meditation can “turn down” the mental noise that’s keeping you distracted and also improve your ability to concentrate.
Although difficult to define or explain from a scientific perspective, the concept of ‘inner peace’ is used by many of those who’ve practiced mindfulness meditation.
While some describe it as a sensation of wakefulness and calm others, depict it as pure mental clarity.
After several weeks of constant practice, mindfulness makes you more aware of the broader aspects of life, aspects that you lose sight of when you’re too busy worrying and stressing over life’s daily hassles.
When your mind is continuously ruminating about the past and obsessing about the future, you fail to solve present problems that urgently need your attention.
Mindfulness meditation can de-clutter your mind and help you regain focus. You have a higher chance of solving a problem if you tackle it with a clear head.
Once you’re 100% in the moment, you will eventually come up with creative solutions to your problems.
In broad lines, well-being is a state of health (mental and physical), comfort, and happiness.
Achieving well-being means becoming aware of our potential and using it to work productively and make a contribution to our community. It also means being resilient enough to cope with everyday stress.
Given the positive impact mindfulness meditation has on our mental and physical health, we could argue that this practice promotes an overall state of well-being.
Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety and Stress
Today, problems such as fear, worry, and anxiety have become part of our everyday life.
We go to work where we strive to meet all deadlines and deliver the best possible results while remaining sane and ‘well-adjusted’ at the same time.
We get home and turn on the news to witness tragedies, murders, natural catastrophes, economic instability, civil unrest, and all sorts of spine-chilling events that might be happening just a couple of blocks from where we live.
We receive countless phone calls, e-mails, text messages, and notifications that keep us in a state of constant alertness.
At some point, we begin to feel less and less in control of our lives. Slowly but surely, control and stability are replaced by fear, doubt, worry, and stress.
And when that happens, we usually turn to junk food, alcohol, drug abuse, binge-watching sitcoms, and other unhealthy habits in hopes of ‘numbing’ the unpleasant feelings that we’re forced to deal with throughout the day.
The consequences of this unhealthy lifestyle are, as you can imagine, devastating.
Worldwide, 322 million people are living with depression, and 264 million people are living with anxiety. Maybe some of them have gone through traumatic events; perhaps others grew up in dysfunctional families.
But if there’s something that everyone can agree on is that today’s over-scheduled life is one of the leading factors in mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Getting a handle on your emotions
One way to fight against these problems is through a different state, a state of presence and awareness. Actually, it’s not so much about fighting but accepting – and then learning to manage – your thoughts and emotions.
Being a “friendly,” non-judgmental state of present-moment awareness, mindfulness meditation can free you from anxiety, fear, panic, doubt, worry, and all the other unpleasant emotions that you sometimes deal with.
By exercising presence and keeping an open attitude towards the least pleasant aspects of life, you will become more aware of when, where, and how negative emotions manifest.
Experts call it emotion regulation. This process allows us to meet life’s experiences (both positive and negative) with a range of emotions that are flexible, socially acceptable, and reasonable.
According to a recent study on the benefits of mindfulness, this practice “can facilitate emotion regulation on both implicit and explicit levels.”
While implicit mood regulation is an automatic (almost unconscious) process, explicit mood regulation is achieved through effort.
One example of explicit emotion regulation is cheering yourself up by getting involved in a fun activity.
Furthermore, this process can also help you manage other people’s emotions. For instance, when a colleague is having trouble with a challenging project and feels completely lost, you can help him/her calm down by lending a helping hand.
What I’m trying to say is that emotion regulation is not just about emotions, but also actions that can change the way you (or others) feel about certain aspects of life.
When dealing with stress and anxiety, emotion regulation is what keeps going despite all the unpleasant sensations and emotional reactions specific to these mood disorders.
A study that explored the impact of mindfulness on emotion regulation revealed that those who practice this form of meditation experience “significantly less emotional exhaustion and more job satisfaction.”
The reason why mindfulness meditation helps you regulate your emotions is that it cultivates a state of self-awareness which allows you to exercise better control over your emotional and behavioral reactions.
When you’re not regulating your emotions, your reactions will look like this:
YOU EXPERIENCE A CERTAIN EMOTION ⇒ YOU ACT BASED ON IT
When you’re exercising emotion regulation, your reactions will look like this:
YOU EXPERIENCE A CERTAIN EMOTION ⇒ YOU BECOME AWARE OF IT ⇒ YOU ‘BROWSE’ THROUGH SEVERAL RESPONSE OPTIONS ⇒ YOU CHOOSE THE APPROPRIATE ONE ⇒ YOU RESPOND IN A HEALTHY AND RATIONAL MANNER
By cultivating a state of calm and promoting emotional awareness, mindfulness meditation helps us manage the stress and anxiety generated by our busy lifestyle.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation: Simple Techniques & Exercises for Beginners
Check out this insightful Ted Talk where he explains how mindfulness can help us get a handle on those worrying thoughts that make you feel anxious for no good reason:
It seems that all it takes to improve your well-being significantly is ten mindful minutes.
