Cultivating and protecting our well-being is deeply personal. It requires us to check in with ourselves regularly and be open to whatever we may need to feel less stressed, more fulfilled, and generally at ease. In this guide to well-being, you’ll explore nine habits to integrate into your daily life that will serve as helpful tools in sustaining emotional wellness.
Meditation is exploring. It’s not a fixed destination. Your head doesn’t become vacuumed free of thought, utterly undistracted. It’s a special place where each and every moment is momentous. When we meditate we venture into the workings of our minds: our sensations (air blowing on our skin or a harsh smell wafting into the room), our emotions (love this, hate that, crave this, loathe that) and thoughts (wouldn’t it be weird to see an elephant playing a trumpet?).
Mindfulness meditation asks us to suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind, approaching our experience with warmth and kindness to ourselves and others.
Meditation does not take any single form. Instead, meditation is a term that describes an array of practices designed to cultivate well-being. Most of these practices fall within three broad categories:
Focused-attention meditation: The aim here is to train the mind’s capacity for concentration and awareness of the present moment by focusing on a single point of attention (such as the breath). If you are new to meditation, this is a good place to begin.
Open awareness meditation: Rather than focusing on a specific object of attention, in this form of meditation you keep your field of awareness open, allowing you to simply observe your thoughts and thereby become less reactive to emotions and sensory experiences. This is a more advanced practice, as it requires a certain level of mental stability to watch thoughts, emotions, and sensations move through the mind without getting hooked by them.
Loving-kindness meditation: The aim of this practice is to cultivate deep compassion for all beings, starting with oneself and then extending compassion to friends and family, to people you find difficult, and eventually to all beings.
Benefits of meditation
1. Increased resilience: Meditation is associated with a reduction in activity in the part of the brain (the amygdala) that reacts to stress. This enhances our ability to stay calm and responsive in the midst of stressful situations.
2. Increased focus: Meditation activates additional circuits in the brain that allow for sharper and more efficient concentration.
3. Decreased mind wandering: Meditation reduces moments when our attention wanders away from what is happening here and now.
4. Enhanced pain tolerance: From a practical standpoint, mindfulness for pain relief could be a cost-effective option that doesn’t rely on potentially harmful or addictive drugs, and that doesn’t appear to have a plateau point.
5. Enhanced immunity: Meditation has been found to reduce markers of inflammation in the body and to strengthen the response of the immune system.
10-minute guide for meditation
First, feel your bottom on the seat, and your feet on the floor or the ground, flat, touching the earth. Your eyes can be open or closed, head tilted slightly down. Your shoulders are relaxed, your hands are resting on your thighs and your upper arms are parallel to your torso. Just take a moment to feel that posture.
Now we’re going to use the breath as an anchor for our attention. We don’t concern ourselves with trying to adjust the rate of the breath, we just come with whatever breath we have.
One of the first things we notice naturally as we try to pay attention to breath coming in and out is our mind is filled with thoughts. It’s like a waterfall of thoughts. And in mindfulness practice, just notice the thought. Touch it, and go back to the breath.
No matter what’s been going on in the session, you don’t need to evaluate it, just let it go. As the session ends, open your eyes, and enjoy what’s coming next.