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How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners

10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation

What is Meditation?

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Mindful Living

Benefits of Mindfulness: Mindful Living Can Change Your Life

The benefits of mindfulness go far beyond reducing stress. Mindfulness can help you sleep better, improve your focus, feel more confident, and be more forgiving toward yourself and others.

Mindfulness is often talked about in relation to stress reduction, which is just one of its powerful benefits. Mindfulness also bolsters focus and clarity, can help us better navigate relationships with mindful listening and by reducing reactivity, and it can help us achieve our goals. It can make us feel more optimistic and also kinder and more forgiving toward ourselves and others. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the benefits of mindfulness reach into every aspect of our human experience.

Is Mindfulness Different from Meditation?

Mindfulness is a quality of mind that can be strengthened through meditation, but it, by itself, is not meditation.

It is a way of being, of experiencing life, that is alert, awake, and present.

Meditation is a practice that cultivates mindfulness. It’s sometimes described as a workout that strengthens your mindfulness muscle.

Importantly, and why it’s been taught for thousands of years, Mindfulness Meditation enables us to more clearly see the underlying mechanisms of our minds, and it simultaneously builds and grows our capacity to hold more parts of ourselves and our experience. This allows us to live the full depth and beauty of our life and to experience greater fulfillment.

How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners

The biggest part of learning how to meditate is the intention to stick with it. And like most things, regular practice is how you notice the results.

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OK, got it. Meditation is a tool that builds mindfulness.

But...

What Exactly is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the quality or trait of being aware of what’s happening, in the present moment, without judging your experience or needing to change it. When you’re being mindful, you’ve stepped outside the constant chatter of your thoughts and into greater awareness of what’s actually going on, both within you and around you.

This may seem obvious, but the truth is that we spend the majority of our time with our physical bodies in one place and our thoughts in another. It’s difficult to keep our busy minds steady. Before we know it, we’re off daydreaming, planning, remembering, rehashing, anticipating, comparing—we follow thought after thought down mental rabbit holes without even realizing we’re doing it.

Even when we are able to focus on one thing, we rarely do. We are master multitaskers, which is often touted as a desirable skill. Yet it turns out that diverting your attention and flipping back and forth between mental tasks drain the brain’s ability to do any one thing as well. Social media, in particular, has been criticized for its role in contributing to the unprecedented level of multitasking distraction in our lives.

With this self-awareness, you’re able respond appropriately to the present moment instead of simply reacting with emotion fueled by your past experience.

Blindly following all of our thoughts also impacts our present-moment experience. Here’s an example that happens all the time: Someone says something that reminds you of another time that a different person said something similar. Maybe during that prior conversation, the comment upset you. And remembering it now, you start to feel the prickly sensation of emotion rising.

But here’s the thing: The current circumstances may be entirely different. The person may have another reason for making the comment or the context might not be the same.

Mindfulness is what allows us to notice the difference. It helps you recognize this is not that. With this self-awareness, you’re able to respond appropriately to the present moment instead of simply reacting with emotion fueled by your past experience.

This is just one of the many ways that mindfulness benefits us and why mindful living is an increasingly desired goal. Here are some others:

Mindfulness Can Improve Your Mental Health

From reducing stress and anxiety to managing the symptoms of depression and increasing life satisfaction, mindfulness offers powerful support for our mental and emotional health.

Through mindfulness training, we learn to observe our thoughts and emotions with a sense of openness and curiosity. We don’t judge our thoughts or make ourselves wrong for having them; we simply notice them and their impact on us. This can be a powerful ally especially when we’re struggling. Mindfulness offers another perspective, one that is more objective, curious, and compassionate.

Mindfulness has also been shown to help reduce rumination, or obsessive thinking and worrying. Rumination is common in depression and anxiety, including social anxiety, and can fuel aggression.

For these reasons, mindfulness has become a valued therapeutic tool. Both Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) teach us to bring a curious, non-judgemental attitude to whatever we’re experiencing and to recognize habitual and unhelpful reactions to difficulty or discomfort.

Mindfulness Can Help You Change Unwanted Habits

In the same ways that mindfulness supports emotional and mental well-being, it helps us become more aware of our habits and to work toward changing those that don’t serve us. By increasing our self-awareness, we more clearly recognize triggers that lead to unwanted behaviors. We are also better able to explore those triggers and our reactions with a curiosity that deflates their power over us.

Mindfulness also helps us to “be” with our experience instead of defaulting to our habitual reactions. Called urge surfing, this can be especially useful when habits are born from avoidance—trying to push away discomfort with a distraction, such as overeating, drinking alcohol, doing drugs, or engaging in other risky or unhelpful behavior.

Make Self-Care Your Top Priority

Meditation · 15 mins

RAIN for Self-Love

Bring the mindfulness and self-compassion to a challenging part of our life, and particularly, to places of self-judgment or feelings of failure.

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Mindfulness Can Help You at Work

Better communication skills. Healthy boundaries. Less reactivity. Greater resilience. These are just a few of the ways that mindfulness supports our work lives. Studies have also found that mindfulness may enhance job satisfaction, can boost confidence, and improves focus and task management, among other benefits.

And in the same ways that mindfulness supports overall health and well-being in everyday life, these benefits are useful at work. It can make you more aware of your physical needs for a break, for example. It can also help you to notice triggers so that you can pause before you react. Mindfulness training for leaders has also been shown to improve the well-being of employees.

