Studies have shown that the brains of people who meditate and practice mindfulness regularly actually show enlargement of the areas associated with attention, compassion, and empathy.
Likewise, the areas which stimulate negativity and stress reactions actually get smaller. In addition, mindfulness practices lift our mood, decrease stress-related hormones and chemicals such as cortisol, and strengthen the immune system.
They also help a variety of medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, type II diabetes, PMS, and chronic pain, as well as several psychological conditions, including insomnia, anxiety, phobias, and eating disorders.
Mind/body connection techniques are more effective with regular practice, no matter how brief. Consider making a personal commitment to meditate each day, even if just for one minute before you go to sleep!
For starters, try the simple meditation below and see how you feel.
Sit comfortably on a chair or cushion, relaxed and alert, with your spine reasonably straight. You can glance at a clock or set a timer for anywhere up to 60 minutes, but start with just 10. Take a deep breath and relax, with your eyes open or closed. Be aware of sounds and let them be what they are.
Bring awareness to your breathing – don’t try to control it, but let it be what it is. Try to stay with the sensations of each breath. Try to stay attentive to ten breaths in a row (usually challenging at first).
Using the breath as an anchor, be aware of whatever else is moving through the mind – thoughts and feelings, wishes and plans, images and memories – all coming and going. Let them be what they are – try not to get caught up in them, struggle with, or get fascinated by them. Have a sense of acceptance – even kindness – toward whatever passes through the open space of awareness.
Keep settling into the breath, and notice how it feels to get caught up in the passing contents of awareness, and how it feels to let them go. Be aware of peaceful, spacious awareness itself. When you like, bring the meditation to an end. Notice how you feel, and take in the good of your meditation.
Adapted from the work of Rick Hansen, Ph.D.
FORGET ABOUT ENLIGHTENMENT by John Welwood
Sit down wherever you are
and listen to the wind
singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, and the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are right now,
not who you’d like to be.
Not the saint you’re striving to become.
But the being right here before you,
inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You’re already more and less than whatever you can know.
Breathe out, look in, let go.