Less Autopilot, More Presence: 8 Weeks of Mindfulness Meditation

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What do you think of when you hear the word ‘meditation’?

Some of us might imagine an elderly bearded yogi, sitting cross legged, thumb and fore-finger forming a circle and levitating above a mountain top. Or maybe we imagine a Buddhist monk in orange robe, sitting peacefully beside a pond, chanting away…

Some of our ideas about meditation might be true, but there’s more to it than this!

What is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation isn’t a religion and doesn’t require emptying your mind or slamming on the brakes to halt your train of thought. It’s impossible to stop thinking altogether anyway – the harder you try to stop thinking the more frustrated you’ll get. You don’t need to chant ‘Om!’ or sit cross-legged in the lotus position beneath a waterfall (of course, you’re more than welcome to do this if you wish). It is a simple mental exercise which can be performed by anybody, anywhere – another method for improving your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.

Common mindfulness meditations involve becoming aware of the breath, the sensations in the body and learning to simply observe your thoughts without trying to control or judge anything – just allowing everything to be as it is for those few moments.

Meditation can be done sitting on a chair, cushion or stool or even lying down on a mat or thick rug in any place you feel comfortable. Some other ways to meditate mindfully include sitting still and listening to sounds in your environment, doing lights stretches while focussing on your breath or paying more attention to the scents you smell, textures you feel and flavours you taste while eating a raisin or a piece of chocolate.

What are the benefits of minfulness meditation?

Now you may be wondering, why would anyone spend their time sitting around thinking about their breath or eating a raisin when the family, the children, the boss, the meetings, the bills, the emails, the assignments, the homework, the housework, the telephone and the 100-page To-Do list all need attention right now?

We all know life gets busy. At times it can leave us feeling dissatisfied, stressed, panicked or simply just depleted from being stuck in Doing-Mode 24/7. As important as checking off things on our To-Do list may be, it’s even more important to keep our bodies and minds in check.

Studies show those who practise mindfulness regularly have significantly decreased irritability, anxiety and depression, improved memory, faster reaction time, increased mental and physical stamina and are happier and more contented than average. Regular meditation has also been proven to reduce hypertension, to reduce the impact of chronic pain and can even help boost the immune system.

Many people who practice mindfulness say they gain more time compared to the amount of time spent practising. Daily mindfulness of just a few minutes could save you hours, days or even weeks of stress, worry, pain and forgetfulness. It’s amazing how much can be achieved from simply breathing and watching thoughts float by for a few moments a day.

What’s your motive for 8 Weeks of Mindfulness?

Mindfulness just seems like another useful tool for managing stress and getting out of daily Autopilot Mode. It’s time to say goodbye to the ‘work – rush – eat – sleep – repeat,’ routine and hello to extra time, energy and relaxation.

Now the concept of mindfulness isn’t entirely new to me but I’m no expert either. I’ve tried meditating before here and there and was first introduced to it by a teacher at school several years ago during a Health, Beauty and Wellness-themed day. But this is the first time I’ve actually tried to make it a daily practice for an extended amount of time.

As well as books and CDs, there are various free resources such as articles, apps, podcasts and videos on mindfulness and how to meditate which can be found just about anywhere. I have been using ‘Mindfulness: A guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman’ with guided meditations and I find both the guide and audio really useful.

What does mindfulness meditation feel like?

I plan to work my way through the guided meditations from the book over 8 weeks. So far I have been meditating twice a day for almost 5 days straight. The meditation technique I’ve been doing for Week 1 is called the Body Scan. It’s a very simple exercise which involves becoming aware of sensations in the body and the breath, starting from the feet upwards. It takes less than 8 minutes a time – so that’s only 15 minutes of my day spent. It is early days but I feel I may be benefiting already – I generally feel more focused and refreshed in the day and feel better rested at night.

Your initial experience might be calming and relaxing from the get-go. But for some, meditation seems boring at first. They may lose their patience for being still or might even become frustrated if thay can’t ‘stop thinking,’ and have constant mental-reminders of their To-do list or random memories start flooding into the mind.

Like any new exercise it’s going to feel very different. You might feel silly at first but you’ll eventually get into it and discover parts of yourself you didn’t even realise existed. As with any exercise, it’s best to begin with a warm-up and short sessions, then later customise it to suit yourself better. As you get better at it, you progress to longer and more advanced sessions and with a little time, effort and patience you get to reap the benefits of your exercise!

Have you ever tried mindfulness meditation? What else do you like to do to stay balanced and present? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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