A One-Minute Meditation to Focus Your Mind

See Author Article Here
By Barry Boyce

In mindfulness practice, you’ll often hear the term “natural awareness.” By “natural awareness” we mean the awareness that just comes with being a human being. It’s free from judging and characterizing—it’s just noticing and sensing the world. It’s done when you open your eyes, you see something, or you hear something, or you touch something. So, the simplest awareness that just comes as part of the equipment of being alive, without a lot of filters around it or judgments. You can trust that it’s always there.

By “natural awareness” we mean the awareness that just comes with being a human being. It’s free from judging and characterizing—it’s just noticing and sensing the world.

An Awareness Practice You Can Do Anywhere

One Minute Guided Meditation with Barry Boyce

  • 1:00

This is a short practice intended for doing in the middle of the day, wherever you are out in the world, for settling. It’s done with eyes open. So let’s begin.

  1. Settle into your seat. Begin by taking a seat, or if necessary, standing. The important thing is to feel where your body is touching the seat and touching the ground.
  2. Scan the body. Sense where your bottom is touching the seat. Sit up straight or stand straight but not stiff. Make sure your feet are completely touching the ground, connecting you to the earth. Your eyes are open, so take in the surroundings of where you are. Lower your gaze slightly.
  3. Connect with the breath. Pay light attention to your breath as it goes out.
  4. Follow the out-breath. At the end of the out-breath, let there be a gap while the in-breath is happening. And in that gap you have natural awareness: it’s there already, you don’t have to create it. So, follow the breath out, and out, and out. As thoughts arise, treat them as you would anything else you encounter: Notice it, and use that noticing to bring you back to the out-breath and ride it out. Out, and out, and out.

Mindfulness: What Is It And How Can It Improve Mental Health?

See Author Article Here
By Olivia Petter

Mindfulness is a word you hear a lot these days, but few can explain what it actually means.

In its most simplest form, it means paying attention to the present moment without judging external thoughts that enter into your mind.

The term has surged in use in recent years, having been co-opted by various brands in a bid to appeal to wellbeing-conscious millennials, though the definition can vary depending on what is being marketed.

It’s often used as an umbrella term, spawning all sorts of variations, from mindful eating to mindful skiing – yes, really.

While psychologists have praised the benefits of mindfulness in terms of mental health – research has claimed it can curb symptoms of depression and anxiety– recent studies have disputed this, with some saying it “only works for women“ and others claiming that mindfulness makes you selfish.

Read on for everything you need to know about mindfulness, from how it works to how it might benefit you.

What is it?

Mindfulness is about taking a pause from the business of your daily life to think of nothing else but the present moment.

According to Sharon Hadley, CEO of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, it’s primarily about encouraging people to pay more attention to what is happening in their own bodies and minds.

“It is a term used for a range of interventions or practices taught to help us cultivate this ability,” she tells The Independent.

How does it work?

When a person is engaging in the practice of mindfulness, the idea is that they focus on nothing but their bodies and their breathing, mental health charity Mind explains on its website.

By doing this, they should be able to pick up on any thoughts that enter their minds and let them go, Mind adds.

You can find some useful tips on how to actually do this without allowing yourself to be distracted on Mindful.org.

It should feel liberating and help someone understand themselves and their emotions better, the NHS explains.

How is it beneficial?

Hadley says that mindfulness can have a positive impact on our overall wellbeing by making us more aware of our own thoughts and feelings in addition to the environment around us.

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“This ability to pay attention, to notice what is happening in the present moment and increase our ability to make a choice how or indeed if to respond to our thoughts or feelings has proven beneficial to those suffering, both mentally and physically,” she adds.

Applying mindfulness strategies to various parts of our lives has been linked to a whole host of benefits, from improving your relationship with food and alleviating smartphone addiction to boosting body confidence and ameliorating your sex life.

Can it help treat mental health problems?

Research has also found mindfulness to be beneficial in treating a number of mental health problems, such as depressionanxiety and stress.

“Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is one mindfulness intervention and has been used in a clinical context for a number of years,” Hadley adds.

“MBCT is recognised and approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the UK as a clinical intervention to support those who suffer from recurrent depression.”

NICE, which provides national guidance to improve health and social care, also recommends using mindfulness-based techniques to help curb social anxiety, which is the term used to describe an overwhelming fear of social situations.

One recent study claimed that mindfulness can be “just as effective” as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in easing chronic pain and symptoms of depression.

Mind adds that research is currently underway into whether mindfulness could be used to treat more complex conditions, such as bipolar disorder and psychosis. Though it’s not yet clear how mindfulness will be used in these contexts as the research is in the early stages.

