Mindfulness Meditation 101 and Debunking Myths
As my first official blog post on my the new website, I’d like to start at the beginning—the foundation. The stress of the pandemic is far-reaching and more than ever before, people are looking for safe and effective ways to help reduce stress. Many are looking towards more integrative therapy modalities such as meditation. However, I’ve also noticed a lot of misinformation and unnecessary fears related to mindfulness that I’d like to directly address:
What is meditation?
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (the National Institutes of Health branch of Integrative Therapies) has a nice summary article on this:
In short, it is a purposeful exercise associated with stillness and/or movement used to help with focus, stress reduction, insight, to help promote health and wellness of the practitioner. It is one of the modalities in mind-body medicine.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the intentional act of paying attention on purpose to the present moment without judgement. It can be applied to doing anything, anytime, anywhere. Mindfulness is a skill that can be developed and strengthened, using mindfulness meditation in formal and informal ways. Formal mindfulness practice involves protecting time to participate in a guided or self-guided exercise, some of which include body scan meditation, mindful walking, sitting practice, and mindful movement.
So then what’s mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is the act of meditating using mindfulness. Often times there is a selected focus of attention (sensations of a body part, breath, sounds, etc.) for the duration of the practice, when the practitioner notices that the attention has wandered away from the focus of attention, with gentle and kind non-judgmental motivation, the practitioner then guides their own attention back to the focus of attention.
When I think of mindfulness or meditation, I think of people sitting in a fancy yoga pose with their hands in a fancy position. Is this the only way to meditate or practice mindfulness?
While the image of someone sitting in lotus posture with their hands in a special hand position (mudra) can be one way someone practices meditation, it’s certainly not the only way, or the most common way. You can practice mindfulness meditation, standing, sitting, laying down, while walking, or engaged in mindful movement.
Doesn’t mindfulness have religious roots? I was told that this type of meditation can potentially put the safety of one’s soul in jeopardy.
Mindfulness is an innate ability of all humans. While mindfulness meditation traditionally originated with Buddhist practices thousands of years ago, practicing mindfulness does not forsake your own religious or spiritual beliefs, and in fact might even strengthen them. Most if not all religious systems have some form of contemplative practice. Mindfulness meditation is one of them. When mindfulness meditation is practiced, you are helping to rewire your brain, forming new neural connections to embody and fully experience your present moment. Practicing mindfulness does not harm your soul and does not make you more susceptible to be afflicted with perceived evil influences.
Why should I practice mindfulness meditation?
There have been over 9000 articles published about mindfulness in the medical literature. It has been used by the general public to reduce stress, decrease anxiety and depression, and has been shown to be of benefit to the immune, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and mental health. Practicing mindfulness has the potential to help you live with greater ease, by helping you develop a healthier relationship with stress.
Are there any dangers to mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is generally considered to be safe. However, for those who have untreated anxiety, depression, psychosis, suicidal ideation, and trauma, it’s not recommended for you without the guidance of a licensed mental health professional. If you have experienced trauma in your life, look for trauma-sensitive trained mindfulness teachers and mental health professionals.
I’ve never meditated before but would like to try mindfulness meditation. Where should I start?
You can start right here, by trying out one of Dr. Liang’s free guided mindfulness practices located here. For healthcare professionals 1-5-minute videos are also available for a wide array of different practices for you to try. Other websites (see resources) also have free recordings.
Consistency is key, even taking 1-5 minutes daily for mindfulness meditation can help foster a new beneficial habit.
Various apps are also available with guided meditations to try:
Ten Percent Happier
What other questions do you have for me? Leave a comment below!