With the recent interest in the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, some of you will already be familiar with the terms. Mindfulness was first expressed in the teachings of the Buddha, who highlighted the significance of meditation (Dhyana) in our life. So what is the difference between mindfulness and meditation? The goal of meditation is to increase your level of consciousness. Hang on, what do I mean by consciousness? Consciousness in simple terms is just a state of increased awareness. Different techniques can be used to reach this level of consciousness, with mindfulness being one of them, while yoga (moving meditation) being another. Mindfulness focuses on the present moment, without worrying about the past or the future. This form of meditation focuses mainly on your breath, whereas, other techniques such as the body scan meditation focuses on physical sensations you can feel within your body.
I honestly can’t remember the exact moment I decided to start meditating. Looking back now I feel like I’ve experienced meditative like states before when I’ve been snowboarding, travelling or scuba diving. I understand now why I felt so free during these activities. It was because during those moments, I’m not worried about past or future events but I’m truly living in that moment. I mentioned about my spinal injury in my first blog post and how it motivated me to get into meditation. At the time, all my close friends were either in relationships or on a work placement in different countries. I’m going to be honest and say I was probably at my lowest point and didn’t tell many people about it. I couldn’t sit in lectures for long periods of time. I couldn’t train and go to the gym. I was on bed rest for a few months, and became so depressed I wanted to drop out of university. I just didn’t know what to do. I’m so glad I discovered meditation. When no one was there, I learnt to be there for myself. I overcame these challenges and got back up. I can’t express enough how powerful meditation is and how much it can help you in life.
When you first get into meditation you don’t need to sit there for hours on end. Most the time, I use 5-10 minutes ‘on the spot’ meditations when I can feel stress building up. On my recent trip to Prague, my flight was delayed on the way back. So instead of stressing out, I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing for 5 minutes. As soon as I opened my eyes, I was instantly more relaxed and calmer about the situation.
One of the realisations, I had from practicing meditation was that, I am not my thoughts. If you think about it. Thoughts influence our emotions and vice versa. As a result, emotions influence our behaviour. You can choose how you respond to that thought, which then changes your response in that situation. I think this is why meditation and mindfulness are so helpful in anxiety sufferers. As an anxiety sufferer myself, I know the thought patterns of anxiety. Thoughts usually dwell on the mistakes you made in the past or the uncertainty of the future. Bringing your awareness to the present can help to ignore negative thoughts. When you realise it is only a thought, you learn not to react to it.
A great way to practice mindfulness every day for a couple of minutes is to pay attention to your senses. When you’re in the shower, feel the water on your skin, notice the buildup of heat in your bathroom. You can also become mindful while eating. Next time you eat by yourself, put your phone away and focus on the smell, flavour, and textures of the food. Truly enjoy a cup of tea, focusing on its warmth and taste. When I started paying attention to my food, everything started to taste 100x better. You are likely to drift into thoughts while doing these meditation exercises but the goal is to realise you have started to drift and to bring your awareness back.
I think the best way to start meditating is to attend a local yoga studio or download the app ‘Headspace’. Meditation centers are so supportive and the teachers will be happy to answer any questions you may have. The headspace app is a 10-minute guided meditation session, which progresses you slowly through the stages. For anyone that is already experienced or wants to learn more, I honestly would recommend ‘The Power of Now’ and ‘The New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose’ by Eckhart Tolle. Give it a read and let me know what you think.
There are so many benefits to practicing mindfulness and meditation on a regular basis. Studies have shown improved sleep quality, stronger immune system, lower blood pressure and increased concentration. Overall, you will start to think more positively and become more open to change and self-improvement in your life. So what are you waiting for?