Life as we knew it changed in just days, leaving many of us both more free hours and more stressors. How can we use this newfound free time in a way that works for us? Mindfulness meditation!
Mindfulness is paying attention, in a purposeful and nonjudgmental way, to our inner and outer world. Mindfulness meditation can be done anywhere, while doing anything. There are many ways to practice mindfulness: attending to your breath as you breathe, listening to sounds that you hear, observing sights that you see, and noticing the sensations of your body -just to name a few.
The goal of mindfulness is not to empty your mind. Our brains don’t always like focused attention, and will often draw us away from the present moment. When your mind wanders, which it surely will, simply guide your attention back to what you were intending to focus on. The goal of mindfulness is to notice when you get caught up in thinking, feeling, or doing, and guide your attention back to the present – without criticism or judgement.
This practice of focused attention is exercise for your brain and it shows up in the science! Here are some benefits of mindfulness meditation:
- Mood: Research suggests that 30 minutes of meditation improves depression symptoms, reduces anxiety, and lowers pain intensity.
- Stress: When we meditate, we’re able to override part of the brain responsible for fear response. This lowers the release of cortisol, the damaging stress hormone that’s responsible for a whole host of health issues.
- Memory: Mindfulness has been shown to improve memory and reduce distracting thoughts.
- Exercise: Workouts do a number on the muscles and central nervous system. Meditation allows us to rest our bodies and minds very deeply, priming us for excellent sweat sessions.
- Respiratory Health: Research links meditation with fewer respiratory illnesses, quicker recovery times, and fewer sick days from work.
- Relationships: Mindfulness teaches us to be more present in relationships and helps us approach tricky situations with a calm mind and body. It can help with intimacy, too.
- Heart Health: Mindfulness = a cardio-free way to boost heart health! In one study, patients with coronary heart disease who practiced meditation had a reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death.
- Sleep: In a world where we take our phones to bed, sleep has become a precious commodity. Meditation allows us to quiet our mind so we can fall asleep quickly. Not only does science suggest it may help treat insomnia, experts believe that meditating can help reduce stress, leading to a better, more restful night’s sleep.
- Creativity: In one study, participants who practiced a particular kind of meditation were better at coming up with many possible solutions for a problem than those who did not meditate.
- Higher GPA: According to one study, meditation leads to better focus and higher scores on cognitive tests—after just four days of 20-minute meditation sessions! In another study, students who meditated before a lecture and subsequent quiz scored higher than students who didn’t. Research also suggests that the practice leads to a better attention span – an effect that lasts over time, especially in those who continue to meditate daily.
- Prevent Burnout: Research suggests that taking time to quiet the mind leads to fewer feelings of work-related exhaustion. It’s even a part of medical student training at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to help students manage stress.
- Anger: Research suggests that meditative habits reduce anger and the tendency to dwell on angry episodes.
As I mentioned earlier, mindfulness meditation can be done anywhere, while doing anything. Join me on a short mindful walk as an example of how you can practice mindfulness meditation.