Mindfulness Meditation: Making Meditation Work for You

Mindfulness Meditation For Athletes

We live in a fast-paced world, one that is constantly pulling our attention in every direction. Each second there is a different distraction attempting to control our focus. This can serve as a major problem, leading to constant racing thoughts and feelings of anxiety

But what if there was a way we could quiet all of this noise? What if we could gain control over our minds, improve focus, reduce stress, and lead a more peaceful and joyful life? Well, there is such a way, achieved through a consistent practice of mindfulness meditation.

 

What is Mindfulness?

“You need to be more mindful of what you are doing.”

If I were to tell you that, what would you think I meant? 

While the term appears sophisticated and as if it should have some long-winded explanation, it doesn’t. In fact, the way to describe mindfulness is really simple. In order to be mindful, all we have to do is focus on being aware of what we are sensing, feeling, and thinking at the moment. 

The simplicity of the definition does not take away from the profound impact mindfulness can have on your life. We will go more into this later on. 

Being mindful means remaining fully present of the moment we are in, aware of where we are and what we are doing. Mindfulness also means being less reactive. Immersed in the moment, we will not be overly reactive or surprised by what is happening around us. 

You may be thinking that mindfulness is a trait reserved for certain groups of people, however this is far from reality. Mindful.org describes mindfulness as an innate quality every human possesses. All we have to do is figure out how to cultivate it from within us. 

There are quite a few ways we can learn to access mindfulness. Taking mindful walks or jogs can work. Becoming more mindful while performing certain activities during the day, such as showering or brushing your teeth could help. But there is one technique that stands above the rest in terms of cultivating mindfulness…mindfulness meditation.

 

Best Way to Cultivate Mindfulness

The best way we can begin to develop our ability to be mindful is through meditation.

Now I know there are many of you who have an aversion to meditation, the mere mention of the word can turn you off. But there is nothing strange or odd about mindfulness meditation. This practice has countless benefits, the main one being an increase in our ability to stay mindful. 

I think that one of the concerns people have about meditation is whether or not they will do it right. I’ve been there and it can be incredibly frustrating to think we are wasting our time on a fruitless practice. 

But meditation isn’t going to immediately make your mind an empty void. There is no right or wrong when it comes to mindfulness meditation, there is simply being. That is why the practice is so beautiful. 

So forget whether or not you’ll do it right, and just focus on the act itself. 

Through mediation, we become more and more aware of the inner workings of our minds (something that can be a scary place at times). There is a reason meditation is pointed to for assistance in a variety of areas in our lives. 

Once we begin to develop a sense of awareness, judgment becomes suspended. No longer do we attach ourselves to our thoughts through judging them. Rather, we become conscious observers of our minds. 

By doing so, we allow ourselves to become more curious, loving, and kinder towards ourselves. Simply sitting down for a specified amount of time each day, becoming aware of our breath, and observing our thoughts without judgment has a profoundly positive effect on so many areas of our lives. 

Meditation has the effect of quieting our minds, because of the increase in awareness we have over our thoughts. However, that should not be the aim of our practice. If we do, it can be easy to become frustrated as our thoughts continue to pass by. 

Instead, we want to focus on paying attention to the present moment, holding it with no judgment. That is vastly different than trying to create a quiet mind. The latter creates resistance, while the former allows for what is.

 

"Meditation has the effect of quieting our minds, because of the increase in awareness we have over our thoughts. However, that should not be the aim of our practice. If we do, it can be easy to become frustrated as our thoughts continue to pass by."

 

Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

As with anything, there is a reason mindfulness meditation has become so popular. There are incredible benefits that are felt by anyone who practices it. Such benefits have been known for thousands of years by those who are involved in the practice. 

What makes our current times so special is that there is brain-based research that backs up all the positive reasons to begin mindfulness meditation. 

The research has been focused on mindfulness meditation as a facilitator for developing a greater state of awareness. Through a practice of self-regulation, focusing on training our attention and awareness to gain a higher level of control over our mental processes, we can experience greater mental well-being. 

