Meditation is a reflective exercise that has been practised in some cultures for thousands of years. While it is considered a powerful way to engage with our inner selves in spiritual practices, ultimately, it is a way to calm our emotions and feel at ease in increasingly challenging times. In our current times of fear and uncertainty, mindfulness meditations can definitely be a useful tool in easing turmoil and promoting relaxation.
Are mindfulness and meditation the same thing?
It’s worth understanding how mindfulness and meditation are two different techniques that can be combined into a single activity.
Mindfulness is an awareness of the present and completely aware of what you think and feel now without being distracted by the past or the future. When we live in the past, we generally feel a sense of depression. If we think too much about the future, we can struggle with anxiety. Mindfulness tackles these negative consequences by asking you to pay attention to what is going on right now. At its most simple, mindfulness can be listening to bird songs or feeling the ground on the bottom of bare feet.
Meditation is a more concerted exercise, where you set aside about 20 minutes to sit in silence and train your attention and focus. Our brains are like most muscles in our body, it learns through repetition. Muscle memory means our body unconsciously makes the choices we want it to without reminding ourselves. Therefore, practising meditation each day makes us more likely to focus our attention on the present when we find ourselves distracted by unpleasant thoughts from the past or future.
Mindfulness and meditation together
Mindfulness and meditation enrich each other. Practising meditation each day makes it easier to turn to mindfulness when we need it throughout the rest of our lives. If your brain is used to focusing on the present, it will remember to revert to this more readily when you are in a stressful situation.
Our normal default setting at times of threat is a fight, flight, or freeze impulse. Our primal reaction to stress protects us well from errant bears but is potentially harmful to our well-being when arguing with a colleague. Therefore, to change our default, we need to set our default to focus on the present – to a mindful mindset. Meditation is how we set this new default.
When we are offered any sort of advice, it is useful to hear the justification. When people tell us to practise meditation or mindfulness because it helps, we might not fully commit without hearing how. So, think, how would you like to lower your blood pressure and avoid putting so much pressure on your heart? How much would you love to reduce the fear and aggression that might be a feature of your day? How would reducing the impact of stomach and intestinal conditions improve your life? And, what about a natural means of reducing inflammation?
While mindfulness meditation is about developing a mindset that helps balance our emotions, there are undoubtedly physical benefits. We may find we suffer less from depression, anxiety, stress, and poor self-esteem, but consequently, we struggle less with sleeplessness, headaches and more.
While there are other forms of meditation you might want to explore in the future, mindfulness meditation is an excellent starting point. Setting aside 10–20 minutes each day is manageable and will help you apply mindfulness when life feels hard, and you need to refocus.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He tweets @dennisr_howell.