What occurs when you practice morning mindfulness meditation?
Have you tried to meditate when you first wake up in the morning? Have you ever meditated at all? If not, you may find the idea of practicing meditation to be somewhat intimidating.
If you have read about Eastern spiritual philosophy and the teachings of great gurus, meditation may seem to be out of reach. Masters practice meditation for years, sitting in lotus position in rows, as the leader inspects their breathing and posture.
You may wonder, “what is the point of meditating?” Why sit for hours in an uncomfortable pose, trying to fight off your own thoughts, while you breath in and out.
What are you supposed to do if you get an itch, or an urgent phone call? Who has time to sit and do nothing at all for long stretches of time?
It turns out, meditation is sort of like playing piano. No one expects you to start out performing a Rachmaninoff concerto at Carnegie Hall right away. In fact, you don’t have to ever get close to that level of mastery to benefit from practicing meditation.
Meditating is a focused mindfulness technique. You are practicing being in the present moment. Meditation does have a purpose. It helps with stress reduction, relaxation and feeling better in facing the challenges of everyday life.
With regular practice, you can get better at mindfulness meditation practice. All it takes is a few minutes of time where you can be free of interruptions. To get started, focus on something that is in the range of your senses.
What should I focus on when I meditate?
Many meditators start by focusing on their own breath. When you are first getting started, there is no need to worry too much about meditation technique.
As you breathe in deeply, focus your awareness on the sensation of your breath entering your nostrils. Breath in through your nose. Then, breathe out through your mouth.
Some people find it helpful to say a mantra as they exhale. The mantra is another point of focusing your concentration.
There are schools of meditation technique that take the use of mantras very seriously. If you are interested in taking the practice of meditation to another level, you may choose to go to a class or work with a certified meditation instructor.
In some schools of meditation, mindfulness meditation teachers will assign a special and unique mantra to each student. Of course, teaching meditation involves much more than simply providing a mantra.
Does meditation provide a connection to the universal mind?
In the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a step that mentions meditation. Meditation is considered to be part of the way that AA members maintain a connection to God.
Some members explain it this way: prayer is how we speak to God and meditation is how we listen. In the AA program, God is defined as a Higher Power of your understanding. Your Higher Power does not have to be from any religious teachings.
Some people prefer to believe that there is a greater universal consciousness or mind that exists as an infinite source of inspiration and compassion that we are able to connect to through meditation. By focusing and allowing the mind to become clear, you will improve this conscious contact.
Still, do not be disappointed if meditation does not lead to a major spiritual awakening where your life changes in an instant after being bathed in a flash of intense loving light that gives you new direction and purpose. While people do describe life-altering spiritual experiences, meditation is something different, yet it still provides major benefits in our efforts to live a more spiritually connected life.
Mindful breathing and mindful awareness lead to an appreciation of the current moment.
Some people like to point out that we really only have right now. The past is in our memories and the future is in our imagination. They do not exist at all in the real world.
We tend to get caught up in feedback loops in our own brains as we contemplate what we have done in the past and what we should do in the future. People have a bad habit of beating themselves up over events that only exist in their memories.
In practicing mindfulness exercises, you become better at allowing your endless train of thoughts to pass by without obsessing over them. They are just background chattering noise in our heads, generated by our brains.
Thoughts can be negative and unpleasant, but we are allowed to see them as simply brain noise that can be allowed to pass through, like a stream of water flowing by in a creek.
While meditating, there is no need to worry about where the thoughts come from or why they are there. Simply let them come and go, realizing that they are just thoughts.
As we practice basic mindfulness meditation, we focus on our breath, or a sound, or the script of a guided meditation audio program. We exist in the present moment.
If you are sitting outside, you may appreciate the feeling of the sun on your face and the cool breeze in your hair. The birds chirping and squawking around you provide a pleasant reminder of your sense of the moment in which you currently exist.
If you are in your house or apartment, you may focus on the sound of an air conditioner, washing machine, or dryer, or some other rumbling machine sound that provides a repetitive white noise. Meditation practice in different environments can help you to adjust and make use of what is around you to focus your attention to the precise moment.
Can guided imagery help with meditation?
In some guided meditation programs, imagery is provided to help bring you to a place of calm and quiet meditative peacefulness. Your guide may describe floating over the water by a beach, surrounded by a protective sphere of white or blue light.