Dr. Daphne Davis and Dr. Jeffrey Hayes identify various benefits gained from the practice of mindfulness meditation. All of which contribute to greater emotional control. If you would like, you can check out their full article here on apa.org. Some of the benefits include:

 

Reduced Rumination

Rumination refers to continuously thinking the same thoughts over and over again. Usually, these thoughts are negative or depressive in nature. Having a constant, uncontrollable stream of unwanted thoughts is dangerous to our mental health. 

By practicing mindfulness meditation, patterns of rumination will begin to diminish. This is due to the increase in focus and ability to sustain attention that is gained through the practice. Also, by increasing the awareness of our thoughts, we no longer allow for such habits to take place unconsciously. 

 

Lowered Stress 

By practicing mindfulness meditation on a daily basis, there will be a reduction in overall stress levels. 

Dr. Davis and Dr. Hayes point to a study where individuals were taken through an eight-week mindfulness meditation program. At the conclusion of the study, it was discovered that the participants who meditated experienced lowered levels of anxiety, depression, and distress than the control group. 

When we practice mindfulness, a shift takes place in how we regulate our emotions. Caused by increased awareness of thought, this new regulatory ability helps us be selective in how we experience the world. 

 

Improved Memory

Specifically, working memory is greatly improved once daily participation in mindfulness meditation is begun. 

Working memory references the ability to retain and manipulate information. What this allows us to do is hold on to information and use it when necessary. Not only that, but working memory helps in concentration and following instructions. 

Improvements to working memory boost everyday reasoning and decision making skills. While short term memory is more closely aligned with memorization, working memory goes beyond this, allowing us to do something with the information.

Think about truly learning material, that is what this type of memory provides.

By meditating on a regular basis, we can expect to benefit from an improvement in our working memory.

 

"Improvements to working memory boost everyday reasoning and decision making skills. While short term memory is more closely aligned with memorization, working memory goes beyond this, allowing us to do something with the information."

 

Increased Focus & Attention

Out of all the benefits of mindfulness meditation, focus and attention are at the forefront. 

Whenever we want to improve a skill, what must we do? Practice. 

Sitting down, eyes closed, in a completely still position takes focus. Add a conscious awareness of your breath and having to train yourself to hold attention to that, and it becomes evident why we experience an improvement in focus and attention. 

While the objective of meditation is not to suppress distracting thoughts, this happens as a by-product of constantly pulling your attention back to the present breath. 

As with any growth, the daily practice of holding our attention for an extended period of time on a singular act will have a positive effect on that skill. 

 

Less Reactivity

When we are controlled by racing thoughts and their accompanying emotions, our behavior tends to be quite reactive. Living this way can be tiring, not to mention problematic to our careers and relationships. 

If each time someone says something to upset us, or a situation does not go our way, we react instinctively, it will be difficult to live a life of our own design.

By practicing mindfulness, we can take back our choice of reaction. In their article, Dr. Davis and Dr. Hayesdiscuss a study where participants were tested on their reactivity to upsetting pictures. 

Those who meditated for at least one month were able to detach from the pictures, focusing better on their own cognitive reaction. 

I have noticed this benefit a lot in my own practice. I am not as reactive to certain situations or experiences as I once was. Many times people confuse this state with being numb to life. My argument is that you aren’t becoming numb, you’re becoming free to react in the manner you wish. 

These five benefits have had incredibly positive effects on my life, as I believe they will on yours. Almost immediately, you begin to notice a change happening within your cognitive function. 

Practicing mindfulness meditation can improve anyone’s life, leading to more control and understanding of our own minds. 

Now I would like to share my experience with mindfulness meditation. While I have benefited greatly from this practice, it was not always easy. I struggled in the beginning and it took some time for me to settle into the optimal routine for myself which I now follow.

