A Guide To Mindfulness and Meditation: Mental Health Month Series
You’ve probably noticed the terms ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’ thrown about a lot recently — perhaps you’ve heard the words being used interchangeably or wondered why so many health-conscious people seem to be talking about their benefits?
In the first blog of our Mental Health Awareness month, we addressed the broad concept of mental health — specifically, discussing anxiety and depression. Now for the second blog, we want to delve a little deeper and provide you with some information about mindfulness and meditation, as well as discuss why these two things can help contribute to a healthy mind!
What exactly is mindfulness?
While varying understandings exist, generally mindfulness refers to being present and focusing on what you are doing in the moment, in a non-attached, non-judgmental way.
Mindful vs Mindfulness
Firstly, let’s consider the word, ‘mindful’. You can be mindful, intentionally or not, every day. For example, you know when you’re working out and concentrating completely on lifting those heavy weights? You are being mindful in that moment — whether you mean to or not, you are totally immersed in your task, only focusing on your actions (lifting the weights).
On a more complex level, mindfulness is believed to differ slightly from just being mindful. Mindfulness is a mental state when an individual intentionally tries to stay present in the moment and tries to adopt a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.
This means trying to take a mental step back from your thoughts and feelings by observing your state of ‘being’. It refers to observing your thoughts, acknowledging that you’re having them but also allowing them to keep on passing through without engaging with them.
Practicing mindfulness in this sense is considered a therapeutic technique that can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing. Sound confusing? Keep reading!
Why is mindfulness important?
Our minds are constantly preoccupied with an overflow of information. Thanks to advancements in technology, the ability to communicate with others is almost unlimited. This impacts our work habits (and our ability to switch off from work!), as well as social lives.
We have televisions, smartphones and digital devices, all of which throw a constant barrage of information at us from the minute we wake up until the moment we fall asleep — and our minds are forced to work harder than ever to try and process all of this information.
This can make it really hard to be present in the world in which we live, as well as give our minds a break — which can then have a negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
In fact, studies conducted by Harvard Medical demonstrated that nearly 47% of the time that our minds are awake and working, we are focusing on something other than what we are actually doing! The study also linked this with an individual’s level of happiness; it was found that the more a person’s mind wandered in everyday life, the unhappier they were.
The good news is that numerous studies have also drawn a substantial link between implementing regular mindfulness strategies and the benefit that this can have on your mental health and mindset. Health professionals are beginning to recognise that this is not just an ancient cultural practice but that it is a scientifically proven way to improve your mental health. Because of this, more and more health professionals are beginning to advise their patients to incorporate some kind of mindfulness practice into their lives, with more and more people in Western culture beginning to practice some form of mindfulness.
What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
This brings us to our next focus: meditation. Meditation originates from Eastern philosophies and is a mindfulness tool that can help you to train your mind. The goal of meditation is to train your mind to cultivate mindfulness in that moment, which then transfers into other elements of life — a person who meditates regularly does so with the aim of becoming a more mindful human being in all aspects of life.
Beginner’s Meditation Techniques
There are many different types of meditation that exist. Traditional meditation — the type most people probably imagine, where a person sits in silence on a meditation chair and experiences inner stillness — is considered by many as the ultimate lifelong goal of practicing meditation.
However, you don’t need to meditate in this particular way in order to receive the benefits of meditation.
There are so many other ways that you can practice meditation. If you are just starting out, we recommend guided meditation. For a beginner, guided meditation is considered less difficult than traditional meditation and can provide structure and boundaries for you to progress from.
Guided meditation involves someone speaking to you as you meditate. Rather than being left alone with your thoughts, someone talks you through your session, providing you with guidance to help you quieten your mind and be present in the moment.
Guided meditation at your fingertips
There are many websites that offer free guided meditation videos and audio if you simply type in that search term. However, some of the best meditations that you can start out with as a beginner are through smartphone apps.
With more apps becoming available, you can do your own personal research, test a few out and see what suits you best. While some of the more popular ones may have a cost to use, by reading online reviews and taking up ‘free trial’ offers, you should be able to get a good feel for which one you like best.
Quite often with these programs, you can choose from shorter sessions, or longer ones. While it depends on you and your mood, we recommend starting out with very short meditation sessions, and slowly build your way up over time. Similar to the way that our SWEAT app programs are designed to help you build up your fitness over time, some meditation software offers programs that can help you to build up a strong meditation practice over time.
These programs can be great as they often begin with short daily meditations, such as 2-5 minute sessions, and then offer the option to work your way up to longer ones over time as you develop your skills.
How to practice mindfulness in other ways
Remember to be patient with yourself. Like anything, practicing meditation is a skill that needs to be developed over time — it needs to be practised! Imagine trying to swim a lap of an Olympic pool — you wouldn’t just jump right into the pool and expect that you can swim, if you’ve never even attempted it before! First, you would need to learn how to float, then to tread water, and then practise swimming a few metres, before you would even consider attempting the distance (in this case, long, unguided meditation sessions).
There are so many other forms of mindfulness meditation that you can try out if you feel that traditional forms of meditation, or guided meditations, don’t suit you. Make sure you sign up to the SWEAT newsletter and stay tuned for the next blog in this series — we will discuss a range of other mindfulness techniques that you can implement into your daily life!
We’d love to hear from members of our SWEAT community who regularly listen to guided meditations, or meditate in the traditional sense regularly. What do you love most about your practice? Let us know in the comments below!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.