Posts Tagged ‘practice’

Basic Breathing Meditation for Beginners

Pick a space with little distraction. Sit comfortably: back straight and gazed fixed. Breathe.

Starting a breathing meditation is as simple as these three steps similar to this beginner’s guide for meditation. Sometimes, the act of beginning a project is the hardest part, and meditation is no exception. However, the following tips to make meditation a habit and achieve its benefits are helpful for an easy transition into a mindful practice.

Setting

Whether you prefer the great outdoors or your cozy indoor living space, where you meditate is up to you. Three elements to keep in mind when choosing a setting include lighting, cleanliness, and quiet. Depending on whether you thrive in natural sunlight or prefer a dim, candle-lit room, pick somewhere that will provide a calming atmosphere. Additionally, since the goal is to clear your mind, it only makes sense to do so in a space that is also clear of unnecessary clutter. Finally, it is best to choose a setting that will shut out as much noisy distraction as possible. Notice that “as much” is not “all.” It is quite unlikely that one can find a space that will be perfectly silent for the desired time to meditate. If any potentially distracting sounds arise during the meditation, be aware that the sounds are present, then let them be. It is best to experience our surroundings as they are and accept the present state without attaching meaning to whatever goes on around us.

Sitting and posture

The position of your body is crucial to creating a comfortable meditation experience. Typically, meditation is done sitting on the floor or in a chair. You can stretch your legs out, sit cross-legged, or even kneel – whatever will make you feel most comfortable is best. Feel free to use extra cushions, pillows, or blankets, too.

Whichever way you sit, mindful.org recommends sitting stable and erect: ‘straighten–but don’t stiffen–your upper body to the spine’s natural curvature. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.’ Keep your upper arms at your sides and let your hands rest in front of you. Then, lower your chin and fix your gaze on a fixed point just below your direct line of vision. From here, you may choose to keep your eyes closed for the meditation if you wish, though it is not necessary.

Breathing

Breathing is the most important part of the mindful meditation practice, as it “trains your brain to stop jumping around and stay focused in the present.”  Focusing on the in-an-out pattern of the breathe brings our attention to the current moment. Beginning a meditation practice, it is likely that your mind will occasionally wander to thoughts surfacing in your head or create scenarios to pair with sounds. This drifting is completely fine and even expected. The important thing is to acknowledge it, then return to the breathe as an anchor of awareness, or a ‘mental focal point to keep your attention on the physical sensation that accompanies each inhale and exhale.’

Keep breaths long and slow. I find it helpful to count each breath to begin my focus. After some cycles of counting to seven for each inhale and seven for each exhale, my focus becomes steadily fixed on the present, and I begin to enter a comfortable state of mindfulness.

One last tip to consider for beginning this breathing meditation is to fix a short time for the practice. It has been proven that ‘meditating for short times can still catalyze beneficial changes in the brain.’  To start, meditate between two and ten minutes. It is best to set a timer or an alarm so your mind isn’t burdened with an extra distraction, or you don’t get so lost in the meditation that you pass more time than you anticipated! Then, make this short period of meditation a daily activity for a few days. According to Psychology Today, ‘beginner meditators who practiced for 11 days were over 90% likely to continue meditation.’ As you feel more comfortable meditating, gradually lengthen the time of the practice, working your way up to as much time as you can make for mindful meditation during your day.

Choosing a clean, quite setting, sitting comfortably and erect, and focusing on a slow pattern of breath are the basics to beginning a successful breathing meditation. For a short time of your day, over the course of a few days, it is likely you will experience the benefits meditation has to offer. More importantly, you will develop a strong sense of mindfulness and awareness of your present surroundings.

Best of luck beginning the breathing meditation, and look forward to the mindfulness that comes with it!

 

The Origin Of The Yoga Mat And Its Purpose Today

If a person says they’re heading off to practice yoga, you may automatically picture him or her wearing tight fitting workout gear with a rolled up yoga mat in tow.

Why? Is the mat required by the yoga instructor? Does it help to achieve poses? Who started using yoga mats anyway?

A brief history of the yoga mat in an article by Collin Hall states that the yoga mat was invented to aid a person’s medical condition and happened to catch on.

He credits yoga instructor Angela Farmer as the first to use a yoga mat in 1968 in London, England.