Mindfulness Helps in the Classroom

Mindfulness interventions for school-age children support kids in numerous ways, including: attention and focus, cognitive skills, emotional regulation, and well-being. Mindfulness is also linked to greater empathy among both children and adolescents. Perhaps the most important benefit of mindfulness for children is in its ability to help kids deal with strong emotions that, unchecked, can lead to feelings of stress and worry and interfere with learning.

Calm Your Nerves

Meditation · 5 mins

Feeling Nervous

In this meditation, we will practice strategies to help us feel less nervous and more calm.

Mindfulness Keeps Athletes Focused and Less Stressed

It’s often said that success in sports depends on equal measures of physical ability and mental toughness. It's the mental aspect that’s the goal of mindfulness interventions in collegiate clubs, professional athletic teams, and for individual athletes across the spectrum of sports and abilities. And for good reason. Studies show that mindfulness can improve confidence, resiliency, and focus among athletes. It’s also impactful on stressors such as performance anxiety and fear of judgement. But the benefits are not just mental. One study found that mindfulness helped college athletes sleep better, which improves both performance and mental endurance.

How Mindfulness Changes the Brain

Most of the benefits attributed to mindfulness—mental, emotional, physical—can be linked to how it affects your brain. Research shows, for example, that the brains of long-time meditators have a larger volume of grey matter in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls the executive functions of decision-making, attention, and sensory processing.

Even short-term mindfulness interventions produce changes. In one study, participants in an 8-week Mindfulness Meditation program showed less activation of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional response. This correlates to mindfulnesses’ ability to improve emotional regulation and to choose how we respond to situations instead of simply reacting.

These changes in the brain seem to be related to how mindfulness alters the way we process information.

By witnessing our thoughts and feelings instead of automatically reacting to them, we disengage from our mental narrative and instead lightly hold our attention on the wider, quieter space beyond the thinking mind.

Neural pathways are the superhighways of the brain—the most direct routes from initial thought to desired result. The more efficient a neural pathway is, the more it's used, becoming part of our default mode. This is the same process used to form habits. 

Mindfulness interrupts this process. By witnessing our thoughts and feelings instead of automatically reacting to them, we disengage from our mental narrative and instead lightly hold our attention on the wider, quieter space beyond the thinking mind.

In this spaciousness, we’re able to draw upon other mental resources that usually get drowned out by the “noise” of a reactive state; things like reason, compassion, wisdom, and an ability to see the larger picture.

These higher cognitive functions can point us toward more healthful ways of handling a situation.

When we repeatedly disrupt the old reactive pathways and make different choices, over time we lay down new neural pathways, effectively rewiring how our brain reacts to certain situations.

Mindful Meditation Program For Beginners

How to Meditate

The biggest part of learning how to meditate is the intention to stick with it. And like most things, regular practice is how you notice the results.

How to Practice Mindfulness

While meditation is arguably the best way to cultivate mindfulness, it’s not the only way. There are many practices that can be incorporated into daily life that can help you be more mindful and to strengthen your overall mindfulness in every activity.

Mindful Walking

Bringing present-moment awareness to both the physical sensations involved with walking and also to what’s going on in the environment all around you.

Melli O'Brien

Walking

Meditation · 10 mins

Mindful Movement

Bringing awareness to any kind of physical movement, but specifically to slower actions where you can tune into sensation as well as any shifts or changes in your perception or experience.

Cory Muscara

Choiceless Awareness

Meditation · 5-30 mins

Mindful Eating

The act of eating in a deliberate and attentive way, bringing your full attention to every aspect of the experience: the internal sensations of hunger or satisfaction; the sensory experience of sight, taste, texture, and smell; the physical experience of eating; and any thoughts or emotions that arise during any part of the process before, during, or after.

Mark Coleman

Sensory Awareness

Meditation · 10 mins

Mindful Pauses

Intentional breaks in activity to bring your full awareness to the present moment, often through a sensory experience, such as listening to sounds in your environment.

Cory Muscara

STOP: A Technique to Re-Ground

Meditation · 5-30 mins

Mindful Listening

Giving your full attention to what is being said with openness and curiosity and without interrupting, judging, or criticizing. At the same time, holding an awareness of any of your own thoughts, feelings, or reactions in the moment.

Cory Muscara

Become a Better Listener

Meditation · 5-30 mins

Mindful Driving

Using the very ordinary activity of driving a car as an opportunity to practice mindfulness in a variety of ways, such as

  • Using traffic signs or lights as visual cues to bring your full awareness to the present moment;
  • Practicing compassion toward other drivers;
  • Doing physical check-ins, such as noticing how your hands are holding the steering wheel, how you’re sitting in your seat, whether you’re holding tension in your face or shoulders.

Cory Muscara

Calm Focus

Meditation · 10-20 mins

Live a Mindful Life

Enjoy these articles, stories, and guided practices for incorporating mindfulness into every day.

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In Only 15 Minutes a Day

The Foundations of Mindfulness

In this 30-day guided course, you’ll learn how to practice meditation and mindful living skills. Along the way, you’ll discover how to become less reactive, ease anxiety and stress, and tap into a core of inner calm and strength to carry with you wherever you go.

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