What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness Meditation is paying attention to the present moment, purposefully and non-judgmentally, and maintaining moment-by-moment awareness of our feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Simply put, it’s about maintaining a point of focus, noticing when our mind wanders, and then bringing our mind back to our point of focus.
Most importantly, you should be kind to yourself throughout the process, not judging yourself or your thoughts.
Meditation is a time to just BE. No regrets, no worries, no to-do lists. Just living in the present moment and letting go.
Yes, it’s that simple! I’ll tell you more of the details soon, but first let’s discuss the benefits…
What are the Benefits?
The benefits of meditation are numerous, and scientific studies are quickly coming out with evidence to back up this claim. Whether it is your intellect, physical body, or spirit, meditation can do wonders.
However, many of these studies discuss benefits that come as a result of the one benefit that I will articulate below. This one benefit is why I meditate. It is so powerful that you will start to see changes in your daily life very quickly if you meditate regularly.
The most basic and most powerful benefit is that meditation leads to mindfulness, which means greater awareness of yourself and others. More specifically:
When we are sitting during meditation, we are training the mind to maintain focus and notice when we are having thoughts. Why is this so useful?
We meditate in silence so that we can be mindful in chaos.
By meditating on a regular basis, we can get in the habit of noticing when thoughts and feelings arise. This means that in daily life, instead of reacting automatically, there is a brief pause of mindfulness. Instead of our thoughts controlling us, we control our thoughts.
Here’s what I mean:
- Controlling your Reactions: Through mindfulness, you will be able to catch yourself having negative or harmful thoughts. Instead of acting out of habit or emotion, we can be more mindful: “Will this reaction be helpful – to me, to them? Is my perspective reality? What may I not fully understand? Why am I feeling this way?” Meditation trains us to notice our thoughts – not get rid of them – since we cannot always control our thoughts or what happens to us, but we can control how we react.
- Creating Positivity: We are all summations of cause and effect. Who do we want to be, and what world do we want to live in? Should you push somebody at the train station because somebody else pushed you? Or do you want to break that cycle of negativity by either refraining from being mean to the next person you interact with, or do you maybe even want to create a positive new cycle by being nice to the next person you interact with by giving them a smile? Mindfulness can help us understand how interrelated and connected we all are, and how we can make a difference in the lives of others we interact with.
- Helping Others: Mindfulness enables us to be more aware of a stranger, friend, or family member in need. We notice more acutely the feelings and actions of others around us, and develop a greater sense of perspective. Mindfulness helps us react in wise ways, decreasing the chances of making a difficult situation even worse. Generally, as you take care of yourself, you will be more able to take care of others around you.
In addition to being more aware of our place in the world and how we react, meditation can lead to a better life. Here are some ways this can happen:
- Finding Peace: The sense of peace found through meditation can be stronger than any pill for anxiety or depression on the market – and with no side effects! If you’re having a busy day, meditating for 10-20 minutes can provide calmness and a much-needed break. Mindfulness also brings perspective into your life, and can make you more aware of the decisions you make and how they impact your body and heart. This can lead to healthier habits and better relationships, leading to a calmer, more peaceful you.
- Finding Joy: By meditating regularly and being mindful in daily life, we start letting go of harmful thoughts and emotions. This clears a space in our mind for experiencing the present moment – for experiencing life. You will finally be able to notice the beauty of flowers, relish in the sunshine, enjoy that walk, and be aware of the love that pervades this world. It sounds too good to be true I know, but just try it for yourself and see what happens!
- Knowing Yourself: Meditation can help us get closer to realizing our “authentic self”. This question of “Who Am I?” is so prevalent in our society, most likely because we are living without actually being. We have become human doers instead of human beings. Taking the time to be and let go can start to lead to transformational changes without even realizing it. As Jiddu Krishnamurti says, “If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”
- Clarity of Mind: As already mentioned, meditation is simple – just concentrate on the present! Yet there is such power and beauty in this simplicity. This simplicity brings clarity to the mind that is often so difficult to find in our current world. Mindfulness is about clearing the mind of all of our regrets about the past, worries about the future, to-do lists, comparisons, expectations, and judgments. It is about clearing the mind of negative thoughts that have sprouted up like weeds so we can create a positive pathway for our mind to follow. Not only will we be able to more skillfully solve problems at home, but our work lives will improve as well. Instead of letting our emotions take over, we will be mindful and be more able to focus on reading that 20-page report before the meeting.
