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The world that we live in today is not conducive to mental health or wellbeing. We are constantly bombarded with images and information through our multiple devices, and work-life division seems to be a thing of the past. Just when we thought we could not experience any more stress or could not be asked to do any more, we found ourselves amid a global pandemic.
We were expected to adjust the majority of our waking lives -how we worked, how we parented, how we took care of our physical health, how we educated our children, how we socialized with our loved ones- and adapt overnight. Many people struggled with difficult emotions that arose from global uncertainty and instability, and a state of calm felt unattainable.
What if I told you, however, that by waving around a magic wand for as little as five minutes a day, you could experience a reduction in symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia. That you could enhance your ability to pay attention and make long-lasting memories, protect against cognitive decline, increase your ability to take perspective, increase the grey matter in your brain related to self-awareness and compassion, shrink the grey matter associated with rumination, worrying and mind wandering, be less reactive, have the freedom of choice, be less obsessive about yourself and your past and more present in the moment?
Would you agree to attentively and intentionally wave that wand around every day? Chances are, you would. Well, this is precisely what I am saying about mindfulness meditation. It has the power to do all that and more if practiced every day. Today, it would be important for us to reflect on the year behind, while focusing on the year ahead. It would be critical to ask ourselves what are the key skills we felt we lacked, and that we need to learn for 2021 to be successful.
Given that our mind is a major player in determining the state of our mental and physical health, as well as the quality of our lives, it would be essential to start there. And before you start making a “to-do” list of cognitive behavioral techniques or positive thinking, the most foundational skill of good mental health is the ability to still the mind, and be in the present moment. This is where “mind training,” also referred to as “mindfulness meditation,” comes in.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Many people confuse mindfulness meditation with a state of being totally relaxed, having no thoughts, while sitting on a cushion and meditating. Others believe it to be a religious practice linked to Eastern religions. The fact is that mindfulness meditation is none of the above.
Think of mindfulness meditation as a brain gym. It is literally training your brain to be in the present moment, by focusing on your anchor point, which, for most people, is their breath. When the thoughts show up, as they do for the most skilled meditator, it is then the skill of being able to redirect yourself to your breath, gently and kindly.
Another thing to note is that mindful living is different from mindfulness meditation. Mindful living is actually engaging in one activity at a time, and bringing all your attention to that activity with your mind and five senses. This could be mindfully walking, eating, or speaking. Mindfulness meditation is the formal practice of focusing your attention on one body part or breath. This practice of bringing your attention to one thing at a…