Mindfulness meditation is a technique for slowing down your thought processes and becoming one with the present. It has Buddhist origins, but today it is also used in a non-religious context. Some people use it to calm their minds. Others use it to engage more fully with the current moment. Increasingly doctors are using it to treat a range of diseases and health problems, including anxiety, depression and stress.

Mindfulness is a technique for emptying the mind and becoming more aware. Based on Buddhist principles, mindful meditation is a way of calming down your internal chatter. It’s a tool for learning how to engage more actively in the present. While mindful meditation has been used in Asia for centuries, today it is gaining a growing interest in the west from the general public and medical communities. This is because of a growing number of studies that show it has mental and physiological benefits. Researchers say it benefits for everything from depression to stress.

The practice of mindfulness meditation requires focusing on a reference point, e.g. your breath. By concentrating on just one thing, very deeply, other aspects of your mental world, become quieter, then insignificant and fall away. Mindfulness is a way of letting go of the daily stresses that lead to headaches and worry. It is now recognized as a helpful tool to alleviate problems such as depression, anxiety and stress.

The best way to learn mindfulness is to find a good teacher. However, the following steps can help you understand well how mindfulness meditation works:

1) Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck, and back straight, like a string is attached to the crown of your head, and pulling it up to the ceiling. Make sure that your back, neck and shoulders are all relaxed.

2) Close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths.

3) As the air moves into your lungs, focus on the physical sensation of the breath. Try to ignore any outside sights or sounds and focus in. Feel your chest rise and fall, the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to the way each breath changes and is different.

4) Watch every thought come and go, whether it is a worry, fear, anxiety, or hope. When thoughts come up in your mind, do not ignore or suppress them but simply note them, remain calm and use your breathing as an anchor, to return to the present.

5) If you find yourself being carried away in your thoughts, observe where your mind went off to, without judging, and simply return to your breathing. Remember not to be hard on yourself if this happens. It happens to everyone.

6) As your meditation time comes to a close, sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.

Mindfulness is a spiritual faculty in the Buddhist tradition. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. The Buddhist term translated into English as “mindfulness” originates in the Pali term sati and in its Sanskrit counterpart smṛti. Western ideas about meditation were first introduced into the United States from the 1840s onwards. The spiritual and philosophical group known as the transcendentalists introduced Eastern and Buddhist ideas into the United States and with it mindfulness.

Today, mindfulness is no longer used wholly as a spiritual practice. There are deeper religious underpinnings relating to the technique, but it is often taught as a non-sectarian practice.  And mindfulness is gaining growing support as a form of treatment for a number of psychological and physiological conditions. It is gaining increasing attention from the scientific and medical community, with a growing number of studies dedicated to its health implications.

Mindfulness meditation benefits

1) Internal calm: Mindfulness meditation allows us to tap into our awareness of the present and creates calm and space in our minds. It enables us to let go of our ego and struggles, and makes space for healing, creativity, stillness, intuition, and connection to our spirit.

2) Awareness of our emotions:  Mindfulness practice helps us to get in touch with our emotions. If we try to listen to what is going on inside, rather than suppressing how we really feel, and we calmly take the time to process those emotions, we will be less likely to under- or over-react. Meditation allows you to spend more time in your own company and take time to sit and pay attention to how you are feeling without thoughts and judgment.

3) More empathy:  Meditation allows us to feel more empathy without getting lost in the struggles and challenges of the outside world. It is a way of opening the mind and soul. We listen better, understand more, and connect on a deeper level.

4) Staying in the present: Excessive thinking takes us out of the present. It can be easy to get caught up on endless lists of things that need to be done or a downward spiral of ‘what ifs.’ Meditation helps you to avoid living in the past or future. It brings your attention to the present moment, to live in a state of openness.

6) Relief of stress: Regular meditation helps you deal with stress. Stress is an inevitable part of life and while some people thrive on it, many others find that it can be too much. Prolonged stress leads to wear and tear on the body, so it is important to understand how best to deal with what would otherwise be stressful situations in a calm and meaningful way. Meditation helps provide the patience to do this.

7) General well-being: Our thoughts directly affect our physical functioning. Positive thinking is good for the immune system. When we meditate, we create a unique psychophysical state in which we bring together physical relaxation with mental alertness. A number of scientific studies have shown that over-all health is directly related to your emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Mindfulness meditation remedies

Anxiety disorders: A meta-study published in April 2010 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that patients with anxiety disorders (Including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)) experienced significant reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms after a mindfulness-based intervention.

Depression: In a December 2008 study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy proved as effective as maintenance anti-depressants in preventing depression relapse. Perhaps more importantly, unlike medications, it was more effective in enhancing peoples’ overall quality of life.

Relationship issues: Studies have found that mindfulness can be an important tool to help people break certain behavior patterns and negative ways of thinking. These behavior patterns might be the cause of anxiety, fear or phobias, or they might be putting great strain on their interpersonal relationships.

Sleep problems: Cancer patients have found a reduction in sleep disturbance and in increase in sleep quality following an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, according to the 2004 May JournalPsychoneuroendocrinology.

Eating disorders: There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that mindfulness may help with persons with eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia nervosa.

Stress management: A number of studies have found mindfulness to be helpful with daily stresses as well as the more serious stresses experienced by those with a chronic or life-threatening illness.

Mindfulness meditation side effects
Mindfulness isn’t as easy as taking a pill. It requires discipline and time to carry out. Some people do not respond to the different techniques of mindfulness meditation. Because of underlying anxiety or other psychological problems, they may find it difficult to develop the type of concentration that mindfulness requires.

And mindfulness, when used as form of therapy, can lead to unbottling of intense emotions. As a person opens up, the emotions that they have been suppressing for years can come to the surface. If this is likely to happen a person may need professional help to manage these emotions, from a counselor, therapist or psychologist.

Mindfulness meditation is a method of focusing on just one thing to calm the mind. It has been used in Asia for centuries and is now gaining growing popularity in the west. Mindfulness meditation is increasingly used to treat psychological disorders. Studies have shown that depression, stress, and general anxiety can be successfully treated with mindfulness meditation.