In earlier years, the practice of meditation was widely used for spiritual and religious purposes. But over the years, other uses for meditation, like relaxation and stress management, have emerged. Although there are several other types of meditation, we’ll be focusing specifically on mindfulness meditation. The American Mindfulness Research Association (AMRA) defines mindfulness as “the state, process, and practice of remembering to observe moment-to-moment experience with openness and without… previously conditioned thoughts, emotions or behaviors.” It is simply the act of being aware of yourself and the way in which you approach situations in a more objective manner.
Mindfulness meditation comes in all shapes and forms. People often practice being mindful, which includes the same principles while acting in the present and not needing to meditate to achieve awareness in an objective perspective. But a study conducted in 2014 concluded that higher mindfulness has a negative relationship with implicit learning sequences, which underlay habit formation. They suggest that “the beneficial effects of mindfulness do not extend to all domains of cognitive functioning.” In simpler terms, those who practice being mindful at a higher level result in a decreased ability to form habits. Another prominent reason for why mindfulness meditation is practiced includes preventing depression or relapses in depression. Several articles in the news have risen about mindfulness therapy being a better alternative to antidepressant treatments. Testing this theory, Dr. Willem Kuyken and his team tested two randomly assigned groups in which the adult patients had experienced several previous depressive episodes. They discovered no evidence that suggested mindfulness-based therapy proved better results than antidepressant medications in preventing relapse. But on the other hand, both these studies explained that although mindfulness decreases the ability to form habits, it could ultimately keep someone from growing an unhealthy addiction. Similarly, Dr. Kuyken’s results showed that, although not better than, mindfulness-based therapy is just as good as antidepressant treatments.
Like the explanations previously mentioned, there have been both physical and mental benefits in practicing mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. It has even been proved to aid in reducing pain and pain-related psychological effects, especially for those who have substance use disorders. The study also focused on soldiers and veterans who have been deployed, but explained they would need a larger design in order to provide more precise results. Another meta-analysis reviewed tens of studies that were linked to the results of mindfulness meditation, very similar to the research recalled earlier from 2014. The studies covered several different clinical populations, including those with pain, cancer, depression, anxiety, and even nonclinical populations. Altogether, they discovered that mindfulness-based therapy can aid in coping with both clinical and nonclinical diagnoses. Not surprisingly, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress, irritability, depression, anxiety, anger, and a whole slew of other symptoms common with cancer outpatients as well. Studying a wide variety of sex, ages, cancer diagnoses, and stages of illness, researchers observed decreased mood disturbance after cancer patients practiced home meditation and attended a seven-week mindfulness meditation program. After looking into mindfulness meditation and its benefits, the research could be its own encyclopedia in and of itself. The studies surrounding mindfulness meditation covers all kinds of populations, clinical and nonclinical patients, that it is safe to assume that mindfulness meditation could potentially benefit everyone.
Those who wish to practice mindfulness meditation should visit Mindful’s guide for a more detailed explanation on how to even start. But here is a simplified version of their step-by-step instructions:
- Start a timer – begin with a 15-minute session and increase with experience
- Sit down – whether it be on a meditation cushion or a bench, take a seat!
- If you’re sitting on the floor, cross your legs and if not, keep the bottoms of your feet flat on the ground
- Straighten your upper body and let your spine rest in its natural curve
- Let your hands drop on your thighs
- Drop your chin and allow your gaze to fall – with closed or opened eyes
- Relax by focusing on the inhales and exhales of your breaths
- Your mind will naturally begin to wander and when you become aware of yourself, revert back to focusing on your breaths
When your mind naturally wanders, do not overthink what your mind focuses on. It could be a situation that you experience earlier in the day, or something you said to someone. But the point of mindfulness meditation is to look at events in an objective matter and to not overthink. Now those who are more experience, or become more experienced, will start to have deeper and longer meditation sessions. Be aware that there have been cases where people unveil traumatic memories and emotions and to seek help if those do emerge again. But mindfulness meditation practice doesn’t have to involve you joining a program for the rest of your life, especially if you are just starting out and want to test the waters. Participating in a short meditation training has proven to improve mood and reduce fatigue and anxiety in the long run – just as much and even more as long-term meditators. So all in all, take a few moments out of your daily life to take a seat and just breathe.