What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness can be defined as: paying attention, on purpose, with intention, in the present moment, with loving-kindness and without judgement. Taking a mindful minute, to re-engage with the present moment, and notice your thoughts as they go by, like clouds in the sky, anchoring your attention to the inhale and exhale, the depth and beauty of your breath, how you can focus your attention on your surroundings, and tune in to thoughts and sensations, and have mindful awareness of what is going on in your body. This is called moment-to-moment awareness. This is meditation practice – connection to the breath, and to the present moment, and to self. Jon Kabat-Zinn calls mediation practice a love affair with yourself, and it really is.
I’d like to introduce the Mindful Pause activity. Ask yourself, what would it be like to press pause, and not react but to respond? Take a mindful pause, be aware of your reactions, and not let emotions lead your responses, take a moment for mindful breath and clarity, release what you think you know, and simple observe without reacting. Taking a mindful pause, in practice, over several weeks, will yield certain results. How would using this technique benefit you? Both in the relationship with yourself, your loved ones, and those around you? What’s it like to engage in loving-kindness meditation – to send loving-kindness to yourself, to loved ones, to people you struggle with, and to the world?
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is the Father of Mindfulness, he brought Mindfulness and Meditation over from the East and Westernized it, made it applicable and impactful in treating chronic pain and stress, and the benefits grew from there. Check out his following books: Mindfulness for Beginners, and, Where Ever You Go, There You Are. Jon is also the founder and creator of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programing and teacher training at UMass Memorial Health Care in Boston, where people go to learn mindfulness skills to enhance attention, productivity, communication, resilience and more.
I have my favorite teachers (including Jon) when it comes to mindfulness meditation practice, this includes Tara Brach and Sharon Salzberg.
Tara Brach, author of Radical Compassion, and the RAIN meditation, awakens our courage and heart. To help people address feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, Tara shares a meditation called the RAIN of Self-Compassion.
The acronym RAIN is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion using the following four steps:
Recognize what is going on;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with interest and care;
Nurture with self-compassion.
You can take your time and explore RAIN as a stand-alone meditation or move through the steps whenever challenging feelings arise.
Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Change, Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World, she states:
“Mindfulness and even loving-kindness meditation practices are commonly thought of as personal and inward focused, but they can very much be social practices as well….in the morning, before I meditate, I often spend time thinking of someone I know who is struggling.”
This reminds me of the power of mindfulness meditation practice, that we are all connected and we have the power to send everyone loving-kindness. Many of us do this already, when we pray for each other. A loving-kindness mantra I use regularly is: May you be filled with loving-kindness, may you be free from suffering, may you be at peace and at ease, may you be happy.
In my work with clients at The Marriage Point, my intention is to create an atmosphere of loving-kindness and acceptance. My role is to empower, educates and guide clients, both couples and individuals, on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation practice.
The goal with couples and individuals in reference to their relationships, mindfulness helps to improve the quality of their relationships through the practice of presence, self-acceptance, mindful communication, loving-kindness, and more! I highlight the benefits of creating a mindfulness and meditation practice, while encouraging clients to try it out for themselves for a week and report back their findings. Only when we notice the benefits in real time in our own lives, do we begin to find value in this daily practice of mindfulness and meditation. I separate the two because, to simply phrase it, mindfulness is a daily practice of moment to moment awareness, while meditation is the act of siting in meditation, getting to the cushion, the art of being, which then has tremendous benefits in our day to day interactions and impact of stress.
Online tools and apps are available, I enjoy using the CALM app.
The CALM app is something that I introduce early on in sessions with clients. Many already have a meditation practice, which is great! It shows me that our culture has opened up our minds and bodies to the benefits of mindfulness and meditation practice. This app happens to be my favorite one on the market, because it mirrors the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, and educates users on the value of having a beginners mind, that it’s not about being good at meditation, it’s about simply doing it and noticing with mindful awareness, the positive affects it has in your personal life. Tamara Levitt is great, she is usually the voice you hear in the daily meditations. I encourage clients to engage in the app, try the beginners series, and search out other mediations that touch on what their working on in therapy; including but not limited to; sleep, anxiety, beginners, stress, work, self-care, inner peace, focus, emotions, relationships, personal growth, and kids.
