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A Mindfulness Meditation Practice for Beginners


“What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.

-Shunryu Suzuki; Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind


What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mindfulness as: “the practice of maintaining a non-judgemental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis” (merriamwebster.com). It seems simple, right? Now think about your daily life. How often are you able to orient yourself in the present moment with attention and awareness? The modern world moves along at an increasingly fast pace, and if you struggle to remain in the present, you are not alone!

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that is meant to guide you gently back into the present moment. Over time, this can help you regain balance and experience less stress, without becoming overwhelmed by emotions such as fear, anger, sadness or uncertainty. You do this by focusing on the breath and letting go of judgement and attachment.

This January, we will ring in the New Year with posts exploring the shallows and depths of mindfulness, beginning with a simple mindfulness meditation practice that you can try at home. Even if you sit for 5 minutes a day, that will be a great step forward on your mindfulness meditation journey!

A Simple Practice in 6 Steps

Step One: Prepare. Find a quiet place to sit. You can either sit on a pillow or blanket on the floor, or you can sit in a chair if that works better for you. If you are on the floor, try to sit cross-legged. If you are in a chair, allow your feet to connect with the floor.

Step Two: Adjust your posture. Lay your hands gently in your lap; they can rest either palm-up or palm-down. Straighten your spine as if a string is gently tugging upward from the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest.

Step Three: Soften your gaze. Allow your gaze to rest about a foot in front of you on the floor. Try to keep your eyes open if you can, as this will heighten your sensory awareness. Let your gaze soften.

Step Four: Focus on your breath. Begin to focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale naturally. Feel the soft breath of air beneath your nose as you exhale and the way the cool air feels as it passes into your nostrils. Can you feel it travel all the way down to your belly? Follow these sensations through several breath cycles.

Step Five: Let thoughts and emotions come. It is natural that thoughts, emotions and images will begin to pass through your mind at this time, and it is okay to let them! The trick is to not get attached to any thread of thought or feeling. Simply observe the thoughts as they pass, and let them go as they leave your consciousness. Return to observing your breath.

Step Six: Don’t Panic. All kinds of uncomfortable physical and mental sensations might come up during your practice, which is why it is perfectly fine to only sit for a short time at first. If your back aches, acknowledge it, and let it go. If anger arises, do the same. Always return to your breath to stay in the moment, and watch how the pain recedes and the anger fizzles. Repeat often!

 

Happy New Year, and happy sitting!


Movement for the Mind: How Exercise Impacts our Mental Health

“All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” 
― Martha Graham (American dancer)

Get Moving in 2019

Here we are at the end of another year, and the time has come when many people reflect on the past and make plans for a healthier or happier future. If your New Year’s resolution includes getting moving with an exercise plan, research suggests that your physical and your mental health will benefit!

Your Brain on Exercise

If you have ever experienced sadness or depression, you have probably also noticed that going for a walk or getting some exercise helps lift your spirits. Did you know that there is a scientific explanation for this phenomenon? 

According to research, exercising triggers the release of chemicals called endorphins into your body. Endorphins not only interact with receptors in your brain to reduce your body’s perception of pain, but also contribute to a mental “euphoria” or “runner’s high” sensation, resulting in an uplifted mood and an enhanced sense of overall well-being.1 Exercise also increases blood flow and neuronal activity in certain areas of the brain including the hippocampus, the area of the brain directly related to memory, emotional regulation and learning.2

Enhancing our physique can be one powerful motivator for committing to regular exercise in the New Year, which, in turn, can boost self-confidence. In addition to relieving stress and producing feelings of euphoria, regular movement can raise levels of self-confidence, according to some studies. 3

Mind-Body Medicine

When you hear the word “mind-body medicine”, you might immediately think of sweaty yoga studios or groups of people practicing tai chi in the park. If you are not a yoga aficionado or a martial artist, have no fear! As you can see from the data above, all exercise is, in essence, beneficial for the mind and body. If you love running, commit to jogging three times a week. If you are a swimmer or a dancer, try to hit the pools or the dance studio more often in 2019.

When we consider the body and mind as integrated, holistic entities, it is easy to see how physical exercise can have a profound impact on mental health. In a recent article published in Psychology Today, the author writes, In fact, increasingly robust evidence suggests that exercise is not only necessary for the maintenance of good mental health, but it can be used to treat even chronic mental illness.”4

The moral of the story? Exercise in ways that make you happy, and be prepared to reap the physical and mental benefits in 2019!

Happy New Year!

 

 

1https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1

2https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise

3https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise

4https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1