With the growing popularity of yoga, more and more people are becoming familiar with meditations techniques, including Zazen, a mindfulness meditation that is at the heart of Zen Buddhism. But you don’t have to be a Buddhist, or practice yoga, to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness based practices have been show to help reduce stress, lessen depression symptoms and manage pain among other things. And the best part is anyone can do it at home!
So what is “mindfulness”? There are many ways we can define mindfulness but put simply it refers to bringing one’s full awareness to the present moment without judgment. In Zazen meditation the attention is drawn to the breath, typically the sensation of the breath going in and out the mediator’s nose. The breath is not controlled, it is simply noticed. If thoughts arise or awareness is drawn to some external sound it is simply noted and the attention is gently drawn back to the breath.
For some people sitting still for a long time is too uncomfortable or too challenging. But mindfulness doesn’t have to be practiced sitting down. Another common technique is walking meditation. In this case the mediator chooses a place to walk, be it back and forth in their home, a few blocks down the street, or a peaceful path in the woods. The location isn’t important, what is important is bringing the awareness to each step. Each step is made with purpose and the mediator focuses on the sensation of each step. This type of meditation may be a better choice for someone with ADHD or someone with back problems who can’t still for too long.
While the concept of mindfulness is simple most people do find it challenging and even sometimes frustrating at first. It’s not easy to clear the mind of all thoughts. Realistically thoughts will arise and that is ok. Instead of feeling like you have failed and simply give up just note when a thought has arisen and then draw your attention back to where you intended your focus to be. It is also common for physical sensations to arise and distract. Again this is normal and sensations should be noted without judgment meaning we don’t want to attach concepts like “good” or “bad” to sensations. If pain arises our brains are trained to think “ow, that feels bad”. But instead of attaching subjective concepts to our sensations, in mindfulness practice we want to think objectively.
Focusing on sensations in the body can be it’s own type of mindfulness practice and is very useful for people who suffer from chronic pain. When we feel pain we may think “that hurts” or “this doesn’t feel good”. If we are to examine sensations objectively we may notice things like a burning sensation, tightness, dull aching or sharp stabbing. Noticing these sensations without attaching emotion to them is key in mindfulness practice. If you can train yourself to simply notice your pain and not attach emotion to it then when the pain arises there will be less stress and disappointment associated with the pain. Less emotional stress will in turn lead to less physical stress and therefore less pain in the long run.
It does take time and dedication to see a benefit from mindfulness practice but even practicing a few minutes each day can be beneficial. For move information on mindfulness including training videos and exercises click here.