Mindfulness

Mindfulness Meditation Exercises & Practices

Once upon a time, in a region between Nepal and India called Kapilavastu, there lived a royal descendant who got tired of his comfortable and routine life. One night, the young man decided to sit under a fig tree until he found true knowledge. He was Siddharta Gautama, better known as Buddha, a relevant figure in the history of meditation who enhanced one’s own experience as a source of knowledge.

Some 2,500 years later, in some mind of our society: “Tomorrow I have to submit a paper to the university; how much do I have left? I think a couple of sections, how will my brother’s meeting be going? I have to buy bread, I don’t know what time they close, I never remember, I’ll buy a snack to take my friend, it’s her birthday and last year I forgot to congratulate her, what a bad memory I have, but it doesn’t surprise me with the pace of life what do I bring.”

This mental discourse is very frequent. Our ability to anticipate the future allows us to avoid potential problems or resolve issues in advance. On the other hand, considering the past allows us to learn from previous experiences. Both questions are really useful. 

But what about the present if we focus on the past and/or the futureHow many things do we miss from the present when considering and judging past events? In this Psychologyorg article, we reflect on the importance of living in the present and how to achieve it through a type of meditation. You will find out what mindfulness is and how it is practiced.

Meaning of Mindfulness

To know what mindfulness is and how it is practiced, we must first know what mindfulness means. The meaning of mindfulness is full attention or full awareness. Mindfulness is an English term, an old synonym for attention, which means mindfulness. Mind means mind, while mindfulness means fullness. 

The word mindfulness originates in the term sati, which means awareness, attention, and recollection in Pali. The mindfulness concept currently refers to the fact of being aware and attentive to the present moment. Although it can be translated into Spanish, experts recommend using the Anglo-Saxon or Pali terms since they better reflect the meaning of mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a practice based on meditation that trains attention to be aware of the present. What is mindfulness meditation? According to Jon Kabat Zinn (1994), mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to the present moment without judging. For Vicente Simón (2007), one of the highest representatives of mindfulness in Spain, it is a universal and basic human capacity that consists of instantaneously being aware of the ranges of the mind.

Mindfulness stems from Eastern traditions, especially Buddhism and Vipassana meditation. Its source dates back 2,500 years, when Siddharta Gautama formed a religious and intellectual practice with mindfulness as its core.

What is meditation?

Meditation is a way of training the mind. Mindfulness is founded on meditation but is a much wider and more heterogeneous convention. This article explains the types of meditation and their benefits.

What is vipassana meditation?

Vipassana reflection is a type of meditation that originated in India. Vipassana means “seeing things as they are,” which is the goal of this type of meditation. It is practiced through self-observation of the body and mind and their changes.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness: westernized Meditation

Mindfulness is said to be a kind of Westernized meditation as it has been adjusted to the needs of life in the West.

Although meditation is an ancient practice, it began to spread in the West at the beginning of the 20th century. It was established between the 1960s and 1970s, entering psychology schools. Little by little, mindfulness was incorporated as a technique for physicians in their professional practice.

The greatest exponent of this process is Jon Kabat-Zinn, who opened the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979 and promoted the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

Since then, research on mindfulness has multiplied exponentially, disclosing findings about its multiple benefits.

The mindfulness meditation we use in contemporary psychology does not require a specific body position and is unrelated to any religious belief. It consists of a practice of focusing attention on the present moment and skillfully responding to mental processes, thus influencing stress and behavior.

Benefits of Mindfulness

The most important benefits are the following:

Regulation of attention

Attention is like a spotlight that illuminates a stage. The stage is very large, and the spotlight cannot illuminate everything; rather, it illuminates a specific part. The stimuli we process depend on our attention, and significant issues such as memory and learning depend on it. Knowing how to move this focus and illuminate what is most important to attend to at all times is vital. Mindfulness allows us to train in the regulation of attention and allows us to be aware of what we tend to overlook when we activate autopilot.

Mindful moments

The pace of life is generally fast to meet the demands of today’s society. Learning mindfulness allows you to deactivate the autopilot and makes it easier to have more mindful moments in which you are aware of the present.