Virtual guided meditation programs can be found on video or audio recordings. There are also some highly rated mobile apps that provide effective mindfulness meditation programs.
Imagery can be helpful to bring yourself into a state of deep meditation. While guided programs are very useful in practicing meditation, you may find that particular imagery, different imagery works better for you.
Because we are all different individuals with different minds, personalities, and experiences, the imagery and techniques that work best for us will be different from what works best for others. Working with a mindfulness teacher may be helpful in learning what works best for you.
How is meditation different from sleep?
This is an excellent question. Sleep is a state where your brain has a chance to organize the experiences and memories of the day and put things in perspective. While there is a sense that sleep is a state of rest for the brain, it turns out that your brain is very active while sleeping.
It is true that when some people meditate, it often leads to sleep. There is nothing wrong with this. You can still gain the benefits of meditation and also reap the benefits of quality sleep.
There are also different brainwave patterns associated with meditation compared to brainwave activity during sleep. For example, during deep, dreamless sleep, the brain enters a delta brain wave state. Delta waves are relatively low frequency brain waves.
Gamma waves are more often associated with meditation. The brain becomes organized and synchronized in generating gamma waves. This has been demonstrated with functional MRI studies of people meditating.
So, while sleep is very important to healthy living and proper brain function, meditation is an additional practice that is separate from sleep. During meditation, you are very much awake and aware.
Do I have to sit down to meditate?
Sitting in a particular posture is not required for meditation. In fact, walking meditation is an alternative to sitting meditation.
Walking has long been one of the best kept secrets for improving your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Walking gets your body systems moving and working and it provides a rhythm for your mind to become quiet as you focus on your daily walk.
Since meditation is not sleep, but a focused quieting of the mind, it can be done nearly anywhere. However, meditation is not recommended during dangerous activities that require your full attention.
For example, you should not drive and meditate. Yet, walking and meditating is perfectly fine, as long as you are walking in a safe place where you do not have to worry about being attacked or hit by a car.
What are the real, long-term benefits of meditation?
Some people expect meditation to bring about some sort of out-of-this-world, life-changing experience. They are quickly disappointed by the simple practice of focusing awareness to quiet the mind.
Additionally, for someone who has struggled with addiction, there may be hope that meditation can replace the drug experience. Drug users who started out their drug-using career with psychedelics may be especially unhappy, having hopes that meditation might restore them to that trippy alternate reality they remember from when drug use seemed more innocent.
Other meditation beginners may possibly expect unreasonable results. They expect all of their problems and difficulties in early recovery to be resolved with one or two daily sessions of meditation.
Still, the results of regular, daily meditation are real, supported by serious scientific study. Brain scientists have studied the effects of meditation on the brain using state-of-the-art techniques, such as functional MRI, which show changing brain states in real time.
They have also studied brain waves, using electroencephalopathy, while people meditate and after they have completed a meditation session. Scientists have also looked at long-term changes that persist with the ongoing practice of regular meditation.
Widespread organization of gamma waves throughout the brain during meditation as well as other beneficial brain wave changes have been noted. Deep meditators have been able to reliably reproduce brainwave entrainment and reach prolonged deep theta states
When the brain enters these various states of brain wave synchronicity, incredibly beneficial changes can occur. The creative part of the mind is unleashed on an unconscious level. After meditation, creative ideas will often bubble to the surface.
Top performing individuals, such as tech startup founders, have discovered that meditation is a critical tool that they practice daily to stay ahead of the competition. Their brains get a well needed refreshing rest, and they notice that they are able to perform mentally at a much higher level throughout the day.
Meditation also has health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and heart rate, as well as a lower overall stress level. Daily meditation is an important practice to reset our minds and bodies to erase the negative effects of daily stress.
How does mindful meditation help me to overcome an addiction?
First of all, there is no silver bullet that solves an addiction problem. Marketers for rehabs, online treatment programs, phone apps, and various sketchy street “treatments,” such as kratom and ibogaine, and ayahuasca would have you believe otherwise.
Similarly, meditation is not a magical cure for addiction. Simply going through your day attempting to be mindful as often as possible is not going to make the obsessive cravings just go away. Healing from addiction takes time and the use of many tools, customized for the individual.
