One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to start a mindful meditation practice. I have been talking about it on and off for the past 6 months, and though I’ve attempted to start a morning routine a few times, all attempts have been false starts — that snooze button is just too tempting! My sister has been getting into mindfulness lately, and for Christmas she asked me to get her a book that illustrates an 8-week plan for cultivating a mindfulness practice. I started reading it too, and I’m hoping it will help me stay on track, as trying on my own has barely gotten me anywhere. (Even coaches need guidance!)
Why Mindfulness Meditation?
Surely you’ve heard of this word, “mindfulness”? Possibly at a yoga class or in therapy? Maybe on talk radio or in a weight loss group? I’ve written a post on mindful eating, but a mindfulness practice extends far beyond eating behavior and into how we interface with the world (and all the wonderful things that lie within it). Becoming mindful isn’t something that just magically happens overnight. Rather we have to cultivate our awareness, and as such, having a teacher, a book to follow, a set of guidelines, or even an app can be helpful to get started.
Mindful meditation (a practice rooted in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) has been shown in scientific studies to be as effective as prescription antidepressants to reduce depression and anxiety — and with none of the side effects. In fact, it’s the preferred treatment in most cases. But importantly, even those without depression and anxiety can benefit from this modality. Whether we practice mindfulness for stress management or for a renewed sense of how we see ourselves, both in our bodies and in the world, it’s a useful tool to improve our emotional wellbeing every day.
What is Mindfulness?
“Trying to understand mindfulness by its definition is like trying to understand what it is like to fall in love by reading a textbook. You might get a general idea, but you’d be missing out on the best part: what it actually feels like. Mindfulness is all about experience, about the actual aliveness, of each moment. You learn to pay attention on purpose, in the present moment, not because someone said that it would be a good thing to do, but because that is where you find your life.”
– Michael Baime, MD (creator of mindfulness-based programs at University of Pennsylvania)
This word mindfulness is elusive and intriguing to some, heavy and burdensome to others — the second attitude is often enhanced if the word “meditation” comes right after the word “mindfulness.” There can be some pretty heavy associations with meditation. I’ve even had a colleague tell me that she didn’t want to return to a yoga class (after her very first time ever) because she felt that the meditation conflicted with her religious beliefs. I was simultaneously surprised and not at all fazed. It’s just as easy to misunderstand meditation and the intentions of the practice as it is to be intimidated by the stillness and silence that often accompanies it.
The truth of the matter is that mindful meditation is a personal centering practice — not rooted in religion but in behavioral therapy — and while there are countless other forms of meditation, some of which include chanting, it’s possible to receive the benefits of meditation without contradicting any religious practices.
I’ve mentioned before that meditation doesn’t have to be this extreme, long, painstakingly silent process. Rather, it can just be the active experience of breathing — mindful breathing — for short periods of time. The book I’m reading even provides a 1-minute meditation in the first chapter. Noticing your body, noticing the details of how you feel, allowing thoughts to pass through your mind without judgement, and then letting them melt away — this practice is a brief mindful meditation, a tremendous tool for dealing with stress, appreciating life, and overall wellbeing.
My Personal Journey
To be perfectly candid, sitting still without some sort of stimulus is a challenge for me. I might not be theologically threatened by meditation, but I’ve spent a good bit of time working out my own preconceived notions about the practice, just because I’m not great at sitting still.
I’m actually not great at walking with a still mind either. I go through regular phases where I won’t get up from my desk to do anything at all (get a snack, go to the bathroom, walk to my car) without a book in my hand or a podcast in my ear; reading and walking, listening and walking. Why do I crave constant stimulation? Part of this mindfulness practice will be unpacking the stories I tell myself. Maybe one of them is that I don’t have time to read, so I fit it in minute by minute by never doing anything without text in front of my eyes or ear buds in my ears. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it’s not. I suppose I’ll find out.
When I envision a full picture of holistic wellbeing, I see food, movement, creativity, sleep, personal growth, and connection with nature, spirit, and community. I’m approaching this year’s resolution around mindfulness with the intention of touching on quite a few of these components in my own wellbeing. I mentioned mindful eating (food), but this practice will also provide me with tools to help turn off my mind when it’s time for sleep. Mindfulness is also crucial for personal growth and understanding how I affect those around me and in my community. It’s a way to acknowledge that my existence matters and that the decisions I make have an effect. By creating inner stillness and awakening my senses, I will interact with the world around me from a place of deep peace.
Let’s do it together!
Have you been contemplating a mindfulness practice of your own? Why don’t you join me? The book I’m reading is called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Marc Williams and Danny Penman. Click the title for the paperback version. Click here for the Kindle version. Using these links will help me out if you decide to get a copy. You can also get a sample through the kindle e-reader for free if you want to get a peak at the beginning of the book. As I move through the book, I’ll be posting about my experience and what I learn — knowing that you’re waiting to hear from me will help hold me accountable, in addition to (hopefully) shedding some more light on this topic.