Mindfulness Training

Aug 7, 2012 by

Mindfulness TrainingNothing is more frustrating than trying to concentrate on a task when a million other distractions are running through our minds. For those times when it seems as though you can’t focus on anything, a little mindfulness training can be incredibly useful. In Pali, the language of Buddha, mindfulness is called sati, and can also be translated as awareness or attention. In Buddhism, attaining mindfulness is an important step on the path to enlightenment, and Western psychologists and physicians are also beginning to discover marked health benefits that come with mindfulness training.

Psychologists have begun to incorporate meditation into clinical therapies to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, and relapses in people with substance abuse problems. Learning to focus one’s mind has been shown to enable people to access and sustain positive emotional states, especially when they’re in the process of recovering from negative or traumatic events. Focusing on the here and now is an effective way to reduce stress and anxious thoughts, and has a measurable effect on physical health as well: people who engage in mindfulness training as part of therapy often exhibit a reduction in blood pressure and fewer of the aches and pains associated with chronic stress.

Mindfulness training can also greatly improve your ability to focus, learn, and remember information, making it a kind of memory training as well! Linguists have found that the Pali word sati (mindfulness or awareness) comes from a root verb meaning “to remember”; in this case, it means to “remember” where you are in the present, and not let this moment slip away from you by becoming distracted, either by external stimuli or internal thought. The core idea of any mindfulness routine is to help you become more aware of the present moment, which includes all of your bodily sensations, your inner thoughts and perceptions (what Buddhism calls “objects of consciousness”), and finally of consciousness itself, which is separate from your distinct thoughts but informs all of them.

One of the surprising benefits of learning to focus on the moment is that it actually saves you more time than if you hadn’t spent a few minutes on a mindfulness routine of some kind. Many people find they have more free time after taking their five minutes a day to meditate, so that they accomplish more of their daily tasks, yet have time to spare! This is because mindfulness training energizes you and lets you to organize your thoughts: you’ll discover yourself naturally using your time more efficiently after a meditation session, enabling you to accomplish more after focusing your mind.

While there are meditations retreats and organizations you can apply to for mindfulness training, not everyone has time to go off on a retreat. Fortunately, many of the most effective methods to raise your everyday awareness can be done at home in minutes:
One of the most reliable (and easy) ways to center yourself in the present moment is through deep breathing, also called effective breathing. In order to breathe effectively (using most of your lung capacity), you must assume the proper posture. Sit on a chair, or on the floor with your legs crossed. Draw your shoulder blades together so that you sit up straight without hunching forward. This will open up your chest and allow your lungs to expand fully. As you breathe in through your nose, draw in your belly to push down your diaphragm. It might help to focus on the feel of air filling your lungs, or even count to five on your inhale and exhale. Sitting up straight and breathing from the bottom of your lungs will oxygenate and energize your body and thus focus your mind. Many people habitually breathe shallowly, only letting air into the tops of their lungs, which can contribute to chronic mental stress and lack of focus.

Another great way to train the mind is to train the body through exercises like yoga. Though today it’s often promoted as a fitness routine, the practice of yoga actually extends far beyond physical fitness: yoga refers not to the poses themselves (called asanas in Sanskrit) but to the calm state of awareness one gains through their practice. In other words, the physical poses of yoga are supposed to be a channel through which you can achieve greater mindfulness in the moment. Yoga is an effective form of mindfulness training partly because its poses are often physically demanding (requiring you to focus your mind on maintaining them), and partly because its techniques help you cultivate a greater awareness of your own body and the connection between body and mind. Mentally, many people who practice yoga state that they come away from a routine feeling calmer, more focused, and more mentally alert. Practicing yoga also delivers significant health benefits: a regular yoga routine can reduce physical and mental stress, improve muscle strength and flexibility, and improve organ function and metabolism.

Finally, you can practice mindfulness training by tuning into one of the most neglected senses, using a practice called deep tasting. So many of us wolf down our meals without taking the time to really taste the food; deep tasting can help you reverse this habit, enjoy your meals, and also help you eat more slowly, which improves digestion. Next time you sit down to eat, focus on really tasting the food. Think about its texture, visual appeal, and the layers of flavor in each bite. Not only will you enjoy the food more, you’ll also slow down and feel more full when you’ve finished. We do this naturally with our favorite foods, which is why they taste so good!

It can often seem impossible to slow down and notice the world around us when so many things demand our attention. However, by taking the time for this kind of mindfulness training you’ll find that you not only become more productive, you’ll also enjoy your time, both free and obligated, a whole lot more!

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