The idea of practicing mindfulness or practicing mindfulness meditation has caught on.
If you walk into the bookstore, you’ll see stacks of books on the subject, and you have probably heard it mentioned here several times as well as around the internet.
That’s because mindfulness meditation works, but I still talk to people who don’t quite understand what it is or why it is effective.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that meditation is automatically spiritual. Yes, Buddhist monks practice meditation, and Christian prayer in some ways can be its own form of meditation, but your version of meditation does not have to be religious or spiritual. In its most basic form, mindfulness is being more aware of the moment. It’s stopping for a moment to acknowledge what is happening around you and what is happening inside of you.
Why do you feel anxious? What choices are you about to make because you feel this way? What is the source of your anxiety? How can you address that source in the healthiest way possible?
The ability to stop and have this conversation with yourself is one of the cornerstones of the Habits of Health. Our Habits of Disease bury this dialog and make our choices automatic. They take away our control and push us farther down the road toward bigger waistlines and increasingly more serious health challenges. Feel anxious? Grab that candy bar. Bored? Eat a bag of chips. These choices can be almost completely unconscious if we are not aware and mindful.
Practicing mindfulness meditation helps us become the authors of our stories instead of puppets in an automatic routine driven by all of our worst emotions.
If you can pause to take a few deep breaths, you can step out of the moment, reflect on what is happening, and make the choice that most aligns with your goals (for a deeper breakdown of how to meditate and improve your decision-making overall, download Stop. Challenge. Choose. for free). You should try to do this regularly—perhaps in the morning when you wake up or as part of your bedtime routine—and you should try to do it whenever you feel an intensely negative emotion.
It will take practice, and you might feel silly at first, but keep trying. Start with 30 seconds a day and work your way up to five minutes as you feel more comfortable.
What you will find is that as you become more mindful you make healthier choices, and that can mean better stress management, feeling better as you both respond positively to negative emotions and as you begin to get healthier, and more consistent progress toward your goals.
Try it now. Put your phone down. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply for a few seconds and recognize how you are feeling.