 

My Mindfulness Journey

When I was in college, I played around with the idea of meditation. The concept seemed strange to me, but at the same time, I found it attractive. After doing some research I discovered many successful people had a daily practice of meditation. 

My favorite TV show is Seinfeld, so you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Jerry Seinfeld has been meditating for quite some time. However, the form of meditation he does is called transcendental meditation. A mantra is given to a student by a teacher, which is then repeated in the individual’s mind during meditation. 

The catch is you have to go to a special teacher of transcendental meditation in order to begin. Not wanting to put that much effort into it at the time, I attempted to find a mantra on my own and begin the practice. 

I meditated off and on in my junior year, never feeling like I was “doing it right.” Filled with frustration, the practice slowly disappeared from my life. That is, until the winter of 2019. 

I cannot remember the exact reason for picking meditation back up, but as I said, the practice had a certain attraction to me. So I began to meditate every morning, before going to the gym.

At the time, I was waking up around 4:30 so that I could workout before having to go to work. Getting up and meditating this early was definitely a struggle at first. Some days it felt as if I did more napping than meditating. 

I kept pushing on, making meditation a habitual part of my day. Over time I fine-tuned my morning routine to help me be the most awake and alert for my mindfulness practice. I now take a cold shower and perform yoga before meditating. This way, I am primed and ready to focus on my practice. 

As a result of daily mindfulness, I have felt much less anxiety and a decrease in the racing thoughts that once occupied my mind. My stress levels are down, I feel more present and aware at all times, and it seems I’ve regained control over my mind. 

The best part about my mindfulness meditation is that I’ve tailored it to me. I learned through much research and experience that each individual’s meditation practice is unique. We all must learn through experience what works best for us. 

It’s called a practice for a reason. There is no finish line to mindfulness meditation. The journey is continuous and adaptations are always being made. I have molded my practice to fit my current needs, as I am sure it will continue to evolve and grow as I do. 

Meditation has now become a major anchor in my life. Being able to experience such a state of calm awareness on a daily basis has transformed me. I look forward to what my practice will bring in the future.

I wanted to share my story with you to illustrate how meditation can be frustrating in the beginning, but if you persevere, the benefits will be numerous. I would like to take the rest of this article to outline how you can begin a practice of your own. 

 

"As a result of daily mindfulness, I have felt much less anxiety and a decrease in the racing thoughts that once occupied my mind. My stress levels are down, I feel more present and aware at all times, and it seems I’ve regained control over my mind."

 

How to Start a Mindfulness Meditation Practice

Getting started with mindfulness meditation is pretty straightforward. It can be practiced on your own, as I do, or you can follow a guided meditation. If you would like to try a guided meditation, there are plenty of free ones on YouTube you can check out here. 

I am going to outline a way you can begin mindfulness meditation on your own. If you stick with it and practice on a daily basis, I truly believe you will reap all of the benefits mindfulness has to offer. 

 

Decide on a Time Frame

The first step is going to be for you to decide on how long the meditation will last. One mistake that is often made when beginning is just going into it blindly, not knowing when to stop. 

What this leads to is our attention being centered around when to stop. 

Instead, we want to define for how long we will meditate. I began with ten minutes and am now up to fifteen. You want to start small, working your way up once you begin to feel the need to. 

You also want to decide on what time of day is best for you. Meditation is not only performed in the morning. Maybe you have more time on your lunch break, or in the evenings. Go with what works best for you, depending on your schedule.

 

Find a Comfortable Position

Now that you know how long the meditation will last, it’s time to find the most optimal position for you to be in for the specified time. 

There are multiple positions you can choose from, but all have one commonality: your back must be straight. Not in an uncomfortable way, but just firmly held upright. This helps to ensure focus and alertness during the meditation. 

One of the most common postures that comes to mind when thinking about meditation is sitting cross-legged on the floor. Yes, this is a great position if you can do it, unfortunately I cannot. Luckily, there are other adaptations we can choose from. 