How can you be more mindful?

While anyone can try mindfulness, being mindful isn’t always easy to do, says Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind.

“It can take practice, and might not be right for everyone. It’s not usually a good idea to start learning mindfulness when you’re very unwell because it can be hard to get the most out of it, and you may find it distressing at first,” he tells The Independent.

“If you’re currently having a particularly difficult time with your mental health, you might want to seek treatment and support for that, then try mindfulness when you’re feeling better.”

That being said, there are some simple ways one can incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives.

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For example, the NHS suggests trying new things on a regular basis, whether it’s going somewhere new for lunch or sitting somewhere different in a meeting. This could help you “notice the word in a new way”, its website states.

Alternatively, silently naming thoughts and feelings can be a helpful way of addressing stressful situations, the NHS adds. They suggests, for example, if you’re feeling anxious about an exam, this would be a case of saying to yourself: “This is anxiety”.

If you really want to learn the ins and outs of mindfulness, Hadley suggests signing up to a basic introductory course. The majority of these run for eight weeks and offer two and half hours of tuition each week, she says. You can find a list of trained mindfulness teachers as listed on the UK Mindfulness Network here.

How to Meditate

See Author Article Here
By Mindful Staff

How do you learn to meditate? In mindfulness meditation, we’re learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, and notice when the mind wanders from this task. This practice of returning to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness.

When we pay attention to our breath, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present moment—to anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement.

In mindfulness practice, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present moment—to anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement.

The idea behind mindfulness seems simple—the practice takes patience. Indeed, renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg recounts that her first experience with meditation showed her how quickly the mind gets caught up in other tasks. “I thought, okay, what will it be, like, 800 breaths before my mind starts to wander? And to my absolute amazement, it was one breath, and I’d be gone,” says Salzberg.

While meditation isn’t a cure-all, it can certainly provide some much-needed space in your life. Sometimes, that’s all we need to make better choices for ourselves, our families, and our communities. And the most important tools you can bring with you to your meditation practice are a little patience, some kindness for yourself, and a comfortable place to sit.


A Basic Meditation for Beginners

The first thing to clarify: What we’re doing here is aiming for mindfulness, not some process that magically wipes your mind clear of the countless and endless thoughts that erupt and ping constantly in our brains. We’re just practicing bringing our attention to our breath, and then back to the breath when we notice our attention has wandered.

  1. Get comfortable and prepare to sit still for a few minutes. After you stop reading this, you’re going to simply focus on your own natural inhaling and exhaling of breath.
  2. Focus on your breath. Where do you feel your breath most? In your belly? In your nose? Try to keep your attention on your inhale and exhale.
  3. Follow your breath for two minutes. You can use the breath ball—inhaling as the ball expands, exhaling when the ball contracts.

Welcome back. What happened? How long was it before your mind wandered away from your breath? Did notice how busy your mind was even without your consciously directing it to think about anything in particular? Did you notice yourself getting caught up in thoughts before you came back to reading this? We often have little narratives running in our minds that we didn’t choose to put there, like: “Why DOES my boss want to meet with me tomorrow?” “I should have gone to the gym yesterday.” “I’ve got to pay some bills” or (the classic) “I don’t have time to sit still, I’ve got stuff to do.”

We “practice” mindfulness so we can learn how to recognize when our minds are doing their normal everyday acrobatics, and maybe take a pause from that for just a little while so we can choose what we’d like to focus on.

If you experienced these sorts of distractions (and we all do), you’ve made an important discovery: simply put, that’s the opposite of mindfulness. It’s when we live in our heads, on automatic pilot, letting our thoughts go here and there, exploring, say, the future or the past, and essentially, not being present in the moment. But that’s where most of us live most of the time—and pretty uncomfortably, if we’re being honest, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We “practice” mindfulness so we can learn how to recognize when our minds are doing their normal everyday acrobatics, and maybe take a pause from that for just a little while so we can choose what we’d like to focus on. In a nutshell, meditation helps us have a much healthier relationship with ourselves (and, by extension, with others).

WHY SHOULD YOU MEDITATE?

When we meditate, we inject far-reaching and long-lasting benefits into our lives. And bonus: you don’t need any extra gear or an expensive membership.