Here’s how you can use those minutes:
#1 Mindful eating
As you probably realized, mindfulness is all about paying attention to what goes on in the ‘here and now.’ The easiest way you can begin to practice mindfulness meditation is through mindful eating.
Choose a fruit or a piece of chocolate. Doesn’t really matter as long as it’s edible. Give yourself a few minutes to enjoy this experience, quietly.
Take a closer look at that piece of fruit or chocolate. Pay attention to the colors, shades, and nuances. Use your fingers to experience the texture and temperature.
You can even smell it and enjoy that wonderful scent.
After noticing all the visual details, take a small bite and feel the aroma. Pay attention to the taste and also the sound you make while you chew it.
Notice how you feel while eating that delicious piece of fruit or chocolate. Notice how your mind remains fixed on the taste and aroma.mindfulness is all about paying attention to what goes on in the ‘here and now.’ The easiest way you can begin to practice mindfulness meditation is through mindful eating. Click To Tweet
Since one of the critical aspects of mindfulness meditation is awareness (and self-awareness), another easy way to practice it is by paying attention to your body.
The first thing you need to do is find a quiet and comfortable place where you can sit in silence.
Close your eyes and try to spend the next ten minutes paying attention to what goes on in your body. Notice all those sensations that you would usually ignore.
Start from your feet and work your way up to your head. You can even pay attention to your breathing – feel the air going in and out of your lungs.
Finally, try paying attention to what goes on in your mind. Do you notice any distracting thoughts? Does your mind tend to wander? If it does, you can gently bring it back, without judging or criticizing yourself.
#3 Mindful walking
When was the last time you went for a walk without a clear destination in mind? When was the last time you took a moment to notice the world outside your home?
A mindful walk can clear away all the stress and tension that you accumulate throughout the day.
Since the purpose of the exercise is to develop awareness and presence, it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings.
Start by focusing on how it feels to be in motion. Notice how one step goes in front of the other, taking you further away from home.
Look around you.
What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? Are you surrounded by nature or urban landscape? Are there other people around you?
Put aside any worries and doubts by taking a stroll around the neighborhood.A mindful walk can clear away all the stress and tension that you accumulate throughout the day. Click To Tweet
#4 Mindful breathing
In general, we pay attention to our breathing only when we feel out of breath. In other words, this reflex is rarely the center of our focus.
But through mindful awareness, we can use our breathing to distract ourselves from any unpleasant thought or mental image.
The best aspect of mindful breathing is that you can practice it anytime, anywhere. All you need to do is pay attention to your breath for a couple of minutes.
Start by taking a deep breath. Notice how the air flows through your nostrils, fills your longs, and expands your chest.
Expire slowly, effortlessly. Notice how the air flows out of your mouth and empties your lungs.
Be aware of each breath you take and focus on how you feel at that moment.
#5 Mindful listening
Much of what you see or hear passes through your mental filter; a filter comprised of personal beliefs, values, ideas, and past experiences that give different nuances and meanings to the newly integrated information.
Your mind’s natural tendency is to categorize information based on various criteria – good or bad, useful or useless, exciting or boring, and many other categories.
With mindful listening, you can turn off the mental filter and experience each piece of new information in its ‘rawest’ form.
Put on your headphones, go on YouTube, and select a new song. Close your eyes and allow yourself to be carried by the sound of music, regardless of the artist, genre, or rhythm.
Or, go to the nearest park, sit on a bench, close your eyes, and listen to the sound of nature.
Mindful listening develops active listening, a crucial skill that will help you grow personally and professionally.
#6 Mindfulness for better sleep
Since good-quality sleep plays a crucial role in your physical and mental health, one of the best moments to practice mindfulness meditation is before you go to bed.
After you get into bed, close your eyes and focus on what goes on in your body and mind.
How does it feel to lie in bed under the warm blanket? Do you hear any particular sounds? Are there any thoughts going through your head? Do you feel any sensations in your body?
No matter what does on in your head, all you need to do is observe.
Don’t waste your time and energy worrying or stressing over problems that you obviously can’t solve right now. There’s plenty of time for that tomorrow.
Just focus on that wonderful sensation you experience when you’re slowly drifting into sleep.
#7 Observing the ordinary
Since the purpose of mindfulness meditation is to help you develop present moment awareness, you can start by paying attention to the objects that make up your surrounding environment.
First, choose five ordinary objects that you see around you and name each object.