The quote that I keep repeating because it comes closest to explaining the benefits of meditation is by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “It is not that mindfulness is the ‘answer’ to all life’s problems. Rather, it is that all life’s problems can be seen more clearly through the lens of a clear mind.”
How do I Meditate?
Meditation is much more simple than you think!
As shown in the graphic below, it is about focusing attention on the breath (or the point of focus you choose). Yes, it’s that simple! Your ability to concentrate may at first be difficult, but will get easier over time as you make meditation a daily habit.
Thoughts will arise, but this does not mean you are doing it wrong – this means you are human! The point of meditation is to be aware of your thoughts, not to get rid of them. Acknowledge a thought, or a feeling, or whatever comes to mind, recognize it with non-judgement and experience it for what it is, and then go back to your point of focus.
The descriptions that I provide below show you how to meditate anytime, anywhere. You can be sitting on a crowded, noisy, angry bus, and you can meditate. However, I realize that as a beginner, that’s probably not the best environment to test out your skills.
So to start off, find a quiet space, sit on the floor or on a chair, and sit for 15 minutes and follow the directions on the graphic above. You can use the Headspace app or some other free, online guided meditation if you wish (resources section is below). A guided meditation will be helpful to you especially if you’re new to meditation, since we always think we’re doing it wrong (but you’re doing it right!).
When/How to: sitting, standing, walking, lying down, eating, listening, feeling, living/being
Posture: comfortable but not too comfortable (falling asleep does not count as meditating, although sleep is important too!), upright, extended but not rigid, knees below your hips if in a lotus position, feet on the ground if sitting on a chair
Focus on: the breath, or pauses between breaths, your body, the environment, your belly, chest, heart center, third eye, counting, a mantra/phrase, movements, steps, a space, sounds, music, or a feeling (Get creative! You could focus on a candle, or a grape, or a sunset, or…?)
When thoughts arise (as they do for all of us): Be aware of them, maybe even say to yourself, “I’m thinking.” Do not judge your thoughts or yourself – the point is not to be thoughtless, but to notice your thoughts. Be kind to yourself. Gently bring your attention back to the breath, your body, and your surroundings.
How long: 15-45 minutes per day (or longer!). You could do one 15-minute session in the morning and another at night, or maybe 15 minutes each day and then 45 minutes on the weekend, or 30 minutes every other day. Or maybe you just start out at five minutes each day and see what happens! You may even get to a point where you crave meditation – it’s a very healthy addiction! Do what you can – meditation should be the opposite of stressful!
Where: Anywhere! On the train/bus/airplane, in the library, outside, in your bedroom, living room, or office. Even just a 5-10 minute session on a bus can do wonders! No need to get fancy and pull out the Persian rug, unless you want to!
Tricks: To maintain your awareness on the present moment, you can try any of the following:
- Count your inhales and exhales from 1-10, repeat
- Say to yourself, “in, out” for each inhale and exhale
- Imagine your breath traveling from your belly to your sides to your chest and to your nose on the inhale, and back down, taking the same path from the nose to the belly on the exhale
- Breath in white light, breath out black smoke
- Focus your attention on the sensations in your feet for a few minutes, then your hands for a few minutes, then your belly, then your chest, then your head, then your nose/breath, then your whole body (This one is my favorite, and the meditation I typically do in the sessions I lead. It does require time, but you will be very relaxed by the end of it! )
Everybody has their own style of meditation, so overtime, you’ll find out what’s right for you! Just enjoy the process, don’t take it too seriously, and relax. Meditation is your time to let go and to live – to be fully aware of the present moment.
Don’t take my word for the positive effects of mindfulness meditation – check out these articles to continue learning about the benefits!
Using Meditation to Close the Achievement Gap
Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain
The Busier You Are the More You Need Mindfulness
Think Less Think Better
Look What Meditation Can Do for Your Mind, Body, and Spirit
Meditation Retreats and Workshops in Cambridge:
Cambridge Women’s Center
Come to one of my free mindfulness meditation sessions! I typically hold them weekly, but check the calendar for updates.
Cambridge Insight Meditation Center
331 Broadway, Cambridge MA 02139
Free Meditation Online: