Meditation and mindfulness have gotten a lot of buzz lately. Everyone seems to have something to say about mindful eating, or the health benefits of meditation, or mindfulness in the workplace — you name it. I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon when something becomes “trendy”, but I am all about this one. In fact, I hope it’s not just a trend. I hope that people are starting to realize the importance of slowing down a pace and living in the moment a little more often.
Although its roots are in Eastern philosophy, meditation has become increasingly mainstream in Western culture. New research has revealed its many health benefits such as decreased stress, enhanced focus, improved brain function, and even the slowing of aging! (Read an informative article here or a denser study here to learn more about that amazing tidbit.) Recent studies have proven that regular mindfulness meditation can actually change our DNA, affecting the length of our telomeres (the sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes that can shorten each time a cell divides). This basically means that meditation is good for our longterm cellular health — how can you say no to that?
Personally, I started meditating a few years ago when my friend Jackie told me about Oprah & Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience. At first, I tried to get into it and just did not have the patience. But during the second 21-Day series I tried to follow (on expanding your happiness), something clicked. From that point on, meditation has continued to be a wonderful (although sometimes sporadic) part of my life.
Mindfulness is the state achieved by focusing on the present and calmly acknowledging and accepting whatever feelings, thoughts, or sensations arise. (The Greater Good Science Center provides a deep dive into the topic here, for those interested in a more thorough definition!) It’s about living in the moment and not letting yourself get tossed around too much by your thoughts and emotions about the past or the future. And it’s about not judging yourself when you do get swept away, but instead kindly recognizing that it happened, letting it go, and coming back to the now with openness and presence.
Being mindful is easy to apply to different parts of our life: to our mealtimes, to our work, to our interactions with others, and to our bedtimes. And I really feel like bringing this practice to different aspects of our day does improve the quality and depth of those moments. It’s a way to make sure you are really LIVING and not just letting life play out in front of you.
But did I say being mindful is easy to do? Not so much. My thoughts, ideas and worries are constantly spinning around in my brain and sometimes I’ll get so caught up in them that I’ll realize I just ate my entire breakfast or commuted all the way to work completely on autopilot. So how do we get better at this? How can we become expert mindful people?
It’s often been said that to become an expert at anything, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice. So should we all quit our jobs, become Tibetan monks and nuns, and meditate full-time for the next 5 years? Maybe not to that extreme… but I do believe we should dedicate some time to training ourselves in mindfulness.
The reason why I am talking about mindfulness and meditation separately is because I think about them separately. For me, mindfulness should be an ever-present way of life, while meditation is a means to calm down in the moment, reflect and focus on various topics or mantras, and practice being mindful. Mindfulness and meditation are both important for their own reasons, but for me, meditation serves as a vehicle to becoming a more mindful person. So, to become better at being mindful, we just have to try to meditate more.
I still consider myself to be an amateur meditator. Some weeks I’ll get into a groove and do it consistently for a few days in a row, but typically I’ll remember to meditate once every week or so. Sometimes I’ll totally forget for months at a time.
I am lucky enough to work at a company that supports my hosting of periodic, brief meditation sessions at my office (using guided meditations from the great app called CALM). That definitely helps me remember to practice from time to time. But recently, my friend and colleague Stefanie and I were chatting about how great it would be to start a meditation group outside of the office to really get into the groove of making meditation a habit. So we did!
Our meditation group met for the first time this past Wednesday, complete with tuscan white bean soup for dinner, multiple guided meditations, and discussions about mindfulness, loving-kindness, and gratitude. It was a humbling, peaceful, and rejuvenating evening and made my heart feel full. I am excited to see where our little group goes. I’d love if you followed along and joined us in becoming more mindful about meditation — here is what we did in Session 1!
Do you practice meditation or mindfulness (or mindfulness meditation)? I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Or, if you decide to follow along with our meditation group (or start your own!), I’d love to hear your feedback!