Mindfulness. Meditation. Mindfulness meditation. If you’re confused about these terms (don’t worry, you’re definitely not the only one), take a moment to get to grips with them – it could be the start of an exciting new journey.
What is it?
As the author of several books on mindfulness, and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn is something of an expert on subject. In his words, “Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.”
And if you’re wondering how to become consciously aware of each moment, the answer is by tuning in to your senses, body, thoughts, emotions and surroundings in an objective, non-judgemental way, so that you avoid analysing any feelings you may have about the moment and simply accept it for what it is.
Still not entirely sure what we mean? If you’re a committed coffee lover, why not try this mindfulness practice from The New York Times and experience the practice for yourself over your next flat white or latte?
- Focus on the sensations coming from your coffee.
- Notice the warmth, the rising steam.
- How does the cup feel in your hand?
- When you take a sip, pay attention to the taste, the aroma.
- As you swallow, feel the warm liquid.
What are the benefits?
According to an article published by the American Psychological Association, research has identified several benefits of mindfulness, including:
- Increased immune function
- Stress reduction
- Improved working memory
- Less emotional reactivity
- Greater focus and cognitive flexibility
- Increased relationship satisfaction
Formal vs informal practice
Mindfulness can be practised formally or informally. The informal approach typically involves a conscious focus on the present and can be practised at any time or moment during the day – watching the sunrise, driving to the office, cooking a meal, checking in on your sleeping children before you head to bed. Each of these moments, or any other you choose, provides an opportunity for you to focus in on the event and, as you do so, to pay specific attention to your senses, self and surroundings in the moment. The formal practice of mindfulness, on the other hand, is typically associated with mindfulness meditation (more on this below), but has also been linked to yoga and tai chi.
What is it?
While there is no one definitive definition for meditation, Yogapedia.com puts forward an excellent definition of the practice: “Meditation is the process of quieting the mind in order to spend time in thought for relaxation or religious/spiritual purposes. The goal is to attain an inner state of awareness and intensify personal and spiritual growth. In practice, meditation involves concentrated focus on something such as a sound, image or feeling.”
What are the benefits?
There are numerous benefits associated with meditation. According to an article published in Huffingtonpost.com, it is believed to:
• Reduce stress
• Improve concentration
• Encourage a healthy lifestyle
• Increase self-awareness, happiness and acceptance
• Slow down aging
• Benefit cardiovascular and immune health
Types of Meditation
There are many forms of meditation – too many to cover all of them in detail. Instead, here is an overview of five of the more widely practised types:
1. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is rooted in traditional Buddhist meditation techniques – Vipassana in particular – and involves a conscious focus on the present moment. “It is intended to develop skills of paying attention to ourselves and the world and encourages compassion, acceptance and kindness in meeting whatever is found there.” (Yogapedia.com)
2. Vipassana meditation
Vipassana meditation is often referred to as mindfulness or insight meditation and is thought to have been taught by the Buddha himself. It is concerned with bringing insight into the nature of reality and, when it has been mastered, achieving freedom from suffering.
3. Transcendental meditation
One of the most widely practised forms of meditation globally, transcendental meditation was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and involves the silent repetition of mantras – a word or sound – with the intention of reaching enlightenment.
4. Kundalini meditation
Kundalini is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘coiled one’, and the practice was brought to the West by Yogi Bhajan, Ph. D. in the 1960s. “Kundalini yoga awakens the “coiled” primal life force residing at the base of the spine and through movement, chanting and meditation, channels the force from the base, upward through the body’s seven chakras (spiritual centres). As it is channeled, the force “unblocks” each chakra, awakening energy and freeing the practitioner to experience total health and blissful enlightenment.” (Yogapedia.com)
5. Guided Visualisation
During this form of meditation, a guide who takes the practitioner on a journey of imagining through a series of uplifting experiences that encourage the relaxation of both body and mind.
When it comes to summarising the differences between mindfulness and meditation – and mindfulness meditation – Annie Daly in her article on Womenshealthmag.com does it beautifully: “Meditation is when you intentionally set aside time to do something that’s good for you, and there are all kinds of meditations. Mindfulness is both a general awareness of the world and a formal meditation practice. It’s two things, not one. Meditation and mindfulness overlap in mindfulness meditation, which is one of the most popular types of meditation.”
Want to know more?
Elixr offers meditation classes at its Bondi Junction and Bligh Street clubs and all members are invited to sign up for a free introductory course on meditation here.