Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. This can be particularly helpful when faced with challenging circumstances or difficult situations.
If you're wondering how mindful you are, there’s actually a 15-item questionnaire researchers use to measure mindfulness called the Mindful Attention Awareness Score (MAAS), that you can take to see where you stand — the higher the score, the greater your ability to be mindful. Scored lower than you’d like? Don’t sweat it! It’s simply a sign that you may benefit from some mindfulness meditation practice.
When we meditate, we can enhance our focus and decision-making and lessen our feelings of fear and stress. The result: by fundamentally shifting the way we relate to our thoughts and feelings, we can dial down the intensity of emotions that tend to take hold of us, and ultimately experience a greater sense of calm, clarity, and focus in our lives.
The following tabs detail 8 popular meditation techniques that cultivate mindfulness. Some will sound intriguing, while others may not be your cup of tea. See which ones work best for you.
1. Focused Attention: Likely the most common form of meditation, this technique uses the breath to anchor the mind and maintain awareness. Focus your attention on the breath — specifically the rise and fall of the chest — and return to the breath whenever you get distracted or notice your mind starting to wander.
2. Body Scan: This technique, which uses meditation to connect with the body, involves scanning your body from head to toe and being aware of any discomfort, sensations, or aches that exist (which could be indicators of stress and anxiety).
3. Noting: This is a mindfulness technique in which you “note” a particular thought or feeling when you become distracted during meditation. The practice of noting helps to create space and learn more about our habits, tendencies, and conditioning.
4. Loving Kindness: Instead of focusing on the breath, this technique involves focusing on the image of different people: people we know, people we don’t; people we like, people we don’t. We direct well-wishes and goodwill first to ourselves, and then, as a ripple effect, to others, which helps us let go of unhappy feelings we may be experiencing.
5. Skillful Compassion: Similar to the loving kindness meditation technique, this one involves focusing on a person you know or love and paying attention to the sensations arising from the heart. It’s aptly named because it’s thought to be helpful in opening our hearts and minds for the benefit of other people, which in turn fosters a feeling of happiness in our own mind.
6. Visualization: This technique uses visualization, to focus on a person or something more abstract, to hold attention. The idea here is that the familiar image will help create and maintain a relaxed focus.
Here is a video with more instruction on how to use the visualization meditation technique.
7. Resting Awareness: Rather than focusing on the breath or a visualization, this technique involves letting the mind rest; thoughts may enter, but instead of distracting you and pulling you away from the present moment, they simply leave.
8. Reflection: For this technique, ask yourself a question, for example, “What are you most grateful for?” (Note that asking yourself a question using the second person — you — will discourage the intellectual mind from trying to answer it rationally.) Be aware of the feelings, not the thoughts, that arise when you focus on the question.
Here is a video with more instruction on how to use the reflection meditation technique.
Purpose: Take you through your bodily senses (see, smell, taste, hear, feel) to help remind you of the present.
Purpose: To get in tune with how your body feels and relax areas you have tensed up over time.
For the following activity, you will need to be sitting with your back straight. Your will start from head to toe, squeezing parts of your body as hard as you can, holding for about 5 seconds each. You can follow the sequence below or close your eyes and focus on whatever body parts hold the most tension.
|Eyes||Collarbone||Forearms||Quads and hamstrings|
|Nose||Shoulder blades||Wrists||Calves (tip: lift your feet off the ground and point your toes)|
|Lips||Abdomen||Fingers||Ankles (tip: life the front half of your feet as high off ground as you can)|
Purpose: Reduce cognitive fatigue and stress through immersion into the natural world.
Aside from boosting your activity level, hanging out at a park, garden or amongst many trees is great for your mental wellbeing, too. “Nature can be beneficial for mental health,” says Irina Wen, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and clinical director of the Steven A. Military Family Clinic at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Purpose: To refresh and "shock" your mind and body by allowing it to experience something new.
Step 1: Move your body wildly and completely break from anything you would do in normal life. Do for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Step 2: For another 30 seconds, use all 5 of your senses.
(Note: Explanation for "Pattern Interrupt" is only discussed in Habit #1. Feel free to stop watching this video after that)
Purpose: To physically release your stress in a fun, safe manner. ASMR is also commonly used to lower levels of anxiety and stress by providing soothing, simple trigger sounds that provide physical (sometimes tingling) relaxation.
Whenever you get bubble wrap in packages, save it for those days when you just need to let out some stress and smash. those. bubbles.
You can do the opposite and just listen to calming bubble wrap ASMR.
You should not attempt to self-diagnose as a replacement for seeing a therapist, but if you are interested in learning more about mental health, here are some recommended keywords and Library of Congress Subject Headings to search for:
Terrible, Thanks for Asking
You know how every day someone asks "how are you?" And even if you’re totally dying inside, you just say "fine," so everyone can go about their day? This show is the opposite of that. Hosted by author and notable widow (her words) Nora McInerny, this is a funny/sad/uncomfortable podcast about talking honestly about our pain, our awkwardness, and our humanness, which is not an actual word.
A Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Hosted by Krista Tippett.
Unseeable forces control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. Invisibilia—Latin for invisible things—fuses narrative storytelling with science that will make you see your own life differently.
Every Thursday at 12:30pm, MARC holds a free, drop-in, 30-minute guided meditation session at UCLA's Hammer Museum. Each week has a different theme and usually includes introductory comments, guided meditation, silent practice time, and closing comments. Each also offers a new daily life practice for the week. Sessions are led by Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at MARC, and by guest leaders.