By Anna Maltby, SELF
"I'm terrible at trying to meditate -- I can never shut off my brain or sit still!" Sound familiar? You know practices like mindfulness meditation are good for you, but they just seem so counter to our 20-tabs-open-at-a-time lifestyle that it's hard to imagine where to start. We asked Marianela Medrano, Ph.D., a licensed professional counselor and member of the American Counseling Association, for help. Let's start National Relaxation Day off on a good foot, shall we?
1. It's not about saying "om" over and over again.
Unlike some types of meditation, you don't have to say a mantra or try to picture your "third eye" during mindfulness practice. Instead, you're focusing on the here and now--thoughts, sensations and emotions.
2. It's non-judgmental.
When you let yourself take a step back and think about what you're thinking about (whoa, man), you'll probably be tempted to say, "Ugh! I need to stop thinking about how much my foot itches and start thinking about relaxing stuff! Um, birds? Oceans?" But the whole idea is to observe your thoughts and feelings and let them float by, without going down the mental spiral of judging yourself for what's going on in your brain.
3. It helps you enjoy daily life more.
"Once you become mindful you find it easier to savor life's pleasures in the moment," Medrano says. "You become fully engaged in activities, and discover a greater capacity to deal with adverse events."
4. And it could help you live a healthier life, too.
There's tons of studies out there suggesting that mindfulness meditation provides stress relief, better heart functioning, lower blood pressure, reduced chronic pain and improved sleep. It might even help you battle addiction, Medrano says.
5. You can do it anywhere, anytime.
"Something as mundane as doing dishes could become an opportunity to be mindful--feeling the water, the texture of the object being washed, the sound of the water as bells of mindfulness inviting us to return to the here and now," Medrano says. "Mindfulness implies being attuned to all our senses, being alive by keeping the breath-centered stage in our awareness." Eating is a great chance to practice mindfulness, too -- thinking and appreciating the taste, smell and texture of each bite. (You might even slow down and eat less!)
6. But if you want to devote specific time to it, you can do that, too.
A few ideas for simple practices for newbies:
Basic meditation. "Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing, without manipulating the breath in any way. For better results, focus the attention on a particular part of the body where you can feel the movement of breath, a place like the abdomen area or the nostril. But the place is not that important. What is important is that you can remain focused on the breath and that you choose only one place to avoid distractions. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath," Medrano says.
Body sensations. "Focus your attention on subtle body sensations -- an itch or tingling, for example -- without judgment, and let them pass. Gradually notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe. Each time your mind gets distracted, gently and without judgment bring the attention back to the body sensations."
Sensory. "Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches," Medrano says. You can even go through each sense and say it in your head to focus on what's going on. "Each time you notice the pull of thoughts, acknowledge that the mind is doing what is programmed to do -- it is thinking -- and then bring the attention back to your senses."
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