Starting a daily meditation and mindfulness practice is a lot like starting a fitness program for your mind. You know you want to do something good for your mind, but might not know where to get started. This simple guide will help explain meditation and mindfulness in plain English so you can find what works best for you.
Meditation vs. Mindfulness vs. Mindfulness Meditation: What’s the difference?
Meditation is a more overarching term that includes a broad range of activities, but generally involves engaging in concentrated thought, focus, or reflection. Mindfulness is the act of consciously directing your attention to the present moment, with non-judgmental awareness of your emotional state, thoughts, and physical sensations. You can be mindful without meditating (e.g. “everyday mindfulness” or simple mindfulness exercises you can do during day to day tasks). However, individuals often practice Mindfulness Meditation, which is designed to cultivate mindfulness. When practicing Mindfulness Meditation, you set aside time to purposefully focus yourself on the present moment, with awareness, and without judgment.
How is mindfulness meditation helpful?
The practice of cultivating mindfulness can be helpful for a variety of mental and physical conditions. Many studies have demonstrated that the practice of mindfulness can actually change our brains and our emotional reactions to different experiences, particularly difficult emotions. We also become better at regulating our emotions. One key thing to consider is that while mindfulness won’t get rid of our problems, it allows us to react differently to them. Mindfulness allows us to step out of our tendency to be on auto-pilot and make more conscious decisions about how we want to respond. We are able to see our thoughts as thoughts and not become stuck on them. Additionally, mindfulness has been shown to improve our ability to focus and to relax. A regular mindfulness practice has even been shown to strengthen the immune system. In short, almost everyone will find some benefit from practicing mindfulness.
Tips for Getting Started
- Find Time: This might be the most challenging part of the process. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of the most helpful. People often get started with mindfulness meditation because they feel stressed or feel like their own self-care needs are being neglected. Therefore, the process of simply making time in your day for your own needs can often be the biggest hump to get over. Acknowledging that you are feeling run down, or wound up, or simply in need of some time to reflect is a big step.You’re making a declaration that your needs matter, and recognizing that until you take care of yourself, you won’t be able to be the best, healthiest, or happiest, version of yourself. Even if it’s only 5 minutes, deciding that you matter and that you need to just stop and breathe, is a big deal. Thank yourself for finding the time and making your own health and wellness a priority. Many people find it helpful to set a standard time each day to meditate, such as right when they wake up. Really, the best time to meditate is whatever time you can find that works for you.
- Find a Place: Ideally you will find somewhere quiet and calm to practice your meditation. It’s not necessary to have a dedicated space, though some people find it helpful. The most important thing is that you are able to disconnect from the hustle and busy-ness of the day. That might mean softer light or a location away from distractions. Some people like to get a meditation pillow or bench, while others simply use a comfortable chair.
- Set a Goal: identify why you want to start meditating, what you hope to get out of your practice, and why you think it might be helpful. You will feel motivated to continue your practice and stick with it if you have an idea of why you want to do it. You might find it helpful to write it down, or you might want to verbalize your goals to a friend.
- Strength in Numbers: When you start a physical fitness program, sometimes joining a class or finding a gym partner can make it easier to stay committed. Similarly, it can be helpful to have a meditation buddy or group. Such partnerships can help with accountability and sticking with your practice, and many people find it helpful to talk to someone about some of their experiences when starting a mindfulness routine. Having someone to ask questions, discuss successes, and exchange encouragement can be helpful.
- Be Kind with Yourself: There may be times you struggle to meditate, and sometimes you’ll have a better experience than others. That’s OK. Remember that having a nonjudgmental stance is a cornerstone of the practice, and that includes being nonjudgmental of yourself and your own successes and shortcomings.
You can find basic meditation instructions, guided meditations, and daily mindfulness exercises in the “Relax Now” section of Pacifica.