Mindfulness and emotions

Focusing on the present moment, mindfulness, or full awareness lets you know what you are feeling right now. This allows us to suffer less from emotions felt in the past, anticipate fewer emotions that may arise in the future, and be more aware of our emotions in the present. Understanding the current emotional condition is the first step to controlling it. Emotion regulation consists of adapting emotional expression to the situation.

Detect thoughts

The mind does not stop bombarding thoughts continuously. Being aware of this activity allows you to manage it. Some thoughts have no real function at that precise moment and produce background noise in the mind. We can let go of these beliefs via mindfulness to concentrate on our desires.

Mindfulness to study

Studying while focusing fully on what you read is a mindfulness action. Mindfulness helps with studying by improving attention regulation and decreasing the flow of distracting thoughts.

Relaxation and mindfulness

It should be noted that mindfulness is not a relaxation technique nor its main objective. However, it can be a beneficial consequence.

Mindfulness and anxiety

Anxiety is a standard and valid emotion that serves to trigger the body in the face of possible threats. However, sometimes anxiety becomes pathological as activation is excessive and prevents normal functioning. Anxiety is born from a strong concern for the future, from an anticipatory fear. For this reason, mindfulness or full awareness helps reduce anxiety by focusing attention on the present moment.

Mindfulness and relationships

Through the practice of mindfulness, relationships with other people also improve, as it promotes the development of social skills such as empathy and understanding.

Mindfulness and education

The benefits of mindfulness in education include increased creativity and improved academic performance.

Mindfulness and brain

How does mindfulness affect the brain? Attention and self-observation activate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, while metacognition activates the prefrontal cortex, favoring more conscious information processing.

The thalamocortical networks of the brain create predictions of the future with the information that is captured through the senses through very powerful neural connectivity. This allows the brain to issue quick assessments to carry out behaviors consistent with survival. 

However, it also sets the mind regarding right or wrong and encourages strong reactions based on previous experiences. Mindfulness allows one to stop identifying with this functioning, being aware that this mental activity does not represent the “I,” and thus disconnecting the automatic processes.

Mindfulness and neuroscience research has found that mindfulness practice is linked to the increased thickness of the medial prefrontal area and the insula. It also indicates that mindfulness practice is associated with changes in the concentration of gray matter in areas of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and emotion regulation. 

Mindfulness

Mindfulness: How it is practiced

How is mindfulness practiced? Before starting, it is important to understand the different components of mindfulness so that you can learn how to practice it.

1. Be aware

It is about paying full attention to the present moment, that is, being aware of what is happening here and now. It is about being aware of what is being done and what is going through the mind now: the information that the senses are capturing and the products of the mind itself (thoughts, memories, imaginations, etc.).

2. Observe

It is about observing what appears in the mind as constantly changing content. Just watch what comes up.

3. Accept

Thoughts that could cause rejection or disgust will appear. However, mindfulness is about accepting and allowing thoughts to be as they are. Acceptance consists of not putting up resistance.

4. Don’t judge

Not judging the thoughts that appear in the mind consists of refraining from making an assessment or a positive or negative reaction.

5. Experiment

Mindfulness proposes a curious and open-minded attitude, with which current sensations are received with curiosity, as if they appeared for the first time, avoiding the influence of previous learning.

6. Compassion

One of the important factors of mindfulness is the perspective of loving empathy and kindness towards the observed things. You will find more information about this component in this article: self-compassion in Psychology.

7. Let go

Letting go means letting go of things that are leaving without trying to hold them. It consists of understanding that everything is impermanent and has a beginning, a duration, and an end. When this end happens, from mindfulness, it is proposed that we not cling but let go. That is, letting go of the experience.

8. Patience

Being patient in mindfulness practice means understanding that things happen when they have to happen.

9. Trust

Confidence consists of believing in yourself, your feelings, intuition, and wisdom.

In short, practicing mindfulness consists of letting thoughts flow without resisting or judging them, simply observing how they come and go. It is essential to distinguish the fact of concentrating attention and the philosophy with which it is done. In addition to focusing attention on the present, you must adopt an attitude characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.

Types of mindfulness practice

Mindfulness practice can be formal or informal. The traditional approach requires a minimum of 45 minutes of mindfulness meditation daily. On the other hand, the everyday practice of mindfulness consists of applying mindfulness skills in any daily activity, such as eating or walking.

