By Dr. Mercola
Mindfulness, meditation, and other relaxation techniques can help you live your life more fully present in the moment, heighten your spiritual awareness, and well-being, and simply help you feel more relaxed and positive.
Mindfulness is one of the easiest techniques to try out, as it's more of a mindset that you can practice anytime and anywhere. Practicing "mindfulness" means you're actively paying attention to the moment you're in right now.
Rather than letting your mind wander, when you're mindful, you're living in the moment and letting distracting thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in their emotional implications.
You can add mindfulness to virtually any aspect of your day – even while you're eating, working, or doing household chores like washing dishes – simply by paying attention to the sensations you are experiencing in the present moment.
What Are the Differences Between Mindfulness, Mindfulness Meditation, and Other Types of Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is a more formal practice of mindfulness, in which you consciously zone in on, or focus your attention on, specific thoughts or sensations, then observe them in a non-judgmental manner.
This is just one type of meditation; there are many forms available, each with different techniques and purposes.
Transcendental meditation, for instance, is one of the most popular forms of meditation, practiced by millions of people around the world. It's simple to perform.
You choose a mantra that has meaning for you, sit quietly with your eyes closed, and repeat your mantra for a period of about 20 minutes, twice a day.
The idea is to reach a place of "restful" or "concentrated" alertness, which enables you to let negative thoughts and distractions pass by you without upsetting your calm and balance.
Some aspects of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, and other forms of meditation overlap, and that's OK. For instance, focusing your mind on your breath is one of the most basic – and most rewarding – relaxation and meditation/mindfulness strategies there is.
As explained by mindfulness coach Ira Israel in The Huffington Post:1
"There is often confusion because focusing the attention on the breath can be both a Basic Meditation and a Mindfulness Meditation. However, I believe the distinction lies in the intention: if you're focusing on the breath to transcend your ego and realize your inner divinity, then that is Basic Meditation.
… [I]f you're focusing on your breath to try to harness and train the mind and observe any thoughts that arise non-judgmentally, then that is Mindfulness Meditation…
On a much grander scale, Mindfulness is a way of being, a way of living day-to-day consciously and mindfully, of which the ultimate goal is to help us consciously make healthy long-term, loving, peaceful, and compassionate choices, and have all of our actions and reactions reflect those choices.
… [T]he intention of Basic Meditation is to trick the mind into releasing itself, trick the mind into giving the thinking apparatus a rest, so that we can realize our Higher Selves, our essential oneness with whatever we consider to be divine.
On the other hand, the intention of Mindfulness Meditation is secular; namely, to train the mind, in the same way that we would lift weights to strengthen a muscle, to be able to concentrate – and avoid weakly wandering around on autopilot – for longer and longer periods of time."
9 Techniques for Practicing Meditation
People meditate for a wide range of reasons. It helps to lower levels of anxiety and depression, improve symptoms of stress-related disorders, and reduce substance abuse while also having benefits for creativity, memory, academic performance, and IQ.2
While it's not unusual for the most experienced meditators to have spent decades, even a lifetime, perfecting this art, you can gain benefits just from meditating in your home for 20 minutes a day.
If you'd like to give meditation a try, there are many classes and group sessions available if you want a structured group setting, but you can also try it on your own. The nine techniques that follow, which were recently posted by meditation coach Caroline Dupont in the Epoch Times, can help you get in the groove of the practice of meditation.3
1. Set Aside 25 Minutes
Choose a quiet place where you can sit comfortably, undisturbed, for at least 25 minutes.
2. Meditation Is a Natural State
Remember that you needn't control your mind or your breathing or worry about the details. Meditation is your natural state.
3. Guide Your Awareness to Your Physical Body
As you learn to quiet your mind, direct your awareness to the physical sensations in various layers of your body. As noted by Dupont in Epoch Times:4
"Let awareness be free rather than forcing it to any particular place. Are there any sensations particularly prevalent in your inner body?
Let awareness settle with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and a willingness to allow it to be as it is. When thoughts come up, allow them to be as they are and guide awareness back to the body.
Notice how sensations change and how awareness will naturally be drawn elsewhere according to an innate guidance.
Let awareness follow this… trust the body's wisdom as it guides you. Awareness will dissolve the energy patterns in the body and the mind will begin to become less dominant."
4. Notice What Is Noticing
While you're meditating, you are noticing thoughts, sensations, and sounds. The next step is to take note of the presence that is noticing.
"This presence is not somewhere in your body, nor can it be defined in any way. It is spacious, free, unchanging, and unaffected by details. Sort of like the vast infinite sky that surrounds and encompasses everything," Dupont says in the Epoch Times.5
5. Abide in the Presence
"Rest as awareness." When you find yourself getting hung up on thoughts, sensations, or emotions, allow them to simply be. Don't judge them or entertain their notions, simply release your awareness from them and experience more presence.
6. Repeat Steps 4 and 5
"Contract on an object... allow it to be as it is... rest as awareness... contract on an object... allow it to be as it is... rest as awareness."
7. Catch Awareness Faster
The more you set aside time to meditate, the easier it will be to catch awareness and fall into deeper presence for longer periods of time.
8. Ask Yourself If You're Trying to Control Your Experience
If you find yourself trying to avoid particular thoughts, sensations, or emotions, go back to letting those thoughts be.
9. 25 Minutes Is Ideal
Resist the urge to skimp on your meditative time. It may take you 15 or 20 minutes just to "unhook from the persistent draw" of your mind. If you don't give yourself enough time, you may miss out on the ultimate feeling of presence.