Earlier in her life, Farmer underwent a medical procedure which disabled her from sweating from her hands and feet. Getting a good grip on the floor, therefore, resulted in some difficulty. In an attempt to solve her problem, she purchased a piece of material from a carpet factory she found while working in Munich, Germany.

The carpet material successfully fixed her issue. Additionally, the students she instructed in London became interested in her new tool. To satisfy the students’ desire for a yoga mat just like their instructor’s, Farmer’s father partnered with the German carpet factory to make more mats. The rest, as they say, is history.

Hall goes on to mention that the grip yoga mats provide average users with can hinder the body’s movement: the relationship between strength and flexibility becomes unbalanced. When hands and feet are placed in a fixed position (strongly reinforced by the yoga mat), there is less movement the body undergoes. This emphasizes the need to be flexible, creating a ‘tendency to wedge oneself into postures.” There is then less of a need to use the body’s strength in order to hold positions.

Yet, the yoga mat, Hall continues, provides a way to show one’s personality. One can choose a solid color or a fun pattern that reflects character. One can make a statement by choosing a mat that was made in an environmentally friendly way. One can choose an expensive brand name yoga mat that markets itself as the best of the best, or the most basic yoga mat that was on sale.

Try practicing yoga without a mat and see for yourself what you prefer.

Having a piece of personality on the floor also builds a personal boundary. One marks their own space, a space that he or she is only allowed to enter. It creates a comfort zone, or it creates a boundary that blocks out others.

Reflecting on my own yoga practice, I can imagine myself not using a mat. I have yet to try it, but I can picture myself feeling liberated from a rectangular space that confines me. I can connect with the floor below me, and focus on my strength rather than my flexibility. However, the mat helps me mark my movements and reminds me to not spread myself out so far while changing my positions. In classes, mostly everyone else uses a yoga mat, and it’s more comfortable to practice on rather than a hard surface.

Reaching a state of mindfulness through yoga can only be done when you feel most comfortable. If you force yourself to take part in an activity that hinders you in anyway, there is no point, for you will be distracted from being mindful.

Try practicing yoga without a mat and see for yourself what you prefer. Mindfully acknowledge your sense of touch as you go about your movements to get the best feel for the method you would like to stick with. Go between the two as many times as you need to discover your partiality.

Whether you choose to always use a mat, never use a mat, or alternate between the two, the choice is ultimately yours. Enjoy the practice of yoga and the mindfulness that follows.

Benefits for the Brain

After you meditate, your state of mindfulness will result in a feeling of calm and relaxation of thoughts.

Why?

According to neuroscience Richie Davidson, the brain is always capable of changing throughout its lifetime. In scientific studies such as this one, it has been proven that mindful meditation “is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.” In other words, mindful meditation affects the parts of our brains that translate to wellness.

Jennifer Wolkin, Ph D., for mindful.org explains a few examples of where the brain changes after mindful meditation and those parts’ responsibilities related to wellness.

Below, I further break down the certain parts of the brain affected based on Wolkin’s article:

  • Anterior Cingulate Cortex: Self-regulatory process. Deals with handling conflicts
  • Prefrontal Cortex: Executive functioning. Decisions in planning, problem solving, and emotion regulation
  • Hippocampus: Part of limbic system involved in learning and memory. Susceptible to stress related disorders like depression
  • Amygdala: Base of anxiousness and fear
  • Connections between Amygdala and pre-frontal cortex: Can potentially strengthen awareness
  • Default Mode Network (DMN): The wandering of thoughts in our minds

Mindful meditation can improve the functionings of these parts of the brain. Entering a state of mindfulness can calm our emotions in stressful times to make rational decisions, calm anxious feelings, and ease wild thoughts. More importantly, with the brain’s constant ability to change, it is possible to make habits of mindfulness. Mindful habits can result in a more stable state of each mentioned part of the brain.

Some affects will be felt immediately after entering a state of mindfulness, and with frequent practice, may be present often. Science has proven the positive affects of mindfulness on the brain; why not give mindful meditation a shot?

To Clarify: The Meanings of “Mindful Meditation” and “Mindfulness”

I would like to take a quick moment to talk about some words that are important to this blog.

