Mindfulness meditation is a term that is used to describe the cultivation of “non-judgemental, moment-to-moment awareness” of events in our daily life.  Through the purposeful exercise of bringing our awareness to the present moment, we can learn to be “more present” in our day to day lives and less distracted by ruminations of the past or anxieties about the future.  Such a practice can lead to a greater richness and fullness in relationships with spouses & children, help with problems with over-eating, as well as help coping with chronic stress, pain, or illness.  While it is based in Buddhist mediative discipline, Mindfulness Mediation is not a religious meditation; although, being “mindful” and “present” is emphasized by most religious and spiritual traditions.  Mindfulness meditation is not for the purpose of relaxation, although you may feel more relaxed, but rather an exercise in bringing our awareness to the present moment, “the only moment in which we are really alive”.  Most any activity can be done “mindfully” by experiencing the activity with all of our senses.

Mindful breathing is foundational to many mindfulness exercises and is a great place from which to begin a mindful meditation practice.  Mindful breathing does not require a large commitment of time, any special equipment, or location.  Our “breath” intersects both the voluntary and involuntary nervous systems.  Because of this, mindful breathing offers a wonderful opportunity to experience mind-body connectedness.  You may have noticed that when you are very upset or agitated, your breath becomes shallow and rapid.  This shallow breathing further exacerbates feelings of anxiety and creates a negative feedback loop.  Conversely, when we focus our attention on the breath and allow it to “be” without forcing it to be any particular way, our breathing calms down and with it, our mind calms down as well.  Our mind receives the message, “Everything is okay, no need to worry”, which helps us to feel at ease.

Here is a brief, introductory mindful breathing exercise:

Assume a comfortable position, either seated or lying down.  Allow your awareness to center on one area of the breath: such as the flow of air at the nostrils or rise and fall of the abdomen, but away from the mind and “thinking”.  Allow your body to breathe in and out exactly as it wants to.  You may notice the flow of the air in and out, the onset of the breath, the inflection point just before you begin to exhale, and the length of the pause before your next breath begins. Be aware that with every breath you are nourishing every cell in your body. Continue to follow the breath in and out of our body.  When your thinking pulls you away, as it will certainly do, notice the thoughts without judgement and gently bring your focus back to your breath.  Continue your practice for a comfortable period of time; perhaps starting with five to ten minutes.

Guided mindful mediations are a great way to experience Mindfulness Meditation and are readily available from various sources.  I have enjoyed the CD “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat-Zinn (available on iTunes or through Amazon.com).  I also highly recommend “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook” by Bob Stahl, PhD and Elisha Goldstein, PhD. for more complete instruction in the art of mindfulness meditation.

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