Mindfulness meditation is not your typical meditation, in fact, it requires mental training that helps us navigate daily life. The practice combines meditation with mindfulness, requiring you to calm your mind and body in a conscious state. This focus on the present and acknowledgment of thoughts and feelings helps us to hone in on “the now.”
There are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation, but traditionally the practice includes deep breathing and awareness of both the mind and body. There are no props needed, and no real preparation to set up for the meditation.
We spoke with Deborah Norris, Ph.D., of The Mindfulness Center about how to really achieve mindfulness meditation.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation, however, unlike traditional practice, it requires you to consciously tap into your feelings. While some meditation types require you to entirely check out of your thoughts and push any outside thoughts to the side, mindfulness meditation calls for you to intensely recognize your feelings, sensations, and thoughts. Practicing this type of mindfulness meditation includes breathing techniques, guided imagery, and various practices to relax the mind and body and lower stress.
Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
The practice of mindfulness meditation is proven to have many health benefits, both short and long-term. “I ran a clinical trial at Children’s National Hospital using a 5-minute guided meditation on breathing,” says Dr. Norris. “I found significant effects including lower levels of cortisol, reported pain, and stress, in children preparing to undergo a potentially painful and stressful procedure.”
In one study, people with hypertension were advised to practice meditation in addition to their medication. Those who learned meditation techniques saw a significantly lower blood pressure.
Additionally, mindfulness meditation can help brain function and memory in adults. One 2017 study monitored people 55 to 75 years old who spent eight weeks practicing either focused breathing meditation or control activity. The participants who underwent breath training had significantly better brain function and more activation in an area of the brain associated with attention than those in the active control group.
Mindfulness meditation is also linked to stronger immune system responses. In several studies, mindfulness meditation increased T-cell levels in patients with HIV or breast cancer. These studies suggest that mindfulness might play a role in fighting cancer and other diseases that require immune cells.
How Long Should You Meditate?
“Many people ask me how long they should meditate,” says Deborah Norris, Ph.D. “The answer is that different practices work for different people and that discovering the schedule that works for you is part of the mindfulness practice.” Dr. Norris suggests starting with short practices, from five to 40 minutes, three to seven times a week. “Once one gets started and experiences the benefits, meditation tends to become a self-rewarding practice – meaning we want to do it more,” she adds.
How to Create the Perfect Space for Meditation
Although it’s not required, if you’re just getting started with your practice, creating a safe and comfortable space will help you focus and relax. “Whether that sanctuary is a special room, or simply a space that you create by putting a blanket on a chair where you practice, this sense of “place” becomes a conditioned environment that can support you in your practice,” advises Dr. Norris.
We recommend creating a calming space with soothing music, essential oils and candles, soft lighting, blankets or bolsters, and any additional props that will help you relax.
Mentally Preparing for Mindfulness Meditation
One of the keys to mindfulness meditation is firmly cutting out any judgment or restrictions, concerns, or anxiety you have about the practice. Unlike traditional meditation that tells you to block out any outside thoughts, mindfulness meditation allows your mind to go where it will, and then instructs you to follow it with curiosity. “I define mindfulness meditation as ‘Being in a curious state of awareness of the experience of being.’ Be curious about whatever comes up for you. There is no right or wrong. If nothing else, be curious about your breathing,” says Dr. Norris.
When you’re ready to take your mindfulness meditation practice to the next level, be sure to visit The Mindfulness Center for meditative training, workshops, and programs.