Learning Relaxation Techniques May Slash Your Need for Medical Services Nearly in Half
Stress-related problems, including back pain, insomnia, acid reflux, and exacerbations to irritable bowel syndrome may account for up to 70 percent of the average US physician's caseload.6 Such health-care expenditures are the third highest in the US, after only heart disease and cancer. New research suggests, however, that such costs could be cut drastically simply by becoming more relaxed.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 4,400 people who received eight weeks of relaxation response training. For about three hours a week, participants focused on relaxation using techniques like meditation, yoga, and stress-reduction exercises. They also worked on building resiliency using social support, cognitive skills training, and positive psychology.
After the program, the participants' use of medical services dropped by 43 percent compared to their usage the previous year.7 The researchers estimated such as change could save the average patient between $640 and $25,500 a year. Specifically, the relaxation patients reduced their clinical visits by 42 percent, their lab use by 44 percent, and their use of procedures by 21 percent.
Visits to the emergency room were also reduced, from 3.7 times per patient in the previous year to 1.7 a year after the program. Study author Dr. James Stahl, director of the Institute for Technology Assessment at Massachusetts General, told Reuters:8 "Meditation and yoga reduce stress, which in turn promotes wellness, which in turn reduces seeking and using healthcare resources."
What Are the Health Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation?
At its most basic level, meditation helps you take a deliberate break from the stream of thoughts that are constantly flowing in and out of your mind. Some people use it to promote spiritual growth or find inner peace, while others use it as a powerful relaxation and stress-reduction tool. There are physical benefits to meditating, too, with research showing it may lower blood pressure with just three months of practice, while at the same time decreasing psychological distress and increasing coping ability among young adults.9
Research from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) also supports the notion that meditation acts as a form of "mental exercise" that can help regulate your attention and emotions while improving well-being. It's been found previously that meditation prompts changes in the amygdala, a region of your brain associated with processing emotion.
The research suggests these beneficial brain changes persist even after the meditation session is over, resulting in enduring changes in mental function.10 As for mindfulness, research has shown mindfulness training leads to a number of benefits among children and adolescents, including:11
- Improvements in attention and social skills
- Decreased test anxiety
- Drops in aggressive behavior among adolescents with a series of antisocial behaviors known as conduct disorder
- Improved classroom behavior, such as paying attention, self-control, participation in activities, and caring and respect for others
Further, in a study of college students who took either a mindfulness class or a nutrition class for two weeks, those who took the mindfulness class improved reading-comprehension test scores and working-memory capacity, as well as experienced fewer distracting thoughts.12 Researchers noted:
"Improvements in performance following mindfulness training were mediated by reduced mind wandering among participants who were prone to distraction at pretesting. Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide-reaching consequences."
The Emotional Freedom Technique Is a Targeted Technique You Can Use for Stress Relief
Energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) can be very effective for reducing stress by helping you to actually reprogram your body's reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life. This is important as, generally speaking, a stressor becomes a problem when:
- Your response to it is negative
- Your feelings and emotions are inappropriate for the circumstances
- Your response lasts an excessively long time
- You're feeling continuously overwhelmed, overpowered, or overworked
EFT is not the same thing as mindfulness; it is entirely different and used for different purposes. I regard mindfulness and meditation as tools that are useful for your entire life, like exercise for your mind. Ideally, you should strive to be mindful and use meditation daily. EFT is different in that it works best for targeted stress relief, such as recovering from an emotional trauma or overcoming an addiction. You might only need to use EFT a few times throughout your life, while mindfulness and meditation are life-long endeavors.
When you use EFT, simple tapping with the fingertips is used to input kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem – whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, etc. – and voice positive affirmations.
This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the "short-circuit" – the emotional block – from your body's bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body's balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of chronic stress. You can view a demonstration below.
While the video above will easily teach you how to do EFT, it is very important to realize that self-treatment for serious issues is not recommended. For serious or complex issues, you need an experienced practitioner to guide you through the process, as there is an incredible art to it; it typically takes years of training to develop the skill to tap on deep-seated, significant issues
Tips to Try Meditation and Mindfulness Right Now
You can certainly take a professionally organized mindfulness training program, however if you haven't you can still become more mindful in your daily life. Ideally, start out your day with a mindfulness "exercise," such as focusing on your breathing for five minutes before you get out of bed. Focus on the flow of your breath and the rise and fall of your belly.13 This can help you to stay better focused for the rest of the day.
As the day goes on, try to minimize multi-tasking, as this is the opposite of mindfulness. If you find yourself trying to complete five tasks at once, stop yourself and focus your attention back to the task at hand. If emotionally distracting thoughts enter your head, remind yourself that these are only "projections," not reality, and allow them to pass by without stressing you out. Additional tips for being mindful, published in Visions Journal, include:14
When you are walking, tune into how your weight shifts and the sensations in the bottom of your feet. Focus less on where you are headed. Don't feel that you need to fill up all your time with doing. Take some time to simply be. When your mind wanders to thinking, gently bring it back to your breath. Notice how the mind likes to constantly judge. Don't take it seriously. It's not who you are. Practice listening without making judgments. Notice where you tend to zone out (e.g., driving, emailing or texting, web surfing, feeding the dog, doing dishes, brushing teeth, etc.). Practice bringing more awareness to that activity. Spend time in nature.
As for meditation, this, too, can be done right at home with very little formal "training" necessary. Simply sit quietly, perhaps with some soothing music, breathe rhythmically, and focus on something such as your breathing, a flower, an image, a candle, a mantra, or even just being there, fully aware, in the moment. Some people prefer to close their eyes to block out visual stimulation. If you find that your mind starts to wander, direct it back to your focal point and continue from there. Ideally, set aside 25 minutes twice a day to practice meditation. You can also try it in shorter segments, but ultimately try to work your way up to 25 minutes.