People often ask me when they begin to practice mindfulness whether it is necessary to meditate. In truth I think the answer must be yes. While it is true that we can practice being mindful in many ways, through the way we eat, work and engage in our daily lives, if we want to really develop traction in our mindfulness practice then meditation is key. People experience great results from just making an effort to be more mindful in everyday life, cultivating presence and openness and intentionally being grounded in the senses, noticing our bodies and having a friendliness towards our own experience. However, regular meditation makes these benefits even more pronounced.
In the same way that we benefit from practicing any new skill we take up, whether it is a sport, hobby or other creative pursuit, so too mindfulness practice is enhanced by having a regular meditation practice. Meditation helps us systematically rewire our brains: out of default mode and into a state of being engaged paying attention to the present moment. When we do this repeatedly we form new neural connections in the prefontal cortex and develop our mindfulness muscle. In meditation we get to really notice the thoughts and the mental chatter of the mind, we pay attention to the stories and distractions without engaging in them and even when we do follow them down the old well worn track we consciously choose to bring our attention back to the present moment, moment after moment.
Using a Guided Meditation
If you have never meditated before you might like to try using a guided meditation. There are many free apps available and you can download recordings from the internet. You might try UCLA guided meditations, Headspace, Smiling mind or Jon Kabat Zinn to name just a few. If you would like to get assistance with developing a meditation practice you can contact me via this website!
Leading yourself through a Sitting Meditation
Sit somewhere comfortable where you won’t be distracted. Set your timer/phone to what feels doable for you. You could start small, say 5 minutes and build up to longer as it feels more manageable. Allow yourself time to settle and arrive, letting go of what has been going on prior to now. You might notice sounds outside or noises in the street. Gradually bring your attention to your body and notice your posture, sit comfortably but not so you will fall asleep!
Gently notice any patterns of tension in your body and feel free to let that go. Notice any mental tension, anxiety or stories in your mind and gently let that go also, just by noticing and bringing your attention back to your body. Now bring your attention to your breath. Notice the breath as it comes in and out, see if you can notice the pause between breaths and when your attention wanders, as it naturally will, gently bring it back to your breath. The practice is not to stop thoughts and mind wandering but rather to notice and gently bring your attention back each time you notice. The practice of mindfulness is simply to recognise when the mind wanders and bring it back to the breath. To this breath in this moment.