Benefits of regular mindfulness and meditation practice include better sleep, less physical pain, lowered physiological response to stress, improved relationships and better immune function are in my top five. I’ve seen mindfulness and meditation practice improve relationships, self-esteem, even repair and improve strained relationships. In a love relationship, a friendship, co-parenting situation, or long term companionate marital relationship, when we are more present and less judgmental, more open-minded and actively listening and learning about our partner, the bond of trust and commitment is considerably strengthened, which improves communication and conflict resolution.
Also, after some time in practice, our minds are less all over the place in terms of the dreaded hamster wheel of rumination and random thoughts, and the voice in our heads that remind us of our responsibilities and endless to-do lists. In practice, we are able to focus our attention where we want it to go, and our mind can be trained to focus in the moment, with intention and purpose, on the present moment. We are able to move away from emotional, irrational anger states quicker, vs lingering there and creating resentments.
We can engage with life vs. life taking us on a wild high-speed train, a result from being on overdrive, overworked and overly stressed out. We can move into a state of being, we are human beings but we spend too much time doing. When we are being more present, aware, and in tune with what’s going on outside of us and inside of us, we drop in to a mindful state of being, and it becomes a lifestyle. When we practice time in being vs. doing, everything becomes clear, when we’re calm and focused and present, we’re more fun to be around, and life becomes more enjoyable and less threatening.
Mindfulness and meditation practice can align wonderfully with your current spiritual and religious practices.
Mindfulness meditation practice is neutral and universal, and can align easily with any doctrine or spiritual practice. I invite everyone, regardless of spiritual practice and background, to engage in mindfulness and meditation 2-3 times a week, in addition to what they’re currently doing to grow spiritually, and to report back what they notice improves in their day to day interactions with people (and bonus, you may notice you are kinder and less judgmental to yourself, too).
Ask yourself the following:
- How does this align with my current spiritual practice? For example, to love self and others, love thy neighbor, be honest and kind, be grateful for my life and my many blessings.
- What if I were able to operate more from a place of neutrality and non-judgement?
- How would my close relationships improve?
- How can I be more kind to myself and others?
- How can I learn to love and accept myself more?
Background on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR)
- Founded in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School
- A well-defined systematic, educational approach to self-care that is participatory and based on mindfulness meditation
- Evidence-based treatment approach for emotional and physical conditions
- Is conducted in a supportive, non-judgmental environment that emphasizes self-efficacy and self-responsibility
- Homework is assigned and exercises in awareness and mindfulness is practiced daily
Central Focus of MBSR and Neuroplasticity
- Intensive Training in Mindfulness Meditation
- It’s integration into the challenges, opportunities and adventures in everyday life
- To alleviate suffering and cultivate peace and wisdom
- Mindfulness supports the activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the area having to do with a sense of well-being and approach vs. avoidance
- Supports growth and regeneration of grey matter in the hippocampus (memory and learning) and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection
- Decreases the are in the amygdala that appraises anxiety and threat
Formal Practice includes 20 minutes or more of guided meditation daily, minimum 3 times a week for 6 weeks.
Daily Mindfulness Meditation Practice:
- Being with connection to the breath
- Body Scan
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Guided Imagery
- Mindful Walking
- Mindful Eating
- Gentle Yoga
- Loving-Kindness practice
- Mountain Meditation
Informal practice includes:
- Practice of Moment to Moment Awareness
- Check in with thoughts – Mindful Filter
- Intentionally attending to daily experiences
- Mindful Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s)
- Mindful Commute
- Mindful Interactions with others
- Mindful Eating
- Hour to hour 5-minute check-ins, and regular drop-ins
- Mindfulness in all things – a lifestyle and love affair with your life
Empirical Evidence that Supports Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
- Reduced Rumination
- Stress Reduction
- Boosts Working Memory
- Focus and Information Processing Speed
- Less Emotional Reactivity
- More Cognitive Flexibility
- Relationship Satisfaction
- Better Immune Function
In summary, there are so many wonderful reasons and ways to engage in mindfulness meditation. It can take a few moments, 10-20 minutes a day, in the morning and the evening, to create time to listen to meditations in the CALM app, or to read a new book or listen to a pod cast. I encourage you to create a mindfulness and meditation practice that works for you, and I can say with confidence, it will benefit your life. I hope I’ve encouraged you to give it a try, and I look forward to hearing from you!