How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation And Why You Should

Zandra Palma, MD

While the idea of starting a meditation routine sounds daunting, just a few minutes a day can make all the difference in your mental health, sleep quality, and overall well-being. Its potential to improve your health makes it worth the few minutes you would have otherwise spent scrolling through Instagram, checking emails, or reading the news, so power down your devices and get to meditating.

What is mindfulness meditation?

Think of mindfulness meditation as an exercise for the mind. Each time you meditate, you’re practicing viewing your thoughts without judgement. This allows you to enjoy the present moment rather than get swept away in your thoughts. It creates a sense of calm, that with practice becomes easier.

How does meditation work?

During and after a mindfulness meditation session, the activity in your brain undergoes a series of changes. These changes largely take place in the amygdala, the area of the brain that controls your fight or flight response and how we respond to emotional stimuli. The less you stimulate the amygdala, the smaller it will be. A small amygdala is a sign that you’re able to process stressful situations calmly and thoughtfully without activating your stress response system.

Health benefits of meditation

Improved sleep quality

Sleep not only impacts your ability to function during the day, your mood, and levels of fatigue, but your risk of chronic disease. Those that suffer from sleep deprivation have an increased risk for developing diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and more. If you suffer from insomnia or experience regular sleep disturbances, a mindfulness based practice can help. One study showed that a practice of five to twenty minutes of meditation or other mindfulness awareness exercises decreased the number of sleep disturbances in aging participants with insomnia.

Better concentration

Distracting thoughts can take you off task and make getting anything done a struggle. For a group of students, mindfulness based training helped lessen these distracting thoughts and increase their working memory and focus. These improvements came after just one course in mindfulness and a daily 10 minute meditation practice.

Reduced anxiety

Anxiety can show itself in a number of ways. Ruminating thoughts is just one way that anxiety can stop someone from living their life. Participants in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program learned to let thoughts go, rather than allowing them to ruminate and judge themselves for it. Researchers believe the mindfulness meditation aspect of the program played a significant role in the participants’ ability to view themselves in a more positive light.

Stress reduction

Mindfulness meditation can reduce both your perceived stress and your serum cortisol levels, a marker in your blood that can be indicative of high levels of stress, research shows.

Your cortisol levels might also play a part in the root cause of chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, obesity, and inflammation.

Pain reduction

Pain is influenced by a number of factors that go beyond physical attributes. It involves your beliefs, expectations, mood, and emotional responses, which may bewhy patients with IBS were able to reduce the severity of their symptoms through an 8-week mindfulness course, relieving them of both physical and psychological distress.

Other benefits of meditation:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Increased coping ability
  • Reduced inflammation

Guided mindfulness meditation exercises you can do now

You don’t need a yoga mat, silent room, or empty space to meditate. By simply taking note of your environment and bringing your awareness to the present moment, you can reap the rewards that come with meditating.

Do deep breathing exercises

You can do this simple meditative breathing for as many rounds as you like. Even after just one round you’ll begin to notice your heart rate go down. This can be done on your way to work, sitting on the train, or sipping your cup of coffee.

  1. Take in a big deep breath, feel the lungs expanding
  2. When you breathe out, notice the feeling of letting go, releasing any tension in the body
  3. Take another deep breath in through your nose for a count of 3
  4. Hold for 2 and then let it out through your mouth for a count of 4

Do a body scan meditation

This can be done lying down, sitting, or whatever posture is most comfortable. Start by bringing your attention to your body. If seated, notice how your feet feel on the floor or the weight of your body on the chair. As you breath in notice the sensation you feel throughout your body, starting with your feet, all the way up to your head, relaxing your jaw and facial muscles. Once finished, take a breath in to complete the exercise and open your eyes if closed.

Try a guided meditation app

If you have a hard time meditating on your own, guided meditation apps can help. Research shows that use of a guided meditation app can improve your overall satisfaction with life, stress, and resilience.

Whether you find yourself only able to go through the steps above for only a few minutes a day, Meditation, like any new habit or skill, takes frequent repetition. Even if it’s only for two minutes a day- those two minutes have the ability to improve your health in a number of ways and start a healthy habit.

Zandra Palma, MD

Zandra Palma received her Bachelor’s Degree in Science from Harvard and her medical degree from Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons. Prior to studying functional medicine, she trained in internal medicine and anesthesiology. She has a special place in her heart (and practice) for environmental medicine, and hopes to use what she’s learned in this area to shift human health on a large scale.

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