|Sitting quietly for a few minutes a day is the first step to developing mindfulness |
(the ability to be present in the moment)
Simple meditation is the first step to living more mindfully, being present in each moment and enjoying it without your mind being elsewhere. And science shows, it works.
Mindfulness means living in the moment, not ruminating on the past or planning the future. You learn to enjoy the moment that you are in.
Becoming mindful could be the most life-changing thing you ever do. Once you have an appreciation for what is going on in your mind, all sorts of possibilities and opportunities reveal themselves.
We all know what it is like when life seems frantic. Thoughts can be whizzing round our heads and we can feel like we are caught up in it all.
Mindfulness doesn’t mean sitting still; it is about making the most out of life and enjoying every second of it. While we are doing all the things we love to do, we learn to keep our cool and to enjoy the lighter side of life.
How can I become mindful?
Meditation is the daily practice that develops our ability to become mindful. It is a bit like a gym session for your mind.
We know that keeping physically fit is good for our bodies, and our minds are no different in that they need to be kept fit and healthy too. They do so much for us that they deserve some attention, and that means both workout sessions and periods of rest and recuperation.
Meditation requires commitment. The more often you do it the more benefits you see. But unlike going to the gym, it doesn’t need cost anything, you don’t need to travel anywhere and the moment you begin you start to feel the benefits.
Sound too good to be true? Well, give this simple meditation a try.
A meditation for beginners
Sit on a straight-backed chair, as the spine has to be upright and you want to feel comfortable and relaxed. Place your hands on your thighs.
Once you are sitting comfortably, take a few deep breaths. Then close your eyes.
Count your breaths, one for an in-breath, two for the out-breath, and so on until you reach ten. Then go back to one.
Repeat this until your time is up (set a timer for ten minutes, so your mind is not distracted by wondering how long you’ve been sitting there).
Retraining your brain
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? In one sense it is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The complicating factor is the busy mind that most of us have. You will get to three or four and all of a sudden realise that your mind is elsewhere, deep in thought. When that happens, simply go back to one and start again.
This will happen time and time again. Don’t think that you are failing. This is exactly what you should expect. Each time you bring your thoughts back to the counting you are training your brain and creating new mental habits.
Do this exercise once and you will feel the benefits of rest and relaxation. It is not often that we allow ourselves to sit still and focus our thoughts on one thing.
Keep this up every day for a week and you should see change in yourself. You will probably notice that your thoughts slow and you are more able to focus and concentrate. You will then start to see this being reflected in your daily life.
A physical change in your brain’s grey matter
After eight weeks of meditating, the difference you have made to your brain would be visible on an MRI scan.
In 2011, a team at Massachusetts General Hospital, led by Harvard-affiliated researchers, was the first to document how regular meditation produced changes in the brain’s grey matter. (The grey matter is the darker neural tissue in the brain and spinal cord that processes information. It takes in signals from our sensory organs, processes them, and sends out a message to our nerve cells to respond to the stimuli.)
Since grey matter naturally decreases as we age, keeping it in good working order is particularly important as we get older. The study’s senior author Sara Lazar, a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology, said: “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of the reported [cognitive and psychological] improvements of meditation and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
You could do this exercise every day for the rest of your life and still get benefit from it each time.
8 tips to help you meditate
Be somewhere you will not be disturbed, so that you can relax fully without the phone ringing or someone knocking on the door.
Use a timer so that you sit for the intended period. When you first start, you will think you have been sitting for much longer than you have.
When you sit still your body temperature naturally drops so think about this beforehand, and get the room warm or perhaps drape a blanket around your shoulders.
Try to meditate at a regular time each day. Our bodies love routine and so do our minds.
Try to sit in the same place to meditate. Your mind will learn to get into meditation mode when you go to this place.
Start with ten minutes a day. (If this is too much for you to fit in, even five minutes will help get you on your way to becoming a less stressful and more focused person.)
Encourage a friend to start meditating and then you can compare notes and keep each other going. But remember, everyone’s experience is different, and there is no right or wrong.
Don’t judge any meditation as good or bad. If you have a particularly busy mind sometimes, it is just a reflection of how you are feeling at that particular time.