3 basic mindfulness practices with scientific background.

3 Basic Mindfulness Practices with Scientific Background.

In Meditation, Personal developmentby Chris A. Parker1 Comment

Reading Time: 12 minutes

 

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. A state of active, open attention on the present.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

A more formal definition says: Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.

The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the Pali term sati, which is a significant element of Buddhist traditions. In Buddhist teachings, mindfulness is utilized to develop self-knowledge and wisdom that gradually lead to what is described as enlightenment or the complete freedom from suffering. The recent popularity of mindfulness in the West is generally considered to have been initiated by Jon Kabat-Zinn, in part through his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which he launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.

This program sparked the application of mindfulness ideas and practices in Medicine for the treatment of a variety of conditions in both healthy and unhealthy people. MBSR and similar programs are now widely applied in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and beyond.

Since then, clinical psychology and psychiatry have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people who are experiencing a variety of psychological conditions. For example, mindfulness practice is being employed to reduce depression symptoms, to reduce stress, anxiety, and in the treatment of drug addiction.

Clinical studies have documented both physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in different patient categories as well as in healthy adults and children. Mindfulness-based programs have been applied for additional outcomes such as for healthy aging, weight management, athletic performance, for children with special needs, and as an intervention during the perinatal period.

There are many different ways of practicing mindfulness. In this article, we present three basic varieties which are:

  • Mindful Breathing.
  • Body Scan Meditation.
  • Loving-Kindness Meditation.

I strongly suggest you try them all.

3 basic mindfulness practices with scientific background.

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash.

Mindful Breathing

Background

Stress, anger, and anxiety can impair not only our health but our judgment and skills of attention. Fortunately, research suggests an effective way to deal with these difficult feelings: the practice of “mindfulness”, the ability to pay careful attention to what you’re thinking, feeling, and sensing in the present moment without judging those thoughts and feelings as good or bad. Countless studies link mindfulness to better health, lower anxiety, and greater resilience to stress.

But how do you cultivate mindfulness? A basic method is to focus your attention on your own breathing—a practice called, quite simply, “mindful breathing.” After setting aside time to practice mindful breathing, you should find it easier to focus attention on your breath in your daily life—an important skill to help you deal with stress, anxiety, and negative emotions; cool yourself down when your temper flares; and sharpen your skills of concentration.

Time Required

15 minutes daily for at least a week (though evidence suggests that mindfulness increases the more you practice it).

How to Do It

The most basic way to do mindful breathing is simply to focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale. You can do this while standing, but ideally you’ll be sitting or even lying in a comfortable position. Your eyes may be open or closed, but you may find it easier to maintain your focus if you close your eyes. It can help to set aside a designated time for this exercise, but it can also help to practice it when you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Experts believe a regular practice of mindful breathing can make it easier to do it in difficult situations.

Sometimes, especially when trying to calm yourself in a stressful moment, it might help to start by taking an exaggerated breath: a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds). Otherwise, simply observe each breath without trying to adjust it; it may help to focus on the rise and fall of your chest or the sensation through your nostrils. As you do so, you may find that your mind wanders, distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That’s OK. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath.

To provide even more structure, and help you lead this practice for others, below are steps for a short guided meditation. You can listen to the audio of this guided meditation, produced by UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), in the player below; if it doesn’t play, you can directly download it from MARC’s collection of guided meditations. Text of the audio content is available below and is presented in a numbered list so each step can be attempted in sequence.

Audio Script

Begin by finding a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight. Hands resting wherever they’re comfortable. Tongue on the roof of your mouth or wherever it’s comfortable.

Notice and relax your body. Try to notice the shape of your body, its weight. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here—the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Just breathe.

Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.

Now as you do this, you might notice that your mind may start to wander. You may start thinking about other things. If this happens, it is not a problem. It’s very natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered. You can say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.

Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.

After a few minutes, once again notice your body, your whole body, seated here. Let yourself relax even more deeply and then offer yourself some appreciation for doing this practice today.

Evidence that it Works

Arch, J. J., & Craske, M. G. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness: Emotion regulation following a focused breathing induction. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(12), 1849-1858.

Participants who completed a 15-minute focused breathing exercise (similar to the mindful breathing exercise described above) reported less negative emotion in response to a series of slides that displayed negative images, compared with people who didn’t complete the exercise. These results suggest that focused breathing exercise helps to improve participants’ ability to regulate their emotions.

