The word mindfulness originates over 2500 years ago from the Buddhist term ‘sati’, which relates to the awareness of the body, feelings, sensations and consciousness. We can all be guilty of not feeling ‘present’ in our lives and simply moving through the motions on autopilot. The practice of modern mindfulness encourages living in the present and fully experiencing every moment that life has to offer, which is of course, even more, prevalent in current times.
Our mind can often wander and our thoughts can be elsewhere. Have you ever travelled somewhere and not really taken in how you’ve got there? Sat down to watch a film but spent more time on your phone than actually taking in the story? Or snacked on something whilst doing something else and not really appreciated the taste? Mindfulness can help us in so many ways to feel connected to the hear and now.
From focusing on how we eat and drink to how we communicate with people. How we sit and stand and how we breathe. How we move and how we exercise. How we shop, how we travel and how we use technology. We can start to integrate mindfulness into our day to day lives and over time we can start to feel more connected to each experience along the way.
There are many benefits which can be found from regularly practising mindfulness including:
- More in touch with how your body is feeling
- Improved decision making
- Better communication with others
- Increased productivity and attention span
- Enhanced creativity
- Improved quality of sleep
- Gratitude and appreciation for things in life
- Increased compassion for others
We spoke to professional meditation and mindfulness coach, Jessica Leonard to answer some of the most common questions around mindfulness and meditation.
What exactly is meditation?
Meditation is a variety of different training methods for your mind. There are many different types of meditation practices, just as there are many different types of physical exercises for your body and they change depending on what outcome you are looking for. Most meditation practices involve having a point of focus, this could be your breath, a body part, a candle, a piece of music, and then noticing when your mind wanders and then drawing your attention back to that chosen point of focus.
How does mindfulness link to meditation?
Mindfulness is the result of doing mindfulness meditation practices, just as fitness is the result of doing physical exercise. Mindfulness meditation practices cultivate attention, awareness and a broader sense of perspective.
I’ve never meditated before, can I start now?
Yes, of course. As with any new skill, I would encourage you to start by finding a teacher or doing a course so that you know what you are doing. There are also so many amazing meditation apps available now, InsightTimer, Calm and Headspace are some of my favourites. My only caveat would be for people who have struggled with mental health issues or if you have recently gone through a significant trauma like the loss of a loved one or a divorce etc, in these instances I would strongly encourage you to find an experienced meditation teacher that you can trust and can support you properly.
How long should I meditate for and how often?
As with physical exercise, any meditation practice that you do is better than not doing any meditation at all. If 5 minutes daily is all you can manage at the moment then start there and work yourself up. The optimum time to aim for is 20 – 30 mins daily. I would encourage everyone to start by focusing on creating a meditation habit and building it into your routine, before focusing on meditating for as long as possible. Consistency and repetition are key!
Is it best to sit or lie down?
Most meditation practices are done sitting but there are some, like body scans, that can be done lying down. My only caution about lying down is that it is really easy to fall asleep, especially if you are tired. I would encourage you to start by sitting and then experiment with lying down when you are more experienced. Moving and walking meditations are also great, especially if you are feeling particularly anxious or restless. There are some available on the Beattitude on-demand video platform now if you want to try them out.
Should I listen to music or meditate in silence?
Different teachers will recommend different things on this, but I prefer students to not use music whilst meditating. My goal as a meditation teacher is to leave my students with an internal toolkit of mindfulness techniques that they can use to manage and improve their mental wellbeing, wherever they are. If we require music to meditate then it can become another obstacle to us actually sitting down and getting our daily meditation practice done.
Should I have my eyes closed?
Mindfulness meditation is about developing our capacity for attention and focus. Closing our eyes is one way that we can reduce the number of distractions and stimuli that might detract from our practice. This is why I encourage students to close their eyes when meditating. When we first start practising, closing our eyes might feel too restrictive and intense, if this is the case then I would recommend taking a soft gaze on the floor in front of you.
How do you stop your mind from wandering during meditation?
You don’t! Our minds are designed to think, just as our heart is designed to beat and our lungs are designed to breathe. Our brains are never going to stop thinking until we are dead. What we practice in mindfulness meditation is focusing on one thing and then when our mind wanders, which it will do, we notice where it has gone, and then we let that distraction go and draw our attention back to that initial point of focus. Meditation practice is doing this again and again and again. These are our reps, just like doing bicep curls in the gym, drawing our attention back to where we choose for it to be. Gradually, our capacity to stay focused on one point will increase and the number of times our mind wanders will decrease.
Join us for a 30-minute live stream meditation session with Jessica via Instagram!
Take some time for yourself on a Sunday afternoon to calm your body and your mind and set yourself up to feel strong and focused for the week ahead.
WHERE: Via Beattitude’s Instagram Live. If you just head to our page at this time, you will see on our stories that you can join our ‘live’ video!
WHEN: This Sunday 27th September at 4:30 pm (it will also be saved to our IGTV so you can catch up at a later date!)
WHO: Session lead by Jessica Leonard Hull @jessicaleonardhull