How to Practice Active Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation and mindfulness are two complementary practices that can help enrich the relationship and connection we have with ourselves. Although different in subtle ways, meditation and mindfulness can teach self-compassion, self-awareness, peace, relaxation, and calmness. When used together, meditation and mindfulness can also help to build and maintain a healthy relationship with the mind and body.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation: Meditation is a practice and skill that welcomes calmness, stillness, focus, and concentration. By allowing the mind to focus and concentrate on the present moment, meditation helps to manage problems and consider solutions by developing the skills to navigate thoughts and ideas. With aiding in concentration, meditation also helps with calming internal turmoil and chatter. Meditation is a discipline and like any discipline takes practice and patience.
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the skill, technique, and process of cultivating non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts, environment, and feelings. While it's easy to over-analyze and overthink to gain control of our thoughts and feelings, mindfulness teaches us the power of noticing and observing. Without the urge to critique or change how we approach our thoughts, we are able to realize when and why those thoughts occur. To be mindful is to intentionally interact with our mind and body to welcome peace, relaxation, and rest. Like meditation, mindfulness seeks to draw attention to the present moment with awareness and intention.
Active Mindful Meditation Techniques
Note: Active mindful meditation combines the concentration and calmness of meditation with the non-judgemental awareness of mindfulness by accepting, noticing, and living through the sensations and experiences of the present moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist in The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation states "breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again." Relying on our breath gives us the choice to return our attention to the present moment. While mindful breathing can be practiced in the crossed-legged position sitting upright as traditional meditation persuades, it can also be done at any time and anywhere, especially when feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Step 1: Focus your attention on your breathing.
Step 2: Practice a rhythm of breathing that works best for you (either with your eyes opened or closed). Some examples of rhythmic breathing include:
Counting (whether for three, five, or ten seconds) as you inhale slowly, then counting again for the same amount of seconds as you exhale.
Using the 6-3-6 technique by inhaling for six seconds, pausing for three seconds before exhaling, then exhaling for another six seconds.
Simply observing the natural sensation of breathing itself.
Step 3: With each inhalation, focus on the in-breath and observe the sensation, warmth, and coolness of breathing in. As you exhale, draw attention to your lungs, expanding diaphragm, and tip of your nose.
Step 4: Notice the thoughts that come up while you are breathing. As the thoughts appear imagine them drifting away with every breath.
Step5: Continue in this rhythm of mindful breathing as long as you feel it necessary.
Mindfulness eating builds awareness and improves the relationship we have with what foods we consume on a daily basis.
Step 1: Focus your attention on what you are eating. How hungry are you? Can you hold it in your hand? How does it feel? How does it smell? Is your mouth watering? Notice your thoughts as you begin to eat.
Step 2: Notice the food in your mouth, the temperature and texture of the food, and how you are chewing. Observe the sensations in your jaw as you are chewing and swallowing your food.
Note: Mindfulness helps with impulse eating by increasing your awareness to make choices concerning your eating habits. Why are you eating? Are you hungry? When was the last time you had a meal?
Mindfulness walking focuses awareness on both the body and the environment.
Step 1: Choose your favorite place to take a walk whether it be a park, your backyard, a beach, garden or other desired place.
Step 2: Start by standing and evenly distributing your weight on both feet. Observe and feel your body balanced on the solid ground. Before starting to walk, mentally scan each part of your body for pain, stress or tension.
Note: Body scanning is a mindfulness technique that allows you to navigate bodily sensations. You can practice body scanning at any time while doing multiple activities. Body scanning is increasing awareness of how your body feels at any given moment.
Step 3: Begin to walk! Notice and become mindful of how you are walking. Take note of how your feet are touching the ground as you walk forward. Slowly move your attention to each part of your body from your feet to your ankles all the way up to your hips. What are the sensations in your feet, ankles, shins, calves, joints, and hips?
Step 4: Notice the air blowing against your skin. What are you thinking? How do you feel?
Note: Active meditation and mindfulness increase your focus and awareness of your body movements and thoughts. There is no need to regulate or change how you would regularly perform these actions; simply notice and observe.
Understanding the Power of Making Mindful Choices
Some find meditation, in its traditional sense of restricted practical consciousness, stillness and focus to be difficult to practice especially when experiencing racing thoughts and stress. By utilizing active meditation techniques, it's possible to not only incorporate meditation during our everyday schedule but also increase awareness and become mindful of our present self. By understanding our body and needs, we are able to appreciate the power of having and making choices on a moment by moment basis. Having choices reminds us of who we are and what we are capable of.