This blog is based on information on meditation and mindfulness in my book, ‘Intuition Unlock the Power.’ You will probably have heard more about meditation over the years than mindfulness. Meditation is central to many Eastern spiritual practices but has become more common in the Western world since the 1960s. Most meditations involve focusing on the breath or tapping into your senses, through techniques such as visualisation, in order to achieve a state of focused concentration that calms the mind and body. As well as being relaxing, exercises such as these can also assist you to feel connected with nature, yourself and your intuition.
It is important to get into the habit of meditating. Often we make excuses for not meditating — most commonly, ‘I don’t have time’ — but even a few minutes undertaken regularly will benefit you in many ways. We are all capable of practising meditation. It is important to not be too critical of yourself if thoughts come into your mind during meditation, as we all have busy minds. Just notice the thoughts and let them pass, like clouds floating across the sky. Again effort is required in this area; that is, we improve our meditation with practice, even if we meditate for just a few minutes a day.
With meditation, it is important to;
• choose a time when it is safe for you to practise and you can be undisturbed
• ensure that the setting is comfortable (temperature-wise, noise-wise and so on)
• remove glasses or contact lenses if you wish to and go to the toilet; and
• sit or lie down to relax.
A good place to start is by learning general relaxation techniques. These can focus on the physical self, mental relaxation or a combination of both. Different people will be able to relax in different ways. Some individuals relax through visual means, such as reading, watching movies, looking at trees or the ocean. Some relax through the auditory sense, such as by listening to music, while others like to relax through the kinaesthetic sense with swimming or tai chi, for example. However, there are some basic meditation techniques that everyone can learn and enjoy, such as breathing techniques. An example follows.
“Breathing meditation: Make yourself comfortable and allow your eyes to close. Slow your breathing rate by closing your mouth and taking a breath in through your nose for a count of three, and then exhale the breath through your nose for a count of three. Repeat this breathing pattern. Breathing through the nose helps most people to slow down their breathing naturally, but if you find it uncomfortable it is okay to breathe through your mouth. It may be helpful to use a word to say to yourself in your mind as you exhale, such as ‘relax’, ‘calm’, ‘peace’ or whatever you find calming. And if you can, use abdominal breathing during this technique; that is, breathe down to your abdomen and allow it to expand as you breathe in. Spend a while focusing on the breath. When you are ready, be aware of sounds around you, be aware of the body, then open your eyes, back in the room.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist and researcher, introduced mindfulness to Western psychology. He talks about mindfulness as being a particular way of paying attention, on purpose and in the present moment (1). We spend a lot of our time in ‘mindlessness’ or not paying attention. As a result we miss out on experiences in life and we can get caught up in ruminations about the past or worries about the future. Mindfulness has also been described as ‘the non-judgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimuli as they arise’ (2).
Practising mindfulness involves being more observant, fully present and more connected to ourselves, others and the world. Through mindfulness we can learn that thoughts and feelings come and go, that we can have more balance and experience more peacefulness. It also develops self-acceptance and self-compassion (3). Mindfulness involves paying attention to experience in the moment as opposed to being caught up in thoughts. It fosters an attitude of openness and curiosity. Even if our experience in the moment is difficult, we can be open to it instead of running from or fighting with it. In addition, mindfulness promotes flexibility: the ability to consciously direct our attention to different aspects of experience (4).
The following meditation is an example of a simple mindfulness technique that anyone can use (5).
“Mindfulness meditation: Make yourself comfortable and let your eyes close. Notice the chair or bed underneath you, supporting you, and notice the feel of your hands on your lap. Be aware of your breath, of the feel of the air as you breathe in and out, of breathing into the base of your lungs. Feel your abdomen rise and fall. Relax with each breath out. Be aware of the body, of feelings of relaxation flowing from the feet upwards through the body, up through the legs, the back, the chest, the head and neck and down into the arms. Notice how the body feels as you relax. Sometimes it can feel a bit lighter or heavier. Sometimes it feels as if you could not move it even if you wanted to. Now notice the sounds around you. Some are closer and some are further away. Focus on the sounds further away for a few moments. Now focus on the sounds closer to you. What can you hear? Again bring your awareness to the feel of your body and the breath. Have a gentle stretch. Then, when you are ready, open your eyes and be back in the room. Notice what is around you.”
For more information on meditation and mindfulness, see my books on intuition (Intuition Unlock the Power) and anxiety (Release Your Worries), and the CDs on this website. More recordings are coming, namely the meditations from the Intuition book, plus a series on reducing weight, quitting smoking and more. Watch the website for updates.
(1) Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Delta Trade Paperbacks, 1991.
(2) Siegel, D.J., 2007. The Mindful Brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of wellbeing, Norton & Company, New York City, p. 33.
(3) Harris, R., 2010, ‘Mindfulness’, retrieved July 2012: ww.actmindfully.com.au/mindfulness.
(4) Harris, R., 2009, ’Mindfulness Without Meditation’, Journal of Clinical Psychology, October 2009, pp. 21–4.
(5) Howell, C. and Murphy, M., 2011, Release Your Worries: A guide to letting go of stress and anxiety, Exisle Publishing, New South Wales, p. 57.