You can sit in a chair or on a couch. If you choose one of these, the only advice I have is to not rest on the back of the chair or couch. Sit more towards the edge so you are still holding up the weight of your upper body. 

Another popular position is seated on top of our heels on the ground. This is the position I currently do, as I find it to be the most comfortable. 

Bottom line, experiment for yourself. Do not think you must sit cross-legged, but by all means, do if you find it comfortable. There is no one size fits all approach to the position you prefer to meditate in. 

 

Set a Timer

Going along with the first point in deciding on a time frame, we want to set a timer once we’ve gotten ourselves in a comfortable position. That way, we can focus throughout the meditation practice, without having to worry about when the time is up. My only recommendation is to go with a soothing alarm. You don’t want anything too startling to pull you out of meditation.

 

Focus on Your Breath

We now come to the actual act of meditating. The guidelines can be summed up quite easily, however, practicing can prove to be immensely frustrating in the beginning. 

First, close your eyes. Now you want to focus on your breath, breathing rhythmically in and out. Allow your thoughts to be, do not hold any attachment to them. As you feel yourself begin to become attached to a thought, quickly bring your attention back to your breath without any judgment. 

I understand how hard this can be at times. If you are like me, then it will seem like you simply cannot focus on anything but your racing thoughts. With each attempt to bring your attention back to the breath, another thought tears it away.

It also can seem like as soon as we close our eyes to meditate, all the negative thoughts and scenarios we can think of come rushing in. This can make someone think the practice is worthless if all it’s going to do is cause them to think in such a way.

My advice to you is, be patient. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth.

When I first began practicing, I had the hardest time focusing on my breath. As I told you, I quit in the beginning because it made me so frustrated. Everywhere I read something about meditation, people were saying how calm and serene it made your mind. 

I became so irritated and thought I simply must be bad at it. But, I persevered and now have been lucky enough to experience that serenity. Some days are better than others, as with any practice. Overall, however, I can say my life has benefited from pushing through the initial challenges and making it to this point.

Now I would like to speak on negative thoughts entering our mind when meditating. Thinking that meditation was supposed to be a peaceful process, I was surprised at how difficult it was. Once again, I thought that I was doing it wrong whenever a negative thought would occur. 

Curious about what was going on, I did some research. What I discovered, and the way I understood it, was that meditation works to help us gain a better awareness of our minds. Think of it like cleaning out a filing cabinet.

In order to accomplish this, all of our thoughts, negative or positive must be worked through. That is why it is imperative you take the approach of being a conscious observer. These thoughts are not our true nature, but rather impressions that have been made on us by the external world.

Yes, it can be scary to witness them in the moment. However, the only way over is through, and so we must push through these experiences to reach a state of calmness and control. 

As simple as the process can be made to sound, the practice of meditation can be frustrating and complex. We are dealing with our minds, the most intricate pieces of equipment on the planet. 

The trick when thoughts become present, whether negative or positive, is not to suppress them. Try your best to become an observer of them. 

Remember, our objective is not to become thoughtless, but aware of the thoughts we have. Once we understand our thoughts, we are then capable of controlling them. 

A quiet and serene mind will happen as a result of mindfulness meditation , not by the attempt to suppress thought. 

 

"As simple as the process can be made to sound, the practice of meditation can be frustrating and complex. We are dealing with our minds, the most intricate pieces of equipment on the planet." 

 

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness means remaining fully present in the moment, aware of where we are and what we are doing. This state provides us with so many incredible benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, less ruminating thoughts, and lower levels of reactivity.

While there are many ways to cultivate mindfulness, I recommend meditation as the best way to reap the full effects. 

Give yourself some time each day to sit down, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. As thoughts come and go, merely observe them. The practice of returning to your breath after losing focus is mindfulness. 

Have you practiced any meditation techniques in the past? What about ways to cultivate mindfulness? I would love to hear any stories you have, so please leave a comment below. 

I hope the information in this article will be useful to you in your life, and you can begin a practice of mindfulness meditation of your own. 

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all you do. 

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