We look at the science and health benefits of these practices, and how to incorporate them in into daily life.
With packed schedules and busy routines, most of us end up multitasking our way through the day — planning our weekends while we cook dinner, or reading emails with one eye on the kids. But, with rushing around comes a sense of having lost connection with the present moment, and more importantly, a detachment from our present feelings, both physical and emotional. Meditation and mindfulness (and the two practices combined) can go a long way in restoring calm, but can also help to put us back in tune with ourselves.
What is meditation?
Although there are many forms of meditation, Linda Kantor, a counselling psychologist, hypnotherapist and yoga teacher based in Cape Town, explains that the one thing that all types of meditation have in common is that the practice generally allows one to take time out of one’s day to really slow down and spend time with oneself.
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is the art of noticing where our attention is in the moments of our lives,” says Linda. Some simple examples, she adds, might include ensuring our attention is fully with our children when we play or listen to them; or that we are present to the sounds, sights, and sensations in the body when we drive somewhere, as opposed to being on autopilot.
How can the two be combined?
The two concepts come together in what’s known as mindfulness meditation — an exercise Linda describes as “the practice of carving out time on a daily basis to practise, in order to develop the skill and the art of paying attention in the present moment, on purpose without judgment.” The idea is that when we actively take time to pay attention to the mind, which is usually preoccupied with the future or past, we learn to focus our attention gently in the moment we are actually in.
“Generally as one learns mindfulness meditation, one learns to anchor one’s attention on a focal point like the breath, or sound, or sensations in the body,” says Linda. She goes on to explain that mindfulness and mindfulness meditation feed into each other: “The more we take time out on a daily basis to practise, the more we remember to actually be present to the moment we are in, in our daily lives. It is like developing a muscle of attention so that we can recognise the tendency of the mind to be elsewhere, and we can choose more skillfully to be where we are.”
“…it allows us to connect more with ourselves and those around us.”
What are the benefits?
There has been considerable research in recent years suggesting that there are numerous health benefits of meditation. As well as its ability to aid relaxation and reduce stress and anxiety, the practice is also used as a complementary treatment to many different therapies for a number of conditions.
It has also been linked to shifts in the brain in the direction of increased emotional intelligence and empathetic behavior. Also, Linda adds, “there are of course, numerous benefits to being more present to the moments of our lives, as opposed to being lost in thought, as it allows us to connect more with ourselves and those around us.”
Where does one start?
If you’re new to the practice of mindfulness and are keen to give it a try, the key is to make it a part of your daily routine. Linda suggests choosing a daily task like brushing your teeth, showering, washing the dishes, or driving to work, and turning it into an opportunity for mindfulness meditation. “Think about these things. In all likelihood they are activities that we may have already done today but have not actually been present to. Now, when you are showering, feel the water on your skin; or when you are brushing your teeth, take notice of the taste of the toothpaste and the sensations of the toothbrush.
When you feel your attention wandering (which it will), come back to being present to the activity at hand,” encourages Linda. Practice makes perfect, and as soon as you have the hang of it and can find a way to make it a part of your day, the many benefits will trickle in in abundance.