Mindfulness meditation is a path to serenity for frazzled midlife women

You've heard about it, but what exactly IS mindfulness meditation?


Mindfulness Meditation White Lotus Flower
Mindfulness meditation has become mainstream. It's been the subject of lots of repeated medical studies and everyone from universities and medical schools to multi-national businesses like Google are teaching it to their students and employees.


©iStockphoto.com/manfredxy


If you're looking for a technique to enhance your life and happiness at the same time as reduce stress, menopause symptoms and just to help you cope with life's crazy pace... Mindfulness meditation may be the key for you.


What is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness is a simple idea. Being mindful just means being totally aware of the present moment that you are living. It means bringing your attention away from all those hundreds of thoughts and distractions which buzz around our heads continuously and instead, consciously and explicitly, focusing your attention on your breath.

Being mindful simply means being in the present moment, in the here and now, focusing on our in-breath and on our out-breath and finding our centre within our body.

As Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and one of the most highly respected teachers of mindfulness practice in the world, says:

"The practice of mindfulness requires only that whatever you do, you do with your whole being. You have to invest one hundred percent of yourself in doing even very simple things, like picking up a pen, opening a book, or lighting a stick of incense."(1)


It sounds so simple doesn't it?

But mindfulness techniques, though simple in theory, are anything but simple in practice. Because the way our minds tend to work when we have not received mindfulness training, is to jump about incessantly. We flit from idea to idea, from worry to worry, from memory to memory, from planning to ... well yes, anything, but concentrating what is happening in the actual moment that we're living in.

Developing a mindfulness meditation practice is about training the mind to be more aware and to pay more attention to the present moment. Not the past, not the future. Just what’s happening right here, right now.

Originally mindfulness meditation developed in the Buddhist tradition, and Buddhist monks have been practising mindfulness techniques for hundreds of years. Around the middle of the 20th century, Westerners interested in Buddhist philosophy and psychology started to study mindfulness meditation and began to understand the benefits of meditation for themselves. Thanks to collaborations between Buddhist monks and interested Westerners, the practice of mindfulness has become more widespread outside of the Buddhist tradition.

Nowadays mindfulness has become widely accepted by doctors and psychologists as a cognitive technique, which has its roots in Buddhism but can be practised by anyone anywhere, regardless of their religious beliefs.


You do not need to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness meditation.


What effects does mindfulness have?

Studies have shown that people who regularly practice mindful meditation, (better known as mindfulness meditation) are better able to relax, are more in control of their emotions and feelings, and have greater self-mastery, than people who don't meditate.

This inner sense of control translates into a host of health benefits including reduced anxiety and depression, increased ability to cope with chronic low back pain(2), improvement in some skin conditions(3), type 2 diabetes(4) and - recently yes, a great boon for midlife women:

Relief from menopause hot flashes(5).

How to do mindfulness meditation


At one level mindfulness seems the easiest thing in the world to do.... but is it?




©iStockphoto.com/shiyali

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who introduced mindfulness meditation into Western medicine, has said that mindfulness: "could most easily be described as much ado about almost nothing, it's not quite nothing, but it's not so much about doing as about being, or as the Daoists would call it, it's about non-doing"(6)

So how to do mindfulness meditation? Here's a starter to give you an idea:

You need to find a quiet moment and a quiet place where you know you won't be interrupted for between 20 to 30 minutes. Sit in a comfortable position. A straight-backed chair which ensures you sit as upright as possible, is fine. If you prefer and don't feel too stiff, you can sit cross-legged on the floor.

Sit in silence, bring your attention to your breathing and watch your thoughts. Try to keep concentrating on your breath. Be aware of breathing in. Aware of breathing out. Inhale, exhale. Keep your attention right there, on the flow of your breath.

Sounds easy peasy right?

Well if you've ever tried it you'll know that it's anything but easy, because our minds tend to be all over the place. Jumping about like a wild, untamed colt, the mind resists our attempts to control it. At least at first.

But gradually as your meditation practice develops, you will find that you are better able to bring your attention to your breath, your body, your immediate surroundings and to see yourself in the context of your environment.

Mindfulness can be practised sitting down, while walking, while eating, while standing in a queue, while waiting for the train, while chopping the vegetables, while cleaning the loo, washing the pots, sweeping the floor, checking email ...

Yes - mindfulness activities can be just about any activity that you do, but instead of doing something while you're thinking about five other things or trying to multi-task by answering the phone, tidying the table, and checking your make-up ... doing things mindfully means being there in the moment, concentrating on doing what you're doing and trying not to do more than one thing at a time.


How to learn mindfulness meditation

Adopting an effective mindfulness practice is not easy. All our 21st century personal and social habits seem to connive against our being mindful. We almost seem to work together to try and increase each other’s stress levels, when we should be doing all we can to reduce stress for everyone, ourselves included.

There are lots of meditation resources available as books, tapes, MP3 downloads and videos (see below).

But nothing beats personal tuition and support from an experienced mindfulness practitioner.

And if you can learn with others this can be the most enriching part of developing your mindfulness practice, because you can share your experiences with them, as you go along. One good way of learning is to join a mindfulness retreat and these are increasingly opening up around the world.


Mindfulness Meditation books *

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As a starter you might read a little gem of a book from the Buddhist tradition, by Thich Nhat Hahn: "The Miracle of Mindfulness". This book contains a number of mindfulness exercises as well as an easy to read introduction to what mindfulness.



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Or if you would like to learn about how mindfulness techniques can help you control your weight you could read "Savor" authored by Thich Nhat Hahn jointly with Dr Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist from Harvard University.



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If you are interested in the general health and environmental benefits of mindfulness outside of the Buddhist tradition, the books by Jon Kabat-Zinn are essential reading. You could try his book "Coming to our Senses" which addresses the need for mindfulness not only to help our personal health but also to address the health of the planet.



References

  1. Buy this book
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    Thich Nhat Hanh. The Art of Power. HarperCollins 2007





  2. Morone NE, Greco CM, Weiner DK. Mindfulness meditation for the treatment of chronic low back pain in older adults: a randomized controlled pilot study. Pain 2008;134:310–319.
  3. Kabat-Zinn J, Wheeler E, Light T, Skillings A, Scharf MJ, Cropley TG, Hosmer D, Bernhard JD. Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA) Psychosomatic Medicine 1998;60:625–632.
  4. Rosenzweig S, Reibel DK, Greeson JM, Edman JS, Jasser SA, McMearty KD, Goldstein BJ. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is associated with improved glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a pilot study. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 2007;13:36–38.
  5. Carmody JF, Crawford S, Salmoirago-Blotcher et al. Mindfulness training for coping with hot flashes:results of a randomized trial. Menopause 2011;Feb 26 [E-pub ahead of print]
  6. Jon Kabat-Zinn leads a training session on Mindfulness at Google


Published August 14th 2011.

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