Why it Works

Mindfulness gives people distance from their thoughts and feelings, which can help them tolerate and work through unpleasant feelings rather than becoming overwhelmed by them. Mindful breathing, in particular, is helpful because it gives people an anchor–their breath–on which they can focus when they find themselves carried away by a stressful thought. Mindful breathing also helps people stay “present” at the moment, rather than being distracted by regrets in the past or worries about the future.

Sources: Diana Winston, Ph.D., UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center

3 basic mindfulness practices with scientific background.

Photo by Jacob Townsend on Unsplash

Body Scan Meditation

 Background

This exercise asks you to systematically focus your attention on different parts of your body, from your feet to the muscles in your face. It is designed to help you develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations, and to relieve tension wherever it is found. Research suggests that this mindfulness practice can help reduce stress, improve well-being, and decrease aches and pains.

Time Required

20-45 minutes, three to six days per week for four weeks. Research suggests that people who practice the body scan for longer reap more benefits from this practice.

How to Do It

The body scan can be performed while lying down, sitting, or in other postures. The steps below are a guided meditation designed to be done while sitting. You can listen to the audio of this three-minute guided meditation, produced by UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), in the player; if it doesn’t play, you can directly download it from MARC’s collection of guided meditations.

For those new to the body scan, we recommend performing this practice with the audio. Text of the audio content is available below and is presented in a numbered list so each step can be attempted in sequence.

Audio Script
  1. Begin by bringing your attention into your body. You can close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you.
  2. Notice your body seated wherever you’re seated, feeling the weight of your body on the chair, on the floor, wherever.
  3. Take a few deep breaths; as you take each breath, bring in more oxygen enlivening the body. As you exhale, have a sense of relaxing more deeply.
  4. Notice your feet on the ground, notice the sensations of your feet touching the ground. The weight and pressure, vibration, or heat.
  5. Notice your legs against the chair, or ground–pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness.
  6. Notice your back–any sensation of contact with a chair, clothing, or air.
  7. Bring your attention into your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften. Take a breath.
  8. Notice your hands. Are your hands tense or tight? See if you can allow them to soften.
  9. Notice your arms. Feel any sensation in your arms. Let your shoulders be soft.
  10. Observe your neck and throat. Let them be soft. Relax.
  11. Soften your jaw. Let your face and facial muscles be soft.
  12. Then notice your whole body present. Take one more deep breath.
  13. Be aware of your whole body as best as you can. Take a breath. And then when you’re ready, you can open your eyes.
Evidence That It Works

Carmody, J. & Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms, and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31, 23-33.

Participants who attended eight weekly sessions of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) program showed increases in mindfulness and well-being at the end of the eight weeks and decreases in stress and mental illness symptoms. Time spent engaging in home practice of the body scan, in particular, was associated with greater levels of two components of mindfulness (observing and non-reacting) and with increased psychological well-being.

Why It Works

The body scan provides a rare opportunity for us to experience our body as it is, without judging or trying to change it. It may allow us to notice and release a source of tension we weren’t aware of before, such as a hunched back or clenched jaw muscles. Or it may draw our attention to a source of pain and discomfort; by simply noticing the pain we’re experiencing, without trying to change it, we may actually feel some relief, research suggests.

Our feelings of resistance and anger toward pain often only serve to increase that pain and to increase the distress associated with it. The body scan is designed to counteract these negative feelings toward our bodies. This practice may also increase our general attunement to our physical needs and sensations, which can, in turn, help us take better care of our bodies and make healthier decisions about eating, sleep, and exercise.

Sources: Diana Winston, Ph.D., UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), Steven D. Hickman, Psy.D., UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

3 basic mindfulness practices with scientific background.

Photo By Pexels

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Background

Practicing kindness is one of the most direct routes to happiness—research suggests that kind people tend to be more satisfied in their relationships and with their lives in general. We all have a natural capacity for kindness, but sometimes we don’t express this capacity as much as we’d like to simply because we don’t give ourselves the opportunity.

Loving-Kindness Meditation is a great way to cultivate and express kindness. It involves mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards others by silently repeating a series of mantras.

Time Required

15-45 minutes, one to five times per week for eight weeks. Research suggests that people who practice loving-kindness meditation for longer reap more benefits from this practice.

How to Do It

This practice draws on a guided meditation created by researcher Emma Seppala, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

Text of the audio content is available below and is presented in a numbered list so each step can be attempted in sequence.

