One of the best health practices that you can engage in is meditation. Yet, meditation doesn’t need to be difficult or time-consuming, or feel like a skill reserved for only a few. Meditation can be as natural as breathing and something that we can do anytime of the day. We just need to shift our awareness.
The benefits of including any of the following meditation practices into your daily life are deceivingly profound. Deceivingly because they are such simple practices. Profound because the regular practice of these meditation practices can:
- change your stress response
- help to balance your hormones
- reduce cortisol (the stress hormone)
- boost your immune system
- reduce inflammation
- improve your mental wellbeing
As you can see, taking a few moments each day to shift your awareness can have incredible health benefits.
1. Awareness meditation
This meditation involves observing your thoughts with detachment. You observe your thoughts come and go whilst using the breath to anchor into your body at the same time. It’s a very simple two-step process:
- Notice your breath as you inhale, and then as you exhale.
- Observe your thoughts. You are not your thoughts, you are simply watching them float through your mind.
Repeat these two steps often. You will experience a greater level of calm and sense of wellbeing. It really is this simple.
This awareness meditation is actually based on the ancient Indian practice of Vipassana, which means “to see things as they really are”. Vipassana has long been practiced as a way to develop a healthy mind.
Remember these two steps whenever you find yourself getting caught up in negative thoughts. You can practice awareness meditation anytime, anywhere.
2. Gratitude meditation
It makes sense that when we flood our body with positive feelings —such as gratitude —we have a positive impact on our body’s physiological processes. It has been shown that a regular practice of gratitude can help to reduce stress, boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure, protect against heart disease and reduce overall inflammation.
We recommend adding gratitude to any mindful activity that you are doing. There are many different ways to practice gratitude, including the following suggestions:
- When you are enjoying a cup of tea or coffee, mindfully sip your drink while thinking of 3 things in your life that you are grateful for.
- When you go for a walk in nature, think about how grateful you are for the big and small things that you have in your life.
- Write down in a gratitude journal any moments that made you feel happy and grateful. You can do this first thing in the morning or at the end of the day.
As you are thinking of what you feel grateful for, really soak up the positive feelings and let them spread throughout your body. Again, a gratitude meditation is an easy meditation that can be done anytime, anywhere.
3. Mindful Exercise
When you engage in any activity with mindful attention, you turn it into a meditation. Mindful exercise uses this principle. By bringing mindfulness to your exercise routine you can experience the benefits of a meditation practice combined with the benefits of exercise, such as:
- Improved breathing rate and depth
- Clearer mental state
- Improved heart rate
- Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode)
- Increased energy
Follow these simple steps to practice mindful exercise
1.Notice your body
While exercising, notice the sensations in your body. Do you feel light or heavy? Are you experiencing pain or discomfort? Are there parts of your body that feel relaxed and flexible?
2. Notice your breath
Use the breath as your anchor to firmly connect mind and body. Notice the rhythm of your breath and begin to focus on each inhale and each exhale. As you continue to focus on your breath you will notice that your breathing becomes deeper and more relaxed.
3. Notice your surroundings
When you focus on noticing your surroundings you bring your attention to the present moment. Take a look around you, what can you see, hear and smell? Use all of your senses to bring your awareness to your surroundings.
Combine each step
At first, you may be very conscious of each step and need to tell yourself “now I focus on my breath, now I notice my surroundings, now I check in with the sensations in my body”.
If it feels a little forced at first, don’t worry. As you continue to practice mindful exercise, each step will be fluid and begin to occur simultaneously.
Try practicing mindful exercise next time you go out for a walk — notice your body, notice your breath, notice your surroundings.
When you introduce these simple meditation practices into your daily life, you are promoting a state of health and wellbeing in your body. It’s what we do every day that makes the real difference to our health.