Written by: Meg Sharp, Wellbeing Consultant, Cambridge Group of Clubs
Lately, these two words seem to be appearing more and more often. So, what exactly is all the buzz about mindfulness and meditation? What do these terms even mean?
You will find lots of different ways of approaching, defining, and practicing meditation or being mindful. Some consider mindfulness a quality while meditation is a practice. Said another way, mindfulness is a capacity of your mind whereas meditation is an activity. Is it that one is informal and the other is formal? Keep digging and you will find the terms used interchangeably, or together - as in mindful meditation.
For what it’s worth, here’s what resonates for me:
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present. To be aware of where you are, what you are doing, what is happening immediately around you while remaining open, curious, not overly reactive, or judgmental.
Meditation involves dedicating a certain amount of time and effort focusing the mind on one thing at a time. A mantra. A breath in. A breath out. It’s making an effort to be acutely aware of the present and developing the ability to keep focused and avoid allowing your mind to wander.
However you define them, what is clear is practicing meditation or mindfulness or both is powerfully positive for our brains and our health. Being present, aware of ourselves and the people and things immediately around us, is good. Really good. Learning to breathe deeply, slow our nervous system down, and create some space is freeing.
Meditation and being mindful helps us learn to activate our parasympathetic nervous system. The opposite to the system that stimulates our flight and flight responses. So, we learn how to lower our heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones.
People who meditate regularly - even just 4 - 5 minutes a day - note reductions in stress and anxiety. It’s been shown to help alleviate depression and boost hormones in the brain that improve memory, cognition, and creative thinking.
We become more patient and better able to handle conflict and challenges.
Practicing being mindful can be as simple as slowing down, turning to face the person you are speaking with, and ensuring you hear every word they are saying. Taking three or four deep breaths while you carefully consider their point of view before simply restating what you heard.
Being mindful when you exercise actually increases muscle innervation - improving strength, optimizing proper muscle patterns and posture, and making your overall workout safer and more effective. Focusing on your muscles, where they are in space and how they are moving also serves as mental distraction from other things. Many people report decreased stress and anxiety after these types of workouts - as well as improved resilience and problem-solving ability.
Practicing mediation before bed can be incredibly helpful for both falling and staying asleep. You can even practice in bed. Beyond the health benefits of the meditation itself, a good night’s sleep is nothing short of transformational.
Be mindful while you are eating. The texture, smell, and taste of the food becomes so much more powerful. You are likely to feel far more satiated from the meal. For those of you looking to shed a few pounds, this practice helps you avoid overeating too.
Take note of your body at any point in the day. Are your shoulders rounded forward? Your neck tense? Your hands gripping something tighter than they need to? Take a few deep breaths. Even try focusing your breath into the tense spaces. Purposefully relax your body, your eyes, jaw, forehead, and feet. Learning to calm your body using simple tools like breath and specific muscle relaxation can be so powerful for your wellbeing. And you can imagine how it can impact your interactions with - even relationships with - others.
It begins with awareness. And ultimately ends with patience and compass. Sometimes for others. Most definitely for yourself.
Seems a worthy endeavour to me.