You know meditation and a more mindful approach to life are good for your brain, body, and soul. Yet the harder you try to quiet those noisy, stress-laden thoughts, the louder they scream. Or maybe the notion seems so impossible, you don’t even try. Sound familiar? Our mindfulness meditation guide can help you get around roadblocks and on the path to contentment.
You’re stressed, your mind a traffic jam of urgent tasks and demands competing for your attention. Sure, meditation could be just what you need right now. But who has time? Whether you do or not, you must find it: A rapidly growing body of literature suggests that you can’t afford not to meditate, for your health and your sanity. CEOs, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, physicians, parents—stressed-out folks of all kinds—are discovering that the keys to productivity, efficiency, and stress relief can be found in sitting still and becoming aware of how your mind works. And research shows that meditation can help restructure the brain in ways that lead to better concentration, boosted immunity, and greater compassion. So no more excuses for why you can’t get started, or, if you already come to your meditation cushion regularly, why you can’t seem to take it to the next level.
For many of us, the noise and tension inside our minds, in addition to a packed schedule, feel like insurmountable obstacles to meditation. But experts say that tuning in to your busy thoughts is actually a perfect place to start. The struggle to focus is integral to the training process of learning how to regulate one’s emotions and find a sense of detachment, which can help coax you into the present moment and keep you there, as well as develop better coping mechanisms, says Fadel Zeidan, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who studies mindfulness meditation. “It’s all about cultivating that awareness first,” he says.
See also A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation
And if you’ve already dabbled in meditation, you know awareness is just the beginning. “The subconscious mind has many layers, and penetrating those layers is one of the most exciting aspects of deep meditation,” says Madhav Goyal, MD, an assistant professor of general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who has studied the health effects of meditation. The longer you spend in meditation sessions, the more insight and wisdom you gain, says Goyal, a devoted meditator himself.
There are dozens of techniques for finding contentment and tranquility, but mindfulness—a 21st-century Western adaptation of the ancient Buddhist practice of meditation—is particularly appealing because it can be tapped throughout the day, especially during stressful situations. This form of meditation emphasizes using the breath to stay present in the moment, and, unlike some others forms of meditation, nonjudgmentally recognizing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they occur. The departure point between classical mindfulness meditation, which can be traced back to Buddhist teachings some 2,600 years ago, and mindfulness meditation now practiced in the West is the role of judgment, says John Dunne, PhD, an associate professor in the department of religion at Emory University. Classical mindfulness meditation labels certain thoughts as “nonvirtuous” and seeks to abandon them. When practicing mindfulness, “You’re trying to recognize that the nature of experience is mind itself,” says Dunne. “For that reason, you are not trying to judge it as good or bad.”
See also Love-What-Is Meditation
Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and creator of the most popular form of mindfulness meditation in the United States, known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), adds: “Mindfulness is not really about sitting in Full Lotus, pretending you’re a statue in the British Museum. It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.”
And it is not just for type A CEOs, traders, and venture capitalists looking for fast-tracked success. It is a rich practice that can be as simple or complex as you want it to be—a tactic for being productive at work, more present in your relationships, or moving closer toward enlightenment. Read on for more about the benefits of mindfulness meditation and expert advice from veteran teachers on how to move past roadblocks and into peace of mind.