Image Credit: Belenhostalet
A calmer, happier life is the new black.
Mindfulness is the art of creating space for ourselves – space to breathe, think and observe our behaviour, thoughts and actions, with the view to improving the way we respond to everyday life. And although mindfulness can be practiced in any situation, creating a dedicated moment to be mindful – through a mindful meditation practice – is one of the most popular ways to find a little more Zen in each day.
“Some of the most striking outcomes we’ve discovered is the fact that mental training practices, such as mindfulness, can actually change our brains both functionally and structurally.” says Richie Davidson, one of the world’s leading experts and researchers in the field of mindfulness and the brain. “Through the use of our own minds we can actually transform our brains in really beneficial ways.”
Science tells us that mindful meditation can help us improve our relationships, feel less pain, cope better with stress and even have better sex. So how can we harness this wonder-practice to live our best lives?
Here’s how to get started with a simple mindfulness meditation practice.
Decide on a time limit
To start your practice, you may like to set a timer on your practice. This will allow you to be in the moment without having to keep checking your watch. Aim for a short time (5 or 10 minutes) to begin with.
Elle Macpherson is a fan of short periods of mindfulness. 'When I get stressed, I make myself take fifteen minutes and I breath, I practise visualisations and follow a guided meditation tape,” she says. “I am more centred, calmer and find situations less stressful now that meditation is part of my day.”
Try to be gentle and compassionate with yourself – it may be a challenge to sit still in the beginning but keep in mind that it will get easier as your mind settles down over time.
DEFINE A GOAL
Especially when you’re just getting started, having an achievable goal in mind can help keep you focused and give you something to keep you committed.
Write down your meditation goals, making sure to keep them simple at first (for instance, your goal might be to sit without interruption for 10 minutes or to feel slightly more relaxed at the end of a meditation session).
For Elle, it’s all about giving yourself space to find joy. “For me it’s about allowing things to be chaotic, having a plan, perhaps, but not having to stick to it. Allowing the space to laugh."
Take a seat
Find a comfortable place to sit (or lay down, if that’s more comfortable for you) where you won’t be distracted or fidgety. Sit in a position that’s comfortable for you (many people like to cross their legs if they’re sitting on the floor) and straighten your upper body. The spine has a natural curvature, so allow yourself to straighten your torso without stiffening and relax into the spine’s natural curvature. Allow your arms to relax and your hands to drop on top of your legs comfortably - not reaching, not scrunching.
The goal is for all of your body to be relaxed and without tension so that you can bring your awareness evenly and equally to each part of yourself.
Drop your chin slightly and allow your gaze to fall downward. If it feels comfortable to, you can close your eyes if you like.
Notice your body
Start at the top of your head and notice any sensations or feelings that you have. Don’t think too hard about anything that you might be feeling – whatever you’re feeling is neither positive or negative, you’re simply bringing your awareness to it.
Go all the way down your body, bringing your awareness to each part of your body and noting what feelings or sensation arise.
As you do so, take note of the sensation of your breath as it goes in and out.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF IF YOU LOSE FOCUS
If your mind wanders or loses focus, don’t reprimand yourself. Simply allow yourself to notice that you’ve lost focus, and gently guide your awareness back to your focus point. It doesn’t matter how many times your mind wanders, just keep coming back.
That’s it! That’s a mindfulness meditation process. Simple, but surprisingly effective.
As you grow in your practice, you might choose to go for longer sessions (researchers say that 20-40-minute sessions are ideal for promoting a state of relaxation and reaping maximum stress-relief benefits), or you may even wish to infuse your meditation practice with an intention by using visualisation exercises.