Life can lead us to face negative thought patterns, addictions, fear our future and question our place within this world.  Sometimes the fear that we can’t break these patterns can push us into denial and prevent us from acknowledging the consequences of our behaviour, but research into mindfulness meditation shows that our temperament and characters can be significantly altered, therefore allowing us to understand that whatever we discover about our self, we CAN gain dramatic breakthroughs. Mindfulness can retrain our mind, creating new neural pathways, whereby for example, an aggressive person can learn to temper that feeling by recognising how to be assertive, without succumbing to a hostile mind-set, which would cause problems to arise. It is only recently that new research has shown that we can alter the structure of our brain and reap the benefits well into adulthood and the more we practise mindfulness, the thicker our brain becomes in the mid-prefrontal cortex and mid-insular region, (the area responsible for optimism and a sense of well-being, along with the ability to be reflective) proving that changing ‘our mind’ can actually cause changes in our brain. It has been shown that even those of us who only practise mindfulness meditation for as little as four hours a week can achieve and sustain advanced states of concentration and insight – intention and attention of focus being the key.

Discover the 3 basic ways we can practise Mindfulness Meditation

Learn about 5 benefits of mindful meditation!

There many good reasons for us to practise mindfulness meditation and these are five persuasive arguments, which research has shown us, can enrich our lives:

  • Helps to understand our pain – pain is a fact of life, but we do not need to allow it to take over our life. Mindfulness can help us adapt our relationship with mental and physical pain.
  • Helps us to better connect in our relationships – there will be times when we have all found ourselves staring blankly at a friend, colleague, child etc with little idea of what they have just said! Mindfulness can help us give our full attention.
  • Promotes reduction of stress – we all know that excess stress can cause many illnesses and make existing illnesses worse. Mindfulness can greatly help reduce stress.
  • Focuses our mind – it can be very difficult to concentrate when our mind is constantly wandering. Mindfulness meditation will refine our ability to focus.
  • Reduces brain chatter – how often do we hear that nagging, nattering voice in our head? Mindful meditation can help us give that voice a break!

There are many diverse, simple techniques, but there are three basic aspects: body, breath and thoughts.

  1. The body – firstly we use an eyes-open practise to allow us to allow what we have in front of us to be part of the practise. We choose a quiet space where there are not too many distractions like the tv or computer – if we wish, we can light candles and incense and even have a small altar of some kind. Next, we pick our seat – it’s ok to either sit on a cushion on the floor (it helps to use a cushion designed for meditation like a zafu), or on a chair. If we choose a chair, ensure it doesn’t tilt back too much and if our legs are dangling we should put something on the floor for our feet to rest on. We also need to ensure that our hips are higher than our knees with a cushion, otherwise our back will soon begin to hurt. Take an upright, but not rigid posture, with the back straight, but with the natural curve in the lower back. If we are sitting on a cushion, simply cross the legs comfortably in from of you. Again – we need our hips to be higher than our knees, so if necessary add more height to the cushion. Hands rest on thighs, palms down and our gaze rests on the floor in front about 4 feet away. The gaze is not tightly focused, but just resting on the floor. Begin by just sitting for a few minutes – our attention will wander: that’s part of what we will notice with our mindfulness – but when we become aware that ours has wandered, we gently bring our self back to the ‘present’.
  2. The breath – rest our attention lightly on our breath, feeling as it goes into our body and as it goes out. We are not trying to control our breath, as we are just interested in how we already are, but if we find that we are – as the mere fact of thinking about it can sometimes make us do it – then we just let it be however it is. Again, we sit for a few minutes. In and out…in and out. We will be focusing about 25% of our attention on our breath and the rest on our body and our surroundings.
  3. Our thoughts – as we sit practising, we will notice thoughts arise. Sometimes, there will be a big jumble, tumbling over each other; memories, future plans, fantasies, even maybe a chorus of a song! There may be no gaps at all where we can notice our breath, but that’s not unusual, particularly when new to meditation. Just notice everything that happens and when we become aware that the thoughts have taken over and we have forgotten where we are, just gently bring our self back to our breath again. We can silently say ‘thinking’ to remind our self of what just happened, but we are not judging – just giving a neutral observation: ‘Thinking has just occurred’

When we are new to this practise we should try to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, gradually increasing to 20 or 30 minutes. Eventually, we can extend it to 45 to 60 minutes, but then we may wish to learn how to do walking meditation, which is detailed as follows.

‘We should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless we’re too busy – then we should sit for an hour’  Old Zen adage