Yet, meditation is recognized by experts and experienced recovering people alike as an important tool to have in your recovery toolbox. While recovery philosophies differ in different circles, most effective programs of addiction recovery include meditation as a cornerstone.
Let’s start with mindfulness by itself. How can mindfulness help with an addiction? Of course, it’s great to stop what you are doing and look around at your surroundings and try to be in the present moment.
It almost seems as if hearing the word “mindfulness” gives you all of the information you need. You just need to be aware of what is happening around you and inside of you. Simple, right?
But, there is more to mindfulness than simply reminding yourself to stop obsessing over the past and future. One highly useful way to be mindful is to write down how you are feeling, what you are grateful for, and what your plans are for your recovery.
Putting things on paper makes a huge difference in your ability to contemplate and have a better perspective of what is going on in your own head. Writing should be a daily practice, and you can work on designing a system for what you should write on every day. Or, you can work with someone with experience, such as a sponsor, to help you to write in a mindful way on a daily basis.
With some addictions, tracking is an important form of writing. For people with food addictions, keeping track in writing, or in an app, of every single food intake is a form of mindfulness and self-awareness that helps them to overcome this addiction.
Food addiction is a particularly difficult addiction because it involves making daily decisions about what is safe to eat or not safe to eat. Certain foods trigger intense cravings and must be avoided.
Similarly, tracking daily events, feelings, and keeping a gratitude list are helpful for all addictions. Writing is a powerful form of mindfulness. Just look at how some of the world’s top athletes arrived at where they are today. All great athletes log their progress on a daily basis.
How do I get started in meditating mindfully?
So, we know that being mindful is important and there are techniques to be more mindful in ways that help to recover from addictions. What about the meditation part?
Should you sit in a lotus position, legs crossed and back straight? Do you start chanting “Om” while focusing on your breath?
Meditation does not have to be so formal. You can start by meditating right where you are, right now. Assuming you are not driving, or someone is not calling you to wash the dishes or do the laundry or whatever, if you are in a quiet place with no interruptions, you can take a minute or two to meditate.
You can close your eyes or keep them open. Closing your eyes may help you to better focus, since vision brings in such a wide palette of distractions. While focusing on breath is a popular technique, I prefer to focus on a sound in my environment.
For example, I live near a busy highway, and there is a never-ending low rumbling sound of traffic. Mixed in is the sound of wind rustling through the leaves of trees in the yard as well as distant bird chirping.
Focusing on one of these sounds and doing nothing else for a minute or two is a basic form of meditation. While you should not entertain thoughts during this time, you also do not have to make an effort to fight them off. Simply let your nagging thoughts move along without letting them take hold.
I sometimes like to imagine my thoughts traveling along a road in my head. As I start to meditate, I imagine them scattering in all directions. It has been said that the beginning of sleep is the disorganization of thought.
Meditation is not sleep, but hovering just above a sleep state can be thought of as a meditative state. As thoughts start to move out in all directions, I see them as separate from myself and just a mechanical chattering of my mind.
Meditation is a personal experience. You can figure out what works best for you. As you start to realize the benefits of stopping where you are to take a minute for yourself, you may become more interested in the practice of meditation.
At that point, you may want to learn more about the long, rich history of meditation and the various techniques that have been mastered and described. In studying the techniques of others, you may discover ideas of what will work best for you.
You should meditate.
In a recent book featuring interviews with top performing people, including athletes and business startup founders, the author noted that there was a common theme from one interview to another. All of the top performers took time each day to meditate. That was the one thing they all had in common.
Meditation gives your brain a chance to reset and re-organize itself. Think of it like your computer or phone. What do you do when things are not working quite right? You reboot.
Meditation is a form of rebooting your thoughts and emotions. It gives you a chance to stop running with the endless chatter of your mind that comes from various sources and is not always in your best interest.
It gives you a chance to take a step back and live in quietness for a moment. Then, when you are ready, you can return to your daily life and activities, refreshed with another helpful session of peaceful meditation.
I recommend starting with a basic 2 minute mindfulness meditation every single morning. As you get used to the process of morning mindfulness, you can incorporate an evening routine as well.
Eventually, you will work your way up to a 15 minute mindfulness meditation twice daily. This practice will provide incredible benefits and help greatly with the addiction recovery process.