What You Really Need To Know About Meditation

This article first appeared in mindbodygreen.com and is written by Dr. Jain Wells

The main purpose of meditation isn’t just to relax. If you want to do that, best have a beer and put your feet up or have a hot bath. Meditation is about cultivating present-moment awareness and reaping the countless benefits that come from the practice. This includes activating your body’s natural healing powers, increasing self-awareness that leads to more conscious choices, and becoming less reactive in daily life. Meditation is mental training that helps you become alert and aware. So to say it’s about relaxation is misleading.

With consistent daily practice and learning to sustain mental stillness or present-moment awareness, the depth to which meditation can promote deep changes within is without limit. The reason meditation is associated with the ancient wisdom traditions is because it has a profound impact on consciousness, which is another word for self-awareness. Over the course of a lifetime, consistent meditative practice and maintaining present-moment awareness continues to peel away aspects of your psyche that are unconscious and conditioned, and makes them conscious.

The more aware you are, the more you notice things. The more you notice things, the more you’re likely to take mindful action around what you see and perceive. Your ability to live more of your life in a state of present-moment awareness creates a broader range of experiences, enhanced creativity and spontaneity,

Learning how to do it takes some commitment. Depending on the level of mental busyness you naturally have, the more challenging it may be to slow down your thought process. One of first things you begin to notice when learning mindfulness meditation is the persistent thinking nature of your own mind. You become aware of your internal dialogue or inner chatter and the habitual nature of your mind.

As you reorient yourself to present-moment awareness you become more aware of the details of your sensory faculties in the moment — what you see, hear, and feel inside yourself and in your immediate environment. This is distinguished from thoughts of the past and future. Eventually you readily recognize the difference between being present versus becoming preoccupied with your thoughts, because only in the present moment are you fully aware, alive and creative. Conscious breathing helps bring your focus into the present moment simply because your continuous stream of breathing is always present.

How to do Mindfulness Meditation Practice:

1. Find a comfortable place to sit down, either on the floor or in a chair. Sit with your spine straight, yet relaxed. Rest your hands in your lap or by your side.

2. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths of air to settle yourself.

3. Place your attention on the inflow and outflow of your breath. Notice the continuous movement of your breath in the present moment.

4. When thoughts of the past or future come to mind, simply acknowledge them and return your awareness to the inflow and outflow of your breath. There may also be distractions or sounds in your environment, or sensations that you feel in your body — simply acknowledge them and return your awareness to your breathing.

The objective of mindfulness meditation is to allow all aspects of the present moment to be held in your awareness without focusing or fixating on any one thing, other than using your breathing to keep you aware of yourself and in the moment. This mental training naturally develops your ability to focus in daily life when you need to and to be less reactive as well.

Begin with five minutes per day and work up to establishing a 20-30 minute practice. It may be challenging at first, though with consistent effort you will learn to sustain present moment awareness and deepen into the practice to experience the benefits.

Jain Wells, PhD is an author, singer-songwriter, transpersonal psychologist and teacher. Her work emphasizes the importance of various practices such as meditation to stimulate growth and awareness.

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