I originally wrote about mindfulness a couple of years ago, when life was “normal”. Except it wasn’t. I had different problems then and they seemed pretty big at the time. But now, here we all are in a whole other set of circumstances. Now, we are all in it together as the PSAs on TV keep reminding me. Now, I believe, there is more reason than ever for people to pay attention, to give mindfulness a try. This act of being consciously present, can be life changing, reducing the impact of stress on your life — is anyone not stressed right now? — while enabling greater focus, productivity, and even creativity.
Mindfulness mediation can be thought of simply as the act of calming the mind and focusing on the present, and doing so in a deeply conscious way. Contrary to what many people think, it is not about clearing the mind of thoughts – that is impossible as we average 48 thoughts per minute – but rather, noticing the thoughts when they show up and refocusing our attention to the present moment.
Believe it or not, this consistent act of being still, calming your mind and focusing on the present actually rewires your brain over time. When practiced regularly, meditation has been shown to increase people’s sense of well-being and happiness. Not only that, the scientifically proven benefits of mediation also include improving or increasing productivity, focus, creativity, empathy, decision-making and memory, while reducing anxiety and stress.
In a 2014 John Hopkins study, researcher Madhav Goyal found the effect of mindfulness meditation on reducing anxiety and depression was equal to that of anti-depressants. Another study showed that people who participated in two weeks of mediation training, improved their focus and memory for the verbal section of the GRE exam, leading to an 16 point average increase.
And, it isn’t all in the head. Meditation affects the heart too, improving cardiovascular health and reducing heart disease. It also has been shown to strengthen the immune system.
In today’s world of non-stop action, many people are daunted by the idea of meditation. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says researcher Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
If this still sounds a bit too intense, the good news is you can start slowly. Research from INSEAD and the Wharton School, showed that a mindfulness practice of just 15 minutes a day can help you make wiser choices and better decisions. Start slowly, even a couple of minutes can help, and build up to fifteen minutes, or more. There are many free apps out there to get started. Here are a few of my favorites:
Headspace: This is where I got started with this app which offers a 10-session free trial created for beginners (after which you are charged a subscription.)
Insight Timer: This free app has meditations contributed from an outstanding group of practitioners (whom you can support through donations) on a variety of topics and lengths. Mediations have user ratings to help guide you and the app tracks your progress with the practice.
Smiling Mind: This app is also is completely free (and non-profit) and has mediations that run for different lengths of times. One of the differentiators of Smiling mind is mediations created for different age groups, including kids.
Guided Mediations from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC). Not an app but a link to audio files for simple mindfulness mediations.
I know the idea that something so simple can change your life is a BIG statement. And, I make no promises. Maybe it won’t change your life. But, it did for me. I attribute it as the catalyst of real change in my life, providing me the clarity to pursue a coaching career. Besides, what else can you do that provides so many proven health and wellness benefits, with so little time, no financial investment, and literally, no sweat?