Mindfulness is a state of consciousness when we concentrate on awareness of the present moment. We are attentive to our thoughts and emotions without any judgment we acknowledge and accept them. Mindfulness meditation originates in Buddhist vipassanā meditation, which teaches people to be mindful. This meditation might have several forms, however, the basis is the same: be in the present moment, be awake, be aware, be attentive, be mindful. Underneath, the method of the professor Kelly McGonigal, who is interested in willpower and self-control, is described.
Do you have troubles with concentration, or self-control? Do you ruminate (many thoughts always going through your head)? Are you on a diet? Do you feel stressed out? Etc. Meditate! Mindfulness mediation has many benefits for your mind, body and spirit. Research has shown that already after three hours of meditation people’s attention and self-control increased. After eleven hours of meditation, changes in brain were remarkable, the number of neural connections between regions of brain important for staying focused, ignoring distraction, and controlling impulses increased. Further, the brain activation in regions related to discursive thoughts and emotion decreased. Another study found that eight weeks of daily meditation practice led to higher self-awareness in everyday life, and increased gray matter in corresponding areas. Other research has shown that mindfulness meditation not only improves self-control but also increases frequency of positive emotions.
How to practice mindfulness meditation:
- Sit still and stay put
Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, or sit down on a cushion with your legs crossed. Sit straight with your hands in your lap. It is important to stay still during the whole mediation. If you feel the urge to scratch on your nose, or move your legs, observe the urge but do not act on it. This is a crucial practice for physical self-control. You are learning not to automatically follow every single impulse sent by your brain or your body.
- Turn your attention to the breath
Close your eyes and start concentrating on your breath. While breathing in tell yourself silently “inhale” and while breathing out “exhale.” Whenever you notice your mind wondering (it will happen) bring your attention gently to your breathing again. During this exercise when you bring your mind back to breathing you activate your prefrontal cortex (seat of self-control) and calm your stress and desire brain’s centers. Besides self-control you are learning to control your own thoughts and calm down your mind. Moreover, meditation as such increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex which is then more efficient in sending signals necessary for self-control.
- Notice feelings of breathing, and mind wandering
After several minutes stop repeating yourself “inhale” and “exhale” and just concentrate on the feelings accompanying the breathing. You can feel the air coming in and out through your nose and mouth. Observe while breathing in your chest and belly expanding and while breathing out deflating again. Being conscious of your feelings during inhale and exhale teaches you the ability of self-awareness (including awareness of your body and your thoughts). This helps you to become aware of moments of temptation and even helps you to avoid these moments in the future. When your mind wanders, calmly bring the attention back to the breathing. If you encounter difficulties repeat silently “inhale” and “exhale” a couple of times. As soon as your mind calms down and start to pay attention to the breathing again, you can stop repeating the words and get back to observation of your feelings while breathing in and out. Each time your mind wanders and you bring it back, you exercise the “muscle” of self-control and strengthen it. It is as if you were working out at the gym. This part of exercise trains both self-awareness and self-control.
Start with daily 5 minutes meditation. If you find it easy to keep attention on your breathing, you can prolong the meditation to ten or fifteen minutes each day. If you find it too long and you tend to come up with excuses and skip the meditation, get back to original five minutes. Rather exercise shorter time but every day. It is recommended to set a specific time such as after the morning shower or before you go to sleep and keep meditating in the same time every day.
You can listen to this leaded mindfulness meditation to help you begin:
Author: Pavla Belostikova, MSc.
Brefczynski-Lewis, J.A., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H.S., Levinson, D.B., & Davidson, R.J. (2007). Neural Correlates of Attentional Expertise in Long-Term Meditation Practitioners. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, 104 (27), 11483–11488.
Brown, K.W., & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present – and Your Life (1 edition). Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Luders, E., A.W. Toga, N. Lepore, and C. Gaser. (2009). The Underlying Anatomical Correlates of Long-term Meditation: Larger Hippocampal and Frontal Volumes of Gray Matter. Neuroimage 45, 672-78.
McGonigal, K. (2011). The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Penguin.