There are many benefits to mindfulness meditation – or the psychological state of experiencing the present moment – that go beyond reducing stress. Not only has it been linked to a lower risk of developing heart disease and hypertension but it may also help in the development of healthier habits.
It doesn’t take long for our brains to learn new habits, despite whether they are healthy or not. A recent study on the benefits of mindfulness found that spending just 11 minutes a day focusing on the present moment helped people who habitually smoke or drink alcohol engage in these behaviors less frequently. Not only did the practice of mindfulness help them become more aware of their cravings, but they were also able to choose a healthier habit to replace it.
Dr. Andrea DeNeen, one of our cardiologists at First Coast Cardiovascular Institute, describes meditation as any technique that promotes relaxation. It can be something as simple as taking a walk in the park or practicing deep breathing exercises. Dr. DeNeen believes it’s important to make time for self-care every day. She says, “My day is not the same without taking a few minutes for myself in the morning.”
There are many different forms of meditation. While there is no right or wrong way to practice these awareness techniques, most have four common elements: a quiet location, a comfortable posture, a focus point, and an open mind. If you’re still unsure how to begin, try these tips to get you started:
- Listen to instrumental music while focusing your thoughts on the present moment. If you feel your thoughts start to wander elsewhere, simply re-direct your focus again to the present moment.
- Take a slow walk. Focus on matching your breathing to each step you take – as you breathe in, pick your foot up; and as you breathe out, plant it on the ground.
- Breathe deeply. Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and exhale for 8 counts.
- Prayer. “Meditation comes in many forms,” says Dr. Yazan Khatib. “Prayer can be a spiritual form of meditation.”
If you feel distracted during your first few sessions – don’t be discouraged. As with anything, the more you practice, the better you get. Ultimately, every individual will resonate with a different form of mindfulness meditation. Be sure to choose the one that uplifts you the most!