Pay close attention to each object and try to observe its unique characteristics – color, shape, size, texture, etc.
What is the purpose or functionality of those objects? How would the world look like if those objects didn’t exist? What are the details that make them extraordinary?
As you can see, meditation is not always about sitting in ‘lotus’ position or doing all sorts of special rituals.
Even the mere act of observing the things that you wouldn’t typically pay attention to is a meditative practice through which you can practice awareness.
Free Resources to Help You Get Started (and Stay on Track)
Just like any other habit, mindfulness meditation requires patience and constant practice.
When I first began using this technique, I told myself that it shouldn’t be too hard to turn it into a habit. After all, it’s just ten minutes.
But after a month or so, I realized that I skipped most of my daily sessions. Every time I wanted to meditate, there was always something urgent that needed my undivided attention.
It almost seemed like everything was more important and urgent than my ten mindful minutes.
Fortunately, thanks to a couple of apps, videos, and insightful websites, I was able to turn mindfulness into a fun activity that I could stick to.
And since these resources have helped me a lot, I thought it would be a good idea to share them with you.
#1 Mindfulness Apps
Although there are numerous meditation and mindfulness apps, the ones that I found most useful are Headspace and Calm.
Headspace is an app designed under the guidance of Andy Puddicombe (the guy I told you about in the previous subchapter). Each session lasts for ten minutes, enough to induce a state of mindful awareness. The key advantage of the Headspace app is that it offers specific meditation scripts for sleep, focus, stress, or anxiety.
Calm is a simple, elegant app that promises to offer daily calm and quality sleep. The “7 Days of Calm” mindfulness program is ideal for beginners who want to learn the basics of mindfulness meditation. But the one feature that convinced me to use this app daily was the “Sleep stories.”
While I was researching mindfulness, I stumbled upon numerous videos that made it extremely easy for me to practice this form of meditation.
And since you’re probably interested in giving mindfulness meditation a try, let me share a couple of videos that will help you get started.
Here’s a 20-minute video to help you develop presence:
Here’s 10 minutes of guided mindfulness meditation:
Here’s a TedTalk on how to break a bad habit using mindfulness:
Here’s a 10-minute mindfulness meditation video for anxiety and stress:
Here’s some soothing music to accompany your meditation sessions:
Since mindfulness meditation has gained massive popularity over the last decades, there are numerous books on how to practice it.
One book which I believe can be of great use to anyone interested in bringing some present moment awareness into their everyday life is Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn. If this book doesn’t convince you to give mindfulness meditation a try, I don’t know what else could.
If you’re looking to turn mindfulness into a lifestyle, then 10-minute Mindfulness by Scott & Barrie Davenport is the ideal book for you. Aside from providing a comprehensive, in-depth explanation of mindfulness, this book also offers useful tips on how to build habits that keep you anchored in the present moments.
We live and carry on our existence in an extremely busy and active society.
We take on demanding jobs hoping that the money we earn will eventually bring us some sense of happiness and peace.
Every day, we are subjected to stress and external pressures that cripple our physical and mental health. But we carry on, hoping that one day we will have enough time, money, and energy to feel happy and satisfied.
One of the biggest enemies of happiness is precisely the fact that we do not live in the ‘here and now.’ Much of our life is lived either in regret over the past or worries about the future.
Fortunately, there is a way out of this vicious circle of stress, worries, and regrets!
Over the last two decades, mindfulness meditation has been a hot topic for both researchers interested in the effects of meditative practices and mental health professionals looking for ways to improve patient well-being.
Besides the fact that mindfulness is associated with the release of neurotransmitters that promote well-being, this practice offers tons of other benefits to those who use it regularly.
By practicing mindfulness meditation, you become more efficient. In other words, it increases the speed of information processing, boosts focus, improves working memory, and decreases the stress generated by mental effort.
This form of meditation can help you keep negative thoughts and emotions at bay, thus preventing problems such as depression or anxiety.
People who practice mindfulness are more satisfied with their relationships as this practice allows them to develop active listening and express emotions more often.
Moreover, it seems that mindfulness meditation can have a positive impact on your physical health as well – not only that it boosts your immune system but also improves sleep.Mindfulness is the natural remedy that claws the negative thoughts out of your head and nourishes your mind Click To Tweet
So, what do you think about our mindfulness guide? Have you ever tried mindfulness before? If so, did you find it useful in any way? Are there any techniques (aside from the ones described in this guide) that have worked well for you?
Share your experience with us below!
Clinical Psychologist, Licensed CBT Therapist.I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy practitioner. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to manage and prevent the most common mental issues – anxiety, depression, and stress.
When I’m not busy with my therapeutic practice or other work-related activities, I enjoy going out for a jog or hit the nearby gym.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via LinkedIn (link below), or through the Contact Us page.