Both formal and informal practices are used in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). In contrast, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) use only informal practices.

Start practicing mindfulness

It is recommended that you start practicing mindfulness with the help or accompaniment of a professional through a mindfulness class or mindfulness session. The steps to practice mindfulness would be:

  1. Know and understand the technique.
  2. Dedicate a space in time to practice it.
  3. Start with simpler exercises.
  4. To increase the difficulty of the exercises until you can apply mindfulness in daily activities.
  5. Practice mindfulness in daily activities.

Raisin exercise

The raisin exercise is one of the most used exercises for understanding and practicing mindfulness. This exercise is divided into 2 parts: the slogan is to eat a raisin regularly. In the second part, the slogan is to follow the following steps :

  1. Hold the raisin in your hand or fingers and look at it as if you were seeing a raisin for the first time.
  2. See and carefully follow all the details of the raisin: the coloring, the folds, etc.
  3. Touch and listen. Examine the surface of the raisin, move it, embrace it, and hear the sound.
  4. Smell.
  5. Set the raisin in the mouth and investigate the sensation of owning the raisin on the tongue.
  6. Chew: bite into the raisin and perceive the texture and flavors of the raisin in the mouth.
  7. Swallow.
  8. Note the posterior effectors.

The raisin exercise ends with reflecting on the experience of eating the raisin regularly and paying full attention, being aware, or practicing mindfulness.

Here are other simple exercises to start practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness: exercises

There are different types of mindfulness exercises and mindfulness techniques.  A good option to start with is guided mindfulness exercises. There are guided mindfulness recordings made by experts such as Vicente Simón.

Another type of simple mindfulness exercise that is most practiced is quick mindfulness exercises, which can be done in a few minutes or anywhere. The instructions for these exercises are the same, as they have a common denominator: there is something that will be used to focus attention. Nothing happens if a thought occurs at any moment and you stop paying attention to the object. That thought will be gently let go, and attention returned to the object.

Mindfulness exercises in 5 minutes

  1. Body sweep. This mindfulness exercise involves finding a comfortable position and reviewing the whole body, paying attention to and being aware of the state and position of each part.
  2. Breathing. Pay attention to your breath in each step of your process. Be aware of the inhalation, of the sensation of the air entering through the nose, filling the lungs, and leaving through the mouth. Discover different breathing exercises.
  3. Sailing. Light a candle and focus your attention on the flame. Observe its movement, its change, and its colors.
  4. Bath or shower. When taking a bath or shower, pay attention to the sensation that occurs when the water touches the skin and be aware of the temperature, intensity, etc.
  5. Drink. This mindfulness exercise consists of having a drink with full awareness, first of all, observing it, touching it, listening to it, savoring it, drinking it, and paying attention.
Mindfulness

Mindfulness books

Some of the best-known and most successful mindfulness books are the following:

  • Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams (Author), Danny Penman (Author), Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Practicing Mindfulness: 75 Essential Meditations to Reduce Stress, Improve Mental Health, and Find Peace in Everyday Life by Matthew Sokolov
  • You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.

Read Also: Social Trap Psychology: Causes & Effects

FAQs

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a practice of intentionally focusing one’s attention on the present moment without judgment. It involves bringing awareness to one’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations in a non-reactive and accepting way.

What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?

Mindfulness has been shown to have numerous benefits, including stress reduction, improved emotional well-being, increased focus and concentration, better self-awareness, enhanced relationships, and overall improved mental and physical health.

How do I start practicing mindfulness?

You can practice mindfulness by setting aside a few minutes daily for focused attention. You can begin by paying attention to your breath and bodily sensations or simply observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. Many mindfulness apps, courses, and guided meditations are also available to support your practice.

Can mindfulness help with managing stress?

Yes, mindfulness is effective in managing stress. By practicing mindfulness, individuals can develop greater resilience and learn to respond to stressors more clearly and calmly. It can also help break the cycle of negative thinking patterns associated with stress.

How long does it take to experience the benefits of mindfulness?

The benefits of mindfulness can be experienced differently for each individual. Some people may notice immediate effects, such as increased relaxation, while others may take longer to observe changes in their overall well-being. Consistent practice over time is key to reaping the full benefits of mindfulness.

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