Here are five reasons to meditate:

1: Understand your pain
2: Lower stress
3: Connect better
4: Improve focus
5: Reduce brain chatter


How to Meditate

Meditation is simpler (and harder) than most people think. Read these steps, make sure you’re somewhere where you can relax into this process, set a timer, and give it a shot:

  1. Take a seat. Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
  2. Set a time limit. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or 10 minutes.
  3. Notice your body. You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, you can sit loosely cross-legged, you can kneel—all are fine. Just make sure you are stable and in a position you can stay in for a while.
  4. Feel your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and as it goes out.
  5. Notice when your mind has wandered. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing that your mind has wandered—in
  6. a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—simply return your attention to the breath.
  7. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Just come back.
  8. That’s it! That’s the practice. You go away, you come back, and you try to do it as kindly as possible.
  9. Close with kindness. When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.

Meditation 101: The Basics

A 3-part guided audio series from Barry Boyce

How long would you like to meditate? Sometimes we only have time for a quick check-in, sometimes we can dip in a little longer. Meditating every helps build awareness, fosters resilience, and lower stress. Try to make meditation a habit by practicing with these short meditations from our Editor-in-Chief Barry Boyce. Find time to site once a day for one month and see what you notice.

1-Minute Meditation

  • 2:36

A short practice for settling the mind, intended for doing in the middle of the day, wherever you are out in the world.

10-Minute Meditation

  • 10:28

A longer practice that explores meditation posture, breathing techniques, and working with thoughts and emotions as they surface during mindfulness practice.

15-Minute Meditation

  • 15:54

A practice that explores sitting in formal meditation for longer periods of time.

More Meditation Techniques:

We’ve gone over the basic breath meditation so far, but there are other mindfulness techniques that use different focal points than the breath to anchor our attention—external objects like a sound in the room, or something broader, such as noticing spontaneous things that come into your awareness during an aimless wandering practice. But all of these practice have one thing in common: We notice that our minds ARE running the show a lot of the time. It’s true. We think thoughts, typically, and then we act. But here are some helpful strategies to change that up:

How to Make Mindfulness a Habit

By Kyra Bobinet

It’s estimated that 95%of our behavior runs on autopilot. That’s because neural networks underlie all of our habits, reducing our millions of sensory inputs per second into manageable shortcuts so we can function in this crazy world. These default brain signals are so efficient that they often cause us to relapse into old behaviors before we remember what we meant to do instead.

Mindfulness is the exact opposite of these default processes. It’s executive control rather than autopilot, and enables intentional actions, willpower, and decisions. But that takes practice. The more we activate the intentional brain, the stronger it gets. Every time we do something deliberate and new, we stimulate neuroplasticity, activating our grey matter, which is full of newly sprouted neurons that have not yet been groomed for “autopilot” brain.

But here’s the problem. While our intentional brain knows what is best for us, our autopilot brain causes us to shortcut our way through life. So how can we trigger ourselves to be mindful when we need it most? This is where the notion of “behavior design” comes in. It’s a way to put your intentional brain in the driver’s seat. There are two ways to do that—first, slowing down the autopilot brain by putting obstacles in its way, and second, removing obstacles in the path of the intentional brain, so it can gain control.

Shifting the balance to give your intentional brain more power takes some work, though. Here are some ways to get started.

  • Put meditation reminders around you. If you intend to do some yoga or to meditate, put your yoga mat or your meditation cushion in the middle of your floor so you can’t miss it as you walk by.
  • Refresh your reminders regularly. Say you decide to use sticky notes to remind yourself of a new intention. That might work for about a week, but then your autopilot brain and old habits take over again. Try writing new notes to yourself; add variety or make them funny. That way they’ll stick with you longer.
  • Create new patterns. You could try a series of “If this, then that” messages to create easy reminders to shift into intentional brain. For instance, you might come up with, “If office door, then deep breath,” as a way to shift into mindfulness as you are about to start your workday. Or, “If phone rings, take a breath before answering.” Each intentional action to shift into mindfulness will strengthen your intentional brain.

More Mindfulness Meditations

Once you have explored a basic seated meditation practice, you might want to consider other forms of meditation including walking and lying down. Whereas the previous meditations used the breath as a focal point for practice, these meditations below focus on different parts of the body.

Body Scan Meditation

man meditating in chair, illustration

Try this: feel your feet on the ground right now. In your shoes or without, it doesn’t matter. Then track or scan over your whole body, bit by bit—slowly—all the way up to the crown of your head. The point of this practice is to check in with your whole body: Fingertips to shoulders, butt to big toe. Only rules are: No judging, no wondering, no worrying (all activities your mind may want to do); just check in with the physical feeling of being in your body. Aches and pains are fine. You don’t have to do anything about anything here. You’re just noticing.

Body Scan Meditation

  • 25:41

A brief body awareness practice for tuning in to sensations, head-to-toe.

