You may hear the terms mindfulness and meditation used interchangeably. While they both have important benefits for our well being, they are not the same. Mindfulness can be incorporated into every aspect of life. It is about being aware of what is going on right now rather than being caught up in worries about the past, fears about the future, concerns about what others are thinking, etc. Meditation is the practice of stopping activity for a designated period of time in which you focus on clearing your thoughts, often with the assistance of a breathing exercise, repeated phrase or awareness sequence. Meditation can be very difficult at first and only possible for short periods of time.
Simply put: mindfulness is a lifestyle and meditation is an exercise. You may also hear the term mindfulness meditation, which refers to a meditation technique (often guided) that is designed to bring your awareness to the present moment.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Rumination is the technical term for letting a problem or situation replay in your mind over and over again. Reduced rumination (who couldn’t use some of that right now?!) is one of the benefits of cultivating mindfulness noted in a 2008 study. The same study also noted fewer symptoms of depression, improved working memory capacity and better ability to sustain attention while performing a task. Other studies have found a reduction in stress, anxiety and negative outlook and improvement in emotional regulation. Still others cite cognitive flexibility (the ability to process present inputs in new ways), along with increased relationship satisfaction, enhanced immune functioning and well-being and decreased psychological distress. (1) These are all pretty good things all the time, but especially so with the increased anxiety nearly everyone is experiencing on some level as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When you are brushing your teeth (a time people normally think about other things—what we might say or do or have said or done) pay attention to the sensations of brushing your teeth, the taste of the toothpaste, the feel of the toothbrush in your hand and mouth, the sounds you hear, the smells you smell. If you become distracted, just bring your attention back to this without judgement. This will feel strange at first but the more you do it the easier it will be.
“Changing your brain takes time—just like changing any part of you takes time.” – Mark Freeman
What are the benefits of meditation?
Research shows that regular meditation reduces stress; creates feelings of happiness; and helps reduce fear, anxiety, depression and chronic pain. Meditation allows you to put space between you and your thoughts rather than immediately reacting to a thought or placing value on every thought. This space allows for healthy decision making rather than pure reaction.
Another way to think about meditation: your thoughts are clouds (they pass over you). Meditation allows you to practice letting the clouds pass by without assigning them meaning. The key to this is recognizing that your thoughts are are actually separate from you. They are a running tape in your mind. Meditation helps you take a step back from that tape in order to separate yourself from it.
- Set a timer for 3 minutes
- Bring all of your attention to your breathing. Notice the air going in your nostrils and filling your lungs. Then notice it leaving your lungs and mouth or nostrils. Imagine it is a favorite color if this helps with focus.
- Thoughts will pop into your head. This is normal. Just notice you have started to think about them and bring your attention back to your breathing again and again. Repeat a simple phrase as you breath if it helps: “Breathe in, Breathe out.” Continue until timer goes off.
During challenging and overwhelming times people often yearn for more effective ways to deal with stress. The data is in and there is no more effective way to manage stress and worry than learning to shut down the part of your brain that is telling you stories about all the bad things that are going to happen and open up the part of your brain that can focus on the smallest detail of the present moment. We encourage you to try it! If you are a WHA patient, our team of behavioral and mental health providers can support you in incorporating these skills, as well.
“You are NOT your thoughts, do not assign meaning to all of them.”- Mark Freeman
- Full Catastrophe Living by John Kabat-Zinn
- Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-To Book by Dan Harris
- All it Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes, a TED talk by Andy Puddicome
- You Tube Videos by Mark Freeman:
- Apps: Headspace, Calm, Buddhify, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Meditation Timer Pro
1. Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2012, July). What are the benefits of mindfulness? Monitor on Psychology, 43(7). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner