Perhaps you’ve heard that meditation will make you more calm and productive. That Mindfulness will reduce your stress and anxiety, as well as boost your immunity.
Mindfulness and meditation seem to be the holy grail of stress relief these days – good for anger management, cancer, depression and more.
First, a note on the jargon:
While there are many different types, meditation is basically formal, attentive sitting, just as you imagine it.
Mindfulness is an approach to meditation that involves a specific way of being attentive. Mindfulness can be practiced outside of meditation also – I’ll explain this below.
In any case, chances are you’ve either dismissed meditation as something other people do or you’ve tried it and shelved it. And fair enough. The books, courses and audios didn’t work for you – or they did for a while, but you didn’t keep up with it.
How are you meant to know if it’s working or if you’re doing it right anyway?
If you have dabbled in it, frustration and feeling like you’re wasting time are certain to have featured at some point.
The Good News about Mindfulness and meditation that you might not have heard:
- You can cheat and still benefit.
- You don’t require any special skills or powers that you don’t already have.
- It’s not a talent or inclination that you either have or you don’t.
- It doesn’t require the amount of self-discipline or will power that you might think it does.
- It can be easier than changing your diet to lose weight or undertaking a fitness program.
- You can do it if you’re religious or spiritual or not.
- You don’t have to start setting your alarm for 5am or give away your TV.
- You don’t need to be less ambitious at work.
- You don’t need to become vegan, burn incense, wear tie-dyed clothes or own any ‘meditation equipment’.
Non-meditators Can Be Mindful Too
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
This definition is the one most often quoted. Once you’ve had a taste of being Mindful it makes a lot of sense.
You know that experience of driving home and almost not knowing how you got there? You pull up and think to yourself, I have no recollection of my actual driving and I wonder if I ran any red lights. That’s the opposite of Mindfulness.
Being Mindful is being tuned in to the present moment and being completely aware of what’s going on for you – thoughts, sensations or feelings within your mind and body, or around you.
It’s having the intention to tune in to whatever arises in the moment, and having a preference for not judging or reacting to it.
If you sit down to a meal and want to practice Mindful eating, you purposefully tune in to your setting and your experience of eating. You notice how the food looks, smells, feels and tastes.
Perhaps you register some enjoyment – ideally you can notice your pleasure without reacting and gobbling more up, and losing your awareness as you go.
Or maybe you notice guilt arising (or whichever old association might plague your eating at times). The idea is to just acknowledge the thought or feeling that arises, without judging it, or judging yourself for having it.
But more about how to do it later. I’m hoping these examples just give you a sense of what Mindfulness is.
Importantly, you may have noticed that in painting this picture of Mindfulness, I haven’t mentioned that it’s a form of meditation.
Because it doesn’t have to be. It can be. But it doesn’t have to be.
You can cheat – you can be practicing Mindfulness without sitting still, ‘doing meditation’.
MAP – a Mindful Awareness Practice
I came across the acronym MAP in a Dan Siegel article (a well-known writer in the field of neuroscience and mindfulness) although the concept has been widely used elsewhere. He speaks of yoga, tai chi, mindful walking, and mindful dish washing.
He explains that in order for an activity to be a MAP you must have intention and awareness – you decide to tune in to the experience of the activity in the present moment. That is, to make it a Mindful practice.
You then try to remain aware as you undertake your practice.
You will at times drift off, perhaps ruminating about what went wrong this morning, or worrying about a meeting later.
That’s fine. Hopefully you catch yourself and regain awareness – by all means notice the worrying, but instead of engaging with it, let go of it and gently coax yourself back to focus on the present experience of washing up, or whatever it is you’re wanting to do Mindfully.
The many rewards of mindfulness and meditation
There is now so much research out there – done and being done – in support of Mindfulness and Meditation, it’s frankly overwhelming.
A Ronald Siegal and co. article cites various studies. For example, a decade ago now, Davidson and others found increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain after just 8 weeks of training in Mindfulness.
‘That part of the brain is associated with feelings of wellbeing. Increased brain activity in that region also correlates with a stronger immune response to flu vaccine.’
The bottom line is that the rave reviews you’ve heard or read about Mindfulness and mediation are probably true and well-supported by reputable, validated research….They can help you with stress relief, anger management, depression, anxiety and much more.
My goal with this article was to open a door. The Mindfulness and Meditation door that’s been understandably shut or ajar for you.
I wanted to offer a view that’s different to what you might have seen before.
A view that doesn’t make you feel like you have to change who you are fundamentally, in order to benefit from meditation. A view that is broader than the image of sitting painfully in lotus position at sunrise pretending not to think of your very busy, stressful day ahead.
I invite you to do 3 things:
- Try out doing something Mindfully – choose an everyday activity, give it your full attention and notice everything…how it feels, sounds, tastes and the thoughts that arise as you go. Practice keeping your attention on the activity, returning to the sensations of it when you catch your mind heading elsewhere. Consider doing it this way everyday. (Brushing teeth and showering are examples of good ones to try.)
- Look out for more to come on this – I intend to offer a lot more this year on ways you can reap the stress relief rewards that other people seem to…but in a way that suits you.
- Share your thoughts, experiences or questions in the comments below, or if you prefer, shoot me an email. I would love to hear from you about what you want to know more about and what you’d find helpful.