Begin to focus your attention on different parts of your body. You can spotlight one particular area or go through a sequence like this: toes, feet (sole, heel, top of foot), through the legs, pelvis, abdomen, lower back, upper back, chest shoulders, arms down to the fingers, shoulders, neck, different parts of the face, and head. For each part of the body, linger for a few moments and notice the different sensations as you focus.

The moment you notice that your mind has wandered, return your attention to the part of the body you last remember.

If you fall asleep during this body-scan practice, that’s okay. When you realize you’ve been nodding off, take a deep breath to help you reawaken and perhaps reposition your body (which will also help wake it up). When you’re ready, return your attention to the part of the body you last remember focusing on.

Walking Meditation

Fact: Most of us live pretty sedentary lives, leaving us to build extra-curricular physical activity into our days to counteract all that. Point is: Mindfulness doesn’t have to feel like another thing on your to-do list. It can be injected into some of the activities you’re already doing. Here’s how to integrate a mindful walking practice into your day.

Walking Meditation

  • 8:58

A mindful movement practice for bringing awareness to what we feel with each step.

As you begin, walk at a natural pace. Place your hands wherever comfortable: on your belly, behind your back, or at your sides.

  • If you find it useful, you can count steps up to 10, and then start back at one again. If you’re in a small space, as you reach ten, pause, and with intention, choose a moment to turn around.
  • With each step, pay attention to the lifting and falling of your foot. Notice movement in your legs and the rest of your body. Notice any shifting of your body from side to side.
  • Whatever else captures your attention, come back to the sensation of walking. Your mind will wander, so without frustration, guide it back again as many times as you need.
  • Particularly outdoors, maintain a larger sense of the environment around you, taking it all in, staying safe and aware.

MORE GUIDED PRACTICES

WELL-BEING

Stop Mourning the Morning

Learn to love (or at least accept) your alarm clock with this wake-up practice from sleep psychologist Shelby Freedman Harris. Read More 

  • SHELBY FREEDMAN HARRIS
  • OCTOBER 8, 2015

GUIDED MEDITATION

A Meditation for Easing Into Sleep

The more you try to force sleep, the less likely you are to achieve it. Explore this guided meditation to let go of stubborn thoughts and get a full night’s rest. Read More 

  • MARK BERTIN
  • OCTOBER 4, 2018

Questions About Mindfulness Meditation Answered

When you’re new to meditation, it’s natural for questions to pop up often. These answers may ease your mind.

If I have an itch, can I scratch it? 
Yes—however, first try scratching it with your mind before using your fingers.

Should I breathe fast or slow or in between? 
Only worry if you’ve stopped breathing. Otherwise, you’re doing fine. Breath in whatever way feels comfortable to you.

Should my eyes be open or closed?
 

No hard-and fast-rules.
Try both. If open, not too wide, and with a soft, slightly downward gaze, not focusing on anything in particular. If closed, not too hard, and not imagining anything in particular in your mind’s eye.

Is it possible I’m someone who just CANNOT meditate? 
When you find yourself asking that question, your meditation has officially begun. Everyone wonders that. Notice it. Escort your attention back to your object of focus (the breath). When you’re lost and questioning again, come back to the breathe again. That’s the practice. There’s no limit to the number of times you can be distracted and come back to the breath. Meditating is not a race to perfection—It’s returning again and again to the breath.

Is it better to practice in a group or by myself?
 

Both are great! It’s enormously supportive to meditate with others. And, practicing on your own builds discipline.

What’s the best time of day to meditate? Whatever works. Consider your circumstances: children, pets, work. Experiment. But watch out. If you always choose the most convenient time, it will usually be tomorrow.

What if I get sexually (and physically) aroused by thoughts in my head? 
No big deal. Meditation stokes the imagination. In time, every thought and sensation will pop up (so
to speak). And come back. Same old story. Release the thought, bring awareness and receptivity to body sensations, bring attention back to your chosen object (the breath, in this case). Repeat.

Do you have any tips on integrating pets into meditation practice? 
While meditating, we don’t have to fight off distractions like a knight slaying dragons. If your dog or cat comes into the room and barks and meows and brushes up against you or settles down on a part of your cushion,
no big deal. Let it be. What works less well is to interrupt your session to relate to them. If that’s what’s going to happen, try to find a way to avoid their interrupting your practice.

HOW MUCH SHOULD I MEDITATE?

For further reading on adding to your meditation practice at home (or in the office, or on the subway), here’s some guidance on how to fit meditation into daily life. Remember, though: meditation is no more complicated than what we’ve described above. It is that simple … and that challenging. It’s also powerful and worth it. Give it a try.