Learning Mindful Meditation

Anyone who sees meditation as “woo woo” may only be thinking of it as sitting on a fluffed cushion, with your back pin straight, and both hands curled up into mudras.  While they’re not wrong, there’s so many ways to practice mindful meditation. You can follow a guided meditation on an app, walk outside to your own rhythm, bike, run, or simply lay in silence on the floor. What’s important is practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness refers to a process that leads to a mental state characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment experience, including one’s sensations, thoughts, bodily states, consciousness, and the environment, while encouraging openness, curiosity, and acceptance.” Basically, it’s being present and feeling everything exactly as it is.

Being mindful allows us to acknowledge physical feelings, emotions, or thoughts that we’ve pushed away during the business of life. Even better, it gives us the opportunity to experience them and let them go. If the thoughts or feelings persist, then we know it’s something for us to work on later.  Mindful Meditation has been used in psychology in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Therapy, or MBSR to assist with stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Two types of meditation that are less spoken about are movement meditation and loving kindness meditation. These two utilize the same concept of mindfulness, but one is focused on sensations in the body, while the other focuses on emotions.

Movement meditation is placing attention on the sensation of your body while it’s in motion. The key is mindfulness, and the movement itself doesn’t matter. It could be Tai Chi, yoga, or even washing the dishes. 

Here’s an example of a walking meditation:

  1. Take a few minutes to steady your breathing. Become fully present in your body and feel both feet anchored to the floor.
  2. As you step forward with the right foot, feel your weight shift, notice the pressure transferring from your heel to the ball of your foot as you move forward.  
  3. As you plant that right foot into its new place, take note of what you feel in your body beyond the sole of your foot. Have your hips shifted? Do you feel the tension of a stretch? Is your jaw suddenly tense and clenched? Evaluate your entire body like a mental scan.
  4. Next, notice if any thoughts have come to mind, or emotions. Rather than instantly redirecting your focus to the task of walking, identify every thought and feeling. Let it be there for a moment, before moving your attention back to the present moment.
  5. Finally, come back to your breathing. Breathe in and out, letting that experience go, and then move on to repeat it with the other foot.

We don’t have to sit motionless to meditate, so don’t let that concept limit you. Moving in slow and intentional ways lets us be more in tune with our bodies and minds. There is a connection, and possibly patterns between the two. For example, movement for me is usually tied to more creative thoughts. Whereas, physical stillness is associated with feeling emotions and often judgment. Meditation created space for me to learn this about myself, and is a useful tool to fully experience life in the moment, and identify our needs.

Loving kindness meditation is defined as a meditation that refers to “a mental state of unselfish and unconditional kindness to all beings.”In this technique you take time to intentionally send kindness to others and to yourself, and you allow yourself to receive kindness as well. 

This is how it can go:

  1. Set aside time and sit in a relaxed position
  2. Breathe in and out for a few minutes. With each breath, fill yourself with feelings of warmth, gratitude, and love. You have to actually feel these emotions. 
  3. Recite phrases that accentuate those feelings such as: “May I be healthy, May I be happy, may I be filled with love.”
  4. Then direct those feelings to others, starting with someone you love deeply, and branch out to others who you may find more challenging to share this sentiment with.

This meditative practice helps us develop more kindness and compassion for ourselves, and then spread it to those around us. A study on loving kindness meditation stated that this practice is “associated with an increase in positive affect and a decrease in negative affect.” It also discusses how “encouraging patients to experience the present moment nonjudgmentally and openly can effectively counter the effects of psychological distress.” It might feel awkward at first, but it can help on those days where you’re stressed out, worn down, and needing to feel some love. 

The practice of meditation is intended to achieve a point of stillness where your mind is open, and you become the observer. This is awareness; when you can observe yourself and the world around you from a neutral space, where you fully experience life in the moment, and respond consciously to stimuli. Yes, these techniques require you to adjust your physical space, but it’s training you to be in a particular mindset, one that allows you to practice self mastery, and experience a relaxed state.

In a study involving nurses, “mindfulness-based interventions was shown to significantly decrease stress, improve all aspects of burnout, and increase self-compassion.”  

The key here is consistency, so choose whichever meditation technique works best for you. The two I’ve shared with you are two of many. Making the time for this may be challenging, and the act itself may be difficult. Like anything else, it takes practice, but the hard work is worth the benefits. The journey to self mastery is life long, and the most important step is increasing your level of awareness.