Mindfulness meditation can be a powerful tool in your mental health arsenal. It’s a great way to slow down racing thoughts and find some perspective, which ripples over to our physical wellbeing, too: In fact, research has shown that the positive effects of mindfulness meditation can include balanced cortisol levels, a healthier heart, and better management of chronic pain. (1,2,3)
Mindfulness is all about staying in the moment-by-moment of your existence—practicing awareness of your thoughts, feelings, surrounding environment and bodily sensations in the present moment. Mindfulness is also about acceptance. This means we allow our thoughts and feelings to flow through us without dwelling on them or judging them as either good or bad.
That all sounds great—but we also know that for beginners, the prospect of slowing down our thoughts or practicing meditation is way easier said than done. Read on to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness, as well as some easy meditation techniques to start practicing.
Pain Management, Self-Image, and More: The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Studies have correlated a daily mindfulness meditation practice with many different health benefits, including:
- Immune support. A 2016 study showed a promising link between mindfulness meditation against certain biomarkers for inflammation and biological aging. (4)
- Sleep quality. Several studies have shown that regular mindfulness meditation can improve sleep quality and mitigate insomnia. (5)
- Memory and decision-making. There’s even evidence that mindfulness can actually change your brain. A 2011 study found that mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR—a popular mindfulness training program—increased the grey matter concentration in brain regions associated with memory, learning, and emotional regulation. (6)
- Heart health and blood pressure. Heart rate variability, or HRV, is the tiny fluctuation of time between heart beats. A higher HRV is typically associated with better heart health—and mindfulness training has been associated with a higher HRV. That’s even not to mention that mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure, too. (2,7)
- Confidence, self-image, and performance. By perspective-shifting and slowing down negative thoughts, mindfulness can be a great tool for fighting insecurity and burnout—not to mention it can play a role in boosting confidence. Scientists have even linked mindfulness meditation with greater endurance and athletic performance. (8)
How to Build a Mindfulness Practice
Sitting meditation isn’t the only way to practice mindfulness—really, the point is to train your mind around awareness and judgement-free observation of the present moment. Here are six bites-sized mindfulness exercises that can be done almost anywhere and contribute to the development of a mindfulness meditation practice.
- Breathe in and out slowly, through your nose and out your mouth.
- Let go of your thoughts and focus on your breath.
- Focus your awareness on the pathway of your breath as it enters and leaves your body. If you find your mind wandering or feel yourself getting stuck on passing thoughts, just bring your focus back to your breath.
- Choose a natural object in your environment, such as an insect, the clouds or the moon, and focus on watching it for two to three minutes.
- Don’t do anything except watch the object for as long as your concentration allows. Look at this object as though seeing it for the first time, visually exploring every aspect of its shape and being. Let yourself connect with its energy and purpose in the natural world.
Mindful Body Scan
- For this self-guided body scan meditation, sit comfortably or lie down. Take a slow, deep breath—in through the nose, out through your mouth.
- Imagine a light scanning your body slowly from your head down to your toes. As the light touches your forehead, then your jaw, then your neck and shoulders… let that part of your body relax. Without judgment, notice all the different places in your body where you’re holding tension, and enjoy the release.
- Select a piece of music you have never heard before.
- Don’t judge the music by genre, label, artist, or anything before it has even begun. Instead, neutrally follow the music by sound through the entire journey of its runtime.
- Explore every aspect of the track, even if you don’t like it, and give your awareness full permission to run free among the waves of sound. Try listening to each instrument individually, separating each sound in your mind and dissecting it one by one. Hone in on the vocals; if there are more than one, separate them out as in the previous step. Explore the sound of the voice, its range and tones.
- Choose a daily routine to immerse yourself in, such as washing the dishes or doing the laundry.
- Pay attention to every detail of the activity, including the motion of your muscles as you work, physical sensations and the sounds you hear. Get creative and discover new experiences within this task by becoming aware of every step and immersing yourself in the task fully.
- Notice five things or people in your day that usually go unappreciated.
- Give thanks and appreciate the role of these seemingly insignificant things in your life, noting all the small ways they contribute.
No matter what it looks like for you, a mindfulness meditation practice can support a healthier wellbeing, a balanced mindset and better help us navigate some of the difficult and unpleasant stressors of daily life. By incorporating a mindfulness practice in your daily routine, you harness the ability of your mind to be rooted in the present moment rather than trapped by embarrassments or failures of the past, or worries for the future. This helps us to be clear-minded, calm and assertive for the next challenges we face.
Related: What Is Guided Meditation?
Turakitwanakan, W., Mekseepralard, C., & Busarakumtragul, P. (2013). Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand = Chotmaihet thangphaet, 96 Suppl 1, S90–S95.
Meditation and cardiovascular risk reduction: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. (2019). Journal of the American Heart Association, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.117.004176
Zeidan, F., & Vago, D. R. (2016). Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief: a mechanistic account. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 114–127. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.13153
Black, D. S., & Slavich, G. M. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 13–24. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.12998
Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):494–501. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081
Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry research, 191(1), 36–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
Ponte Márquez, P. H., Feliu-Soler, A., Solé-Villa, M. J., Matas-Pericas, L., Filella-Agullo, D., Ruiz-Herrerias, M., Soler-Ribaudi, J., Roca-Cusachs Coll, A., & Arroyo-Díaz, J. A. (2019). Benefits of mindfulness meditation in reducing blood pressure and stress in patients with arterial hypertension. Journal of human hypertension, 33(3), 237–247. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41371-018-0130-6
Nien, J. T., Wu, C. H., Yang, K. T., Cho, Y. M., Chu, C. H., Chang, Y. K., & Zhou, C. (2020). Mindfulness Training Enhances Endurance Performance and Executive Functions in Athletes: An Event-Related Potential Study. Neural plasticity, 2020, 8213710.