How to Bring Mindfulness Into Your Health Routine
The word meditation brings to mind a particular image of perfect calm – a figure sitting cross-legged, hands on knees, eyes closed, preferably in a minimalist studio or on top of a mountain. But as a rise in meditation apps and everyday relaxation techniques have shown, meditation is much simpler – and much more accessible.
Meditation is, in essence, mindful and conscious breathing that encourages you to pay attention to the moment you’re in. Focus and purposefully noticing aspects of your surroundings and experience is the foundation of the practice. Some of its benefits are intangible – many people report feeling more peaceful, focused and attentive, as well as less anxious, after meditating. Other benefits impact health more directly: meditation can decrease stress, ease mental tension, improve sleep, reduce back pain and fight depression. Pregnant women, in particular, are often recommended mindfulness classes. Mindfulness classes and meditation are also commonly offered by cancer resource centers to help address stress and support wellness during cancer care. All of which is to say, meditation offers real benefits and even a few minutes can work wonders. Moreover, you can do it almost anywhere – no mountaintop necessary.
Ways to Meditate
There are a number of schools of mindfulness, each with their own styles of meditation and as you become more engaged with the practice, you may find it beneficial to visit a studio or class for a specific form that relates to your needs. When you’re getting started, however, it can be enough to focus on the basics.
First, you’ll want to find a quiet, comfortable and safe place with minimal disturbances. You may want to play something soothing – nature sounds are popular. Sit in an upright position and focus on clearing your mind, paying attention to the precise moment you are in. There are a couple different strategies you can try to focus your thoughts and purposefully notice the specific sensations you are experiencing. Some people prefer to count their breaths and others choose to do a body scan – focusing on the sensation and existence of individual body parts as you mentally move through the body. You may also choose to focus on the feeling of existing in your environment, such as the light, sound and energy around you. Minds do tend to wander and while you may find it beneficial to resume where you were before – counting breaths or scanning your body – some people like to follow where the mind wanders and focus on why or how they got there.
Guided meditations are also popular and there are many smartphone apps or audio recordings you can turn to help you practice mindfulness. These guided meditations are particularly helpful for integrating meditation into your daily life.
You can certainly add it to your to-do list or set a reminder to meditate, but you can also find moments for mindfulness in your existing routine. For example, if your commute involves taking a train or bus, it may be an opportunity for meditation, though those who drive to work should naturally stay alert on the road. But on a train, you can focus on your body, on how you’re both standing still and moving through space and on the sounds of the clatter of the tracks. With your morning coffee or tea, you can notice the sensation of drinking, the warmth and steam and the way the cup feels in your hand. Even brushing your teeth can be mindful if you focus on the way the bristles feel and the toothpaste tastes, breathing deliberately and relaxing your jaw throughout.
Meditation and mindfulness are popular for a reason. Spending five to ten minutes relaxing and clearing or focusing your mind can have a real impact on your physical and emotional health, so go ahead and take the steps to integrate meditation into your existing health routine.