A straightforward guide to Mindfulness and meditation. Short and to the point.
Have you ever had the experience of focusing all your attention on what you are doing, whether it be gardening, working a puzzle, engaging in your favorite hobby, eating your favorite dessert?
Have you ever just enjoyed the activity for its own sake, without any judgment or criticism, without having to achieve any particular goal?
Have you ever been fully absorbed in the experience of the moment, letting go of any thoughts about the past or the future, about what happened earlier in your day or what you have to do later?
If so, then you have practiced mindfulness.
Being mindful means focusing your attention fully on what you are experiencing in the present moment with an aware, balanced acceptance. You are aware of physical sensations in your body: tasting, touching, hearing, smelling and seeing. You are aware of how you feel emotionally. You are aware of what you are thinking in the present moment.
You meet your experience without judgment or expectation of how it should be and, instead, embrace it just as it is. You bring that same non-judgmental awareness to yourself. Your body, emotions and thoughts are in the present moment, no matter what is going on or how we are reacting.
How can mindfulness improve your health? Research has proven that there is a link between stress and health. Those with high stress levels are more likely to develop diseases, such as hypertension, heart disease, some forms of cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, back pain, anxiety, depression and diabetes.
Research also shows that meditation practices like mindfulness produce a relaxation response in the mind and body that counteract the effects of stress. When we approach life with this non-judgmental awareness of present-moment experience, we reduce our stress levels.
A Harvard study on the effects of meditation on blood pressure showed that meditating for 20 minutes twice a day lowered blood pressure in a test group. Other studies have shown that meditation can be used to reduce physical and emotional symptoms related to stress.
Bridget Rolens is the mind-body skills instructor for St. John's Hospital - Center for Living in Springfield, Ill. For more information go to http://www.prairieheart.com/cfl or call 314-544-LIVE (5483).
- Sit comfortably in a quiet place.
- Close your eyes and take three or four long, deep, even breaths.
- Invite your body to release any tension it is holding.
- As you breathe deeply, focus all your attention on your breathing, and feel the sensations of the inhale and the exhale.
- When you are ready, let your breath return to its usual pattern, and just let the breath breathe itself.
- As you breathe in, silently note “IN” and, as you breathe out, silently note “OUT.”
- Accept each breath just as it is. Let your mind become very interested in your breathing, noticing all its qualities: long/short, deep/shallow, even/uneven, constricted/easy. Watch how it changes from moment to moment. The important thing is to open to your experience with acceptance, with a receptive, friendly attention.
- Take an attitude of passive disregard for distracting thoughts. If you start thinking about other things, say to yourself, “There's a thought.” Then release your attention from the thought, and focus once more on your breath.
-- Be Healthy Springfield (Ill.)