Audio Script

Begin by closing your eyes. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor and your spine straight. Relax your whole body. Keep your eyes closed throughout the whole visualization and bring your awareness inward. Without straining or concentrating, just relax and gently follow the instructions.

  1. Receiving Loving-Kindness: Keeping your eyes closed, think of a person close to you who loves you very much. It could be someone from the past or the present; someone still in life or who has passed; it could be a spiritual teacher or guide. Imagine that person standing on your right side, sending you their love. That person is sending you wishes for your safety, for your well-being and happiness. Now bring to mind the same person or another person who cherishes you deeply. Imagine that person standing on your left side, sending you wishes for your wellness, for your health and happiness. Feel the kindness and warmth coming to you from that person. Now imagine that you are surrounded on all sides by all the people who love you and have loved you. Picture all of your friends and loved ones surrounding you. They are standing sending you wishes for your happiness, well-being and health. Bask in the warm wishes and love coming from all sides. You are filled, and overflowing with warmth and love.
  2. Sending Loving-Kindness to Loved Ones: Now bring your awareness back to that first person you imagined standing on your right side. Begin to send the love that you feel back to that person. You and this person are similar. Just like you, this person wishes to be happy. Send all your love and warm wishes to that person. Repeat the following phrases, silently:
  • May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain.
  • May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain.
  • May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain.

Now focus your awareness on the person standing on your left side. Begin to direct the love within you to that person. Send all your love and warmth to that person. That person and you are alike. Just like you, that person wishes to have a good life. Repeat the following phrases, silently:

  • Just as I wish to, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness.
  • Just as I wish to, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness.
  • Just as I wish to, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness.

Now picture another person that you love, perhaps a relative or a friend. This person, like you, wishes to have a happy life. Send warm wishes to that person. Repeat the following phrases, silently:

  • May your life be filled with happiness, health, and well-being.
  • May your life be filled with happiness, health, and well-being.
  • May your life be filled with happiness, health, and well-being.
  1. Sending Loving-Kindness to Neutral People: Now think of an acquaintance, someone you don’t know very well and toward whom you do not have any particular feeling. You and this person are alike in your wish to have a good life. Send all your wishes for well-being to that person, repeating the following phrases, silently:
  • Just as I wish to, may you also live with ease and happiness.
  • Just as I wish to, may you also live with ease and happiness.
  • Just as I wish to, may you also live with ease and happiness.

Now bring to mind another acquaintance toward whom you feel neutral. It could be a neighbor, or a colleague, or someone else that you see around but do not know very well. Like you, this person wishes to experience joy and well-being in his or her life. Send all your good wishes to that person, repeating the following phrases, silently:

  • May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from all pain.
  • May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from all pain.
  • May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from all pain.
  1. Sending Loving-Kindness to All Living Beings: Now expand your awareness and picture the whole globe in front of you as a little ball. Send warm wishes to all living beings on the globe, who, like you, want to be happy:
  • Just as I wish to, may you live with ease, happiness, and good health.
  • Just as I wish to, may you live with ease, happiness, and good health.
  • Just as I wish to, may you live with ease, happiness, and good health.

Take a deep breath in. And breathe out. And another deep breath in and let it go. Notice the state of your mind and how you feel after this meditation.

When you’re ready you may open your eyes.

Evidence That It Works

Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045-1062.

People who practiced loving-kindness meditation daily for seven weeks, compared to those in a waitlist control group, reported an increase in daily positive emotions (e.g., joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, love) during the study, and an increase in life satisfaction at the end of the study. They also experienced a reduction in depressive symptoms.

Why It Works

Loving-kindness meditation increases happiness in part by making people feel more connected to others—to loved ones, acquaintances, and even strangers. Research suggests that when people practice loving-kindness meditation regularly, they start automatically reacting more positively to others, making their social interactions and close relationships more satisfying. Loving-kindness meditation can also reduce self-focus, which can, in turn, lower symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Sources: Emma Seppala, Ph.D., Tara Brach, Ph.D.

Mindfulness meditation gives us a time in our lives when we can suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind, approaching our experience with warmth and kindness—to ourselves and others. It is recommended to start with short periods of 10 minutes or so of practice per day. As one practice regularly, it becomes easier to keep the attention focused on breathing.

Finally
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Sources: Greater Good Magazine, Wikipedia.org, BerkeleyX: GG101x. Featured Image By Lesly Juarez on Unsplash.

 

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