A big part of a healthy lifestyle is mindful living. We all need to reduce stress and reactivity in our busy and frantic lives. It’s well known that chronic stress leads to chronic diseases. Learning how to become more mindful, that is, how to become more present in the moment without judgment and reactivity can drastically improve our minds and bodies. If you are a beginner to KHR, we recommend that you download a free version of Headspace App which we really like. Or you can follow the guidelines below for a basic mindfulness meditation.
Benefits of Meditation
The modern English word meditation comes from Latin word meditatio, from a verb meditari, which translates as "to think, ponder, contemplate." Meditation is the most commonly used practice for helping individuals achieve a state of mental clarity and emotional calmness by focusing on breathing, an object, a thought, or an activity. Meditation appeared since antiquity in many religious traditions with the earliest written accounts found in Hindu culture around 1500 BC, with a focus on enhancing one’s spiritual growth and achieving a higher spiritual state.
There is no lack of scientific evidence of the numerous health benefits of meditation. Modern westernized meditation focuses on stress and anxiety reduction, treating depression and pain, relaxation, health, self-improvement, and general well-being. In the latter half of the 20th century--especially with the development of neuroimaging machines such as Electroencephalography (EEG) and Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), two leading methods for evaluating the meditating brain--meditation and its effect on brain activity and the central nervous system became a focus of collaborative research in neuroscience, psychology, and neurobiology. The outcome of the studies varies depending on whether they are short (state changes) or long-term (trait changes) meditation practices.
The most common type of meditation researched was Mindfulness meditation - “a complete, unbiased attention to the current moment,” as defined by its leading expert, Jon Kabat-Zin, professor emeritus of medicine 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. He introduces Mindfulness Meditation to his students in five simple steps:
Place Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for a few minutes. Silence your phone. If in an office, close the door. If at home, tell your kids not to interrupt you while you’re meditating.
Position Find a comfortable position that will help you relax. Sit in a chair with your back straight and relaxed, and your feet planted on the floor. Or sit on the floor with legs crossed (lotus position), back straight and hands resting on your knees.
Focus Focus all your attention on your breathing. You can stay attentive by focusing on the sensations of the inhalations and exhalations. This could be in the form of observing the sound of your breath, the rise and fall of your chest, the sensation of the cool air in your nostrils or simply counting each breath.
Let Go of Judgment Do not judge the way you breathe or try to change it in any way. There is no right or wrong way of breathing naturally. And don't judge yourself if your mind wonders. Just gently bring your attention back on your breath. It's important to be patient with yourself.
Notice Your Mind Wondering Most of us newbies will get frequently distracted with thoughts and sounds. As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered, gently return your attention to your natural rhythm. The idea is not to stop your thoughts but become aware of them.
A neuroscientist Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin found that when we are distressed, the prefrontal cortex of our brain’s right hemisphere is activated and hijacked by the amygdala. This is where the brain’s radar for danger is found, and it is responsible for our fight-or-flight response. The goal of becoming less reactive, especially when stressed, is to quickly recover from that hijacked state by switching to the circuitry that brings us back to full energy and focus. In other words, with meditation, we can learn to shift the brain’s activity from our busy, upset right side, to the calmer left side. After only 8 weeks and an average of 30 minutes a day practicing mindfulness meditation, Dr. Kabat-Zin students have shifted their ratios significantly. They move from a stressed out right side, to a more resilient right side.
How Meditation Benefited my Family and Me
In order for us to stop living on autopilot and become more aware of living in the present moment, we must implement meditation in our daily lives. In only the first few weeks of practicing, I noticed how much less reactive I became. Instead, I was more responsive. Sounds and circumstances did not bother me as much. I was less resentful towards my husband and was no longer quick to judge or control others. I could carry on a conversation with my parents without getting irritated. And most of all, I became a more patient parent who started to not only listen but to hear her kids. My relationship with my teenage son was restored within weeks. I remember the first few days upon my son’s return from school, I no longer greeted him with unfriendly phrases that pointed to his failures, such as “You forgot to pick up your clothes from the bathroom floor again”, “Did you turn in your project?” “How could you forget your PE uniform again?” “Did you take your muddy boots off when you walked in?” and I continued like this. Then after meditation, I tried a new approach. I pretended that I was a dog, man’s best friend. I stood up from my desk, came over to the door, and greeted my son with a kind voice and a hug. He did not return hugs, nor say anything at first. This went on for weeks. I patiently persisted, continued to address him without judgment and only positive remarks. I praised him for what he did right. And made his special meals (not just my younger eleven-year-old, pickier eater.) One day after greeting him with a hug, I felt his arms coming up and embracing me. At that moment, I knew I had gotten my son back and silent tears rolled down my face. Since then, he’s opened up over dinner and told us all about his troubles at school and how he was bullied.
6 Tips To Create a Meditation Habit
Attach the new habit of practicing meditation to an already established routine. If you want the habit of meditating to become a part of your lifestyle, attach it to an already established routine such as going for a morning run, walking a dog, reading a devotional, journaling, or making your favorite cup of tea. When you finish with your already establish routine, that will be your cue to start the new one.
Keep it short. Although it would be highly beneficial to meditate daily for longer periods of time, to a beginner, this can be a daunting task. Start with a short 5-minute version of the above mentioned daily Mindfulness Meditation.
Use guided meditation if you are a beginner. If it’s easier, use guided meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm or Ten Percent Happier. I personally love the Headspace app designed by Andy Puddycombe, a former Buddhist monk with over 10 years of teaching experience, and the UK's foremost mindfulness meditation expert. Watch his TED Talk "All It Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes". He has also included great lessons for kids in his app.
Track your meditation sessions. It takes at least three weeks to create a new habit. To get motivated throughout the trial period, it's best if you keep a journal of your sessions to see your progress. I like to place a dot on my black meditation stone, that way I can aim at turning my black stone into a gold, shining one, which is also symbolic for me.
Choose the same place as often as possible. Although meditating while walking or during short breaks at your office can be beneficial, ideally you want to choose the same quiet place where you can be uninterrupted for a few minutes. Also, it should be a place that sparks joy for you. That way you are likely to look forward to it.
Close your meditation session with gratitude. Don't rush to get up after you are finished. Move slowly and take a moment to acknowledge the good this new habit is bringing to your body and mind. Stay with that good feeling and thank your body and mind for hosting your spirit. And express your gratitude by thinking of a couple of things your are thankful for.
Remember to relax, have fun and be patient with yourself.