Meditation is a practice; it is the foundation on which one begins his or her path to a calm state. The act of meditating, in most cases, uses breath as an anchor to bring one’s focus on the present moment. Paying attention to the senses (seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling) one at a time while breathing deeply focuses concentration to where one currently is in his or her surroundings. When one is finished meditation, the hope is that he or she has reached a state of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the state one experiences after completing a meditation practice. Mindfulness is being aware of oneself in a physical surrounding, and being more conscious of that surrounding. It is realizing oneself existing purely in the present moment.

To meditate one must be mindful. One must be mindful (fully aware) of breath and the senses to be immersed in the practice of meditation. To be purely focused on the movement of air in and out of one’s body, and to be purely focused on noticing what each sense can interpret is the act of mindful meditation.

So to participate in meditation, it is a given that one must be mindful. When I say meditation in my writing, it is implied that one needs to be mindful while practicing meditation. Meditation is not always easy, especially when the mind feels super cluttered and busy with different thoughts flying around aimlessly. Specifying meditation as “mindful meditation” provides that nice little reminder of why one is meditating in the first place: to reach the state of mindfulness, where thoughts are settled down in the mind so focus can be dedicated on the present moment.

In short, [mindful] meditation is the the cause, and the state of mindfulness is the effect. Mindful meditation is the action, and the state of mindfulness is the result.

Why Bother with Mindful Meditation?

What this blog is about

This blog discusses meditation as a key to mindfulness.

There are many types of simple meditation to satisfy different people for best results, such as breathing attentively, eating a meal, going for a walk, or practicing yoga. All have the ability to create a feeling of calmness; relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression; and, most importantly, become mindful. Being mindful means

  • being more attuned to surroundings
  • appreciating the presence of all things in surroundings
  • building thanks for any situation one may come to face

With a dedication to practice, meditation can become daily habit. The habit will result in a positive mindfulness capable of calming and brightening one’s life.

Why I’m Interested

Meditation, for me, is an escape from a cluttered, stressful mindset. During a time not so long ago, I held onto an impossibly negative view of life. I believed there was no purpose for attempting to live a meaningful life before an inevitable death; life was simply a hard number of years to go through. I thought the struggles and tough times outweighed achieving success and experiencing good times.

Too dark? Just a bit.

My way of thinking had me feeling miserable, and I became sick of it. In turning to a workbook aimed at finding joy through wellness, I found meditation. Repeating basic meditation practices brought my focus to positivity in the present moment. Meditating in different ways calmed my mind’s busy thought process, which was responsible for causing unnecessary amounts of debilitating stress and sorrow. Thanks to meditation, I now have a pleasantly mindful outlook on life, which translates to my overall improved mental health and well-being.

Who Else May Be Interested?

The public for this blog on meditation includes a range of people interested in a basic introduction to the benefits of mindful meditation practices. For whatever reason you are here, your are welcome to learn about foundational aspects of mindfulness and meditation, and consider giving some simple meditation practices a shot.

Online Community of the Mindful

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. — Goldstein is a licensed psychologist who focuses on “mindfulness to achieve mental and emotional healing.” His blog offers resources for support in achieving mindful state.

BrainCurves — BrainCurves is a blog run by Jennifer Wolkin, Ph D., a licensed psychologist and clinical neuropsychologist. It focuses on the link between wellness of mind and body in women.

Susan Albers, Psy. D. — Albers is a clinical psychologist and New York Times best-selling author. She has written multiple books on mindful eating. Her blog illustrates her knowledge on the link between psychology and eating, and how one can put the two together mindfully.

Mindful.org — Mindful.org is the website for the bi-monthly magazine, Mindful. Its mission is to provide information and insight, personal and professional, to succeed in mindful living (Both Goldstein and Wolkin can be found writing for the site).

Zen Habits — Leo Babauta is a blogger and best-selling author of multiple ebooks. On one of his many blogs, Zen Habits, he writes about “finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives… so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.”

Each source mentioned has different insights on different mindful meditation practices. Such diversity is beneficial for different individuals searching for the method of mindful meditation that is right for them.

What this Blog Aims to Achieve

  • Discuss the benefits of mindful meditation
  • Introduce a variety of mindful meditation practices
  • Inspire readers to give mindful meditation a try
  • Create a desire in readers to turn basic mindful meditation practices that are right for them into daily habits.

I find simple ways of meditation to be a driving factor behind a mindful lifestyle, and I will promote this idea with reputable resources, my own experiences, and a passion for contributing to a mindful community of people.

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