The Benefits of Mindful Meditation

The Benefits of Mindful Meditation

If you could reduce anxiety, sharpen your focus, experience calmness and even improve your quality of sleep in just a few minutes a day, of course you would, right?

It’s possible by practicing mindful meditation.

Even though “meditation” may conjure up images of candlelit studios and burning incense intended to soothe those careering through a hectic lifestyle, it’s actually beneficial for people of all ages. Meditation is also not a one-size-fits-all practice. In fact, there are several different types of meditation. Mindful meditation is just one method, and its techniques can be easily learned, adapted, and adjusted, regardless of your stage in life.

Daily Lifestyle Changes

Also called simply “mindfulness,” mindful meditation is a mental exercise that combines awareness and non-judgement. Practicing mindful meditation involves guided imagery, breathing methods and other practices to help relax the mind and body.

Examples of daily mindful meditation exercises suggested by the experts at Mayo Clinic include:

Paying attention. Take time to focus and experience your environment through your senses—sounds, smells, tastes, sights and touch. For example, rather than mindlessly munching your favorite food, take time to smell and taste it so you truly enjoy the experience.

Living in the moment.  Find joy in the simple pleasures of life: the sound of birds singing, watching a gentle snow fall, talking with a trusted friend. Try to bring an accepting, open, and discerning attention to everything you do.

Accepting yourself. Through mindfulness, we accept our feelings and thoughts rather than pushing them away. This can be summed up by treating yourself the same way you would treat a good friend.

Focusing on your breathing. When negative thoughts arise, sit down, close your eyes and take a deep breath, in and out. Focusing on your breathing instead of the negativity can help re-frame your focus.

Structured Meditation Exercises

One of the many benefits of mindful meditation is its flexibility—you can make it as simple or as immersive as you wish. If you prefer more structured exercises, consider:

Body scan meditation. Lie on your back, arms at your side with your palms up and your legs extended. Take a few minutes to find a steady, calm breath. Focus your attention on each part of your body, starting from your toes and moving slowly and deliberately to the top of your head. Be aware of any emotions, sensations or thoughts associated as you concentrate on each part of your body. When you notice any areas of discomfort or tension, breathe in, then relax as you exhale.

Sitting meditation. Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If physical sensations or thoughts interrupt your meditation, note the experience and then return your focus to your breath.

Walking meditation. Find a quiet place and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing and the subtle movements that keep your balance.

Mindful Meditation for Brain Health

Mayo Clinic suggests practicing some sort of mindfulness every day for about six months for it to become a habit. Clinical trials have concluded that meditations can improve various conditions, including:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure

A study conducted by a team of Harvard researchers found that after eight weeks of daily practice, those in the study reported a sense of increased clarity and peace. Their MRIs also showed an increase in gray matter in parts of the brain associated with attention and focus, and a decrease in gray matter associated with anxiety and stress.

Participants in the study recorded spending an average of 27 minutes a day practicing mindfulness exercises. Experts suggest aiming for at least 15 minutes per day. If that amount of time is difficult in the beginning, start with shorter sessions of just five or ten minutes and work up to longer sessions.

Consider mindful meditation just as important as physical activity and make it a priority—improving your sense of well-being and quality of life will be more than worth the time and effort.