The practise of mindfulness isn’t new; it’s been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Eastern teachings like Buddhism and Hinduism. But today, mindfulness is more significant than ever. We are embracing it as a way to turn down the volume on some very loud modern demands, from continuous work pressure to the constant barrage of social media. In this post, I explore understanding mindfulness and choosing mantra meditation.
Why does mindfulness seem so appealing right now? “Mindfulness is a way to get us out of our reactive mind and those patterns that can keep you racing from one thought to the next,” says David Dillard-Wright, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken and author of The Boundless Life Challenge: 90 Days to Transform Your Mindset – and Your Life. “It allows us to step back and take a moment to think about what you are doing and why.”
Mindfulness is perhaps best defined as non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, and it can play an essential role in everything from managing stress to boosting health. Try meditating or journaling regularly, and you’ll be able to turn to it whenever you feel your mind racing or need to find some calm. Fully engaging your senses – how the wind feels on your face, the smell of a crisp day – helps heighten the present moment. Experiencing mindfulness with your sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch can help you become more fully present. Simple breathing and meditation exercises will make you more present throughout all areas of your life.
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Use It to Fight Stress
When you are in the midst of a stressful situation, or when you’re dealing with chronic stress day after day, mindfulness can help give you the tools to step aside and gain some perspective. Simply stopping and taking a deep breath will activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to halt the production of stress hormones and increases the relaxation response. Result; you begin to feel calmer and more in control.
Over time, you can harness the power of mindfulness to assess just how stressful a situation really is, and turn down the body’s innate fight-or-flight response. “With mindfulness, you can stop, notice what you are thinking, and start to shut down those fear centres that are on overdrive,” explains psychotherapist Linda Miles, author of Change Your Story, Change Your Brain. “Instead of just reacting to either fight or flee, we can say, “wait a minute, am I really in danger here?” We can learn to make better decisions and see possibilities, instead of acting on our immediate gut reaction.”
“Mindfulness trains the brain to observe, rather than to react to stress. That allows the brain’s executive control centre to kick into gear and shuts off the fight-or-flight response.”
A whole lot of goodness: Meditation can reduce anxiety, ease depression, alleviate stress, increase empathy and improve physical health.
Use It to Manage Chronic Pain
Pain anywhere in the body is felt in your mind; so it makes sense that mindful approaches like meditation and biofeedback can do much to help minimise discomfort. “Your mind plays a part in everything you do, but especially in pain,” notes Frank Lipman, M.D., author of How to be Well and an integrative medicine practitioner in New York. These practices can help decrease some of the stress and inflammation that often make the hurt worse, he adds, while giving you some control over your reaction to pain and discomfort.
A vast number of studies give substantial evidence to the link between mindfulness and pain relief. A review of more than 150 trials focusing on everything from back and neck pain to osteoarthritis and migraines found that relaxation and meditative techniques had a significant effect on improving symptoms. And research from the National Institutes of Health has found chronic pain can be prevented or reversed through mind-body practices.
There’s no single form of mindfulness that works the best for offsetting symptoms of pain, says Lipman. “You need to find what you can connect with and works best in your life,” he notes.
Use It to Improve Your Health
Studies suggest that practising mindfulness can reduce our risk of chronic diseases and conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. They also indicate that the strength and length of our telomeres – the caps on our chromosomes whose dissolution or shortening is associated with ageing and disease – may be enhanced by invoking mindfulness through meditation.
Researchers believe having a regular reminder to keep calm is one of the core features of mindfulness’ favourable physiological effects. Keeping an open, present awareness that doesn’t devolve into judgement; paying attention to the breath and body and observing feelings and thoughts without clinging too tightly to any one of them helps cue the nervous system to initiate the relaxation and rest response. That helps to assist processes like digestion and cell recovery, explains Linda E. Carlson, Ph.D., Enbridge research chair in psychosocial oncology at the University of Calgary.
“The relaxation response leads to a decrease in sympathetic nervous system arousal, which slows the heart rate and decreases blood pressure,” Carlson explains. Al of this dials down activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (or “HPA”) axis – a meeting point between our nervous and endocrine (or hormone-production) systems that functions as our body’s central stress response centre – and “results in decreased secretion of the stress hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands.”
Five Mindful Practices to Try Today
“We use our breath as a way of getting in touch with our bodies,” explains researcher David Dillard-Wright. There are many ways to incorporate deep breathing exercises, but a good start is to take an exaggerated breath. Inhale deeply through your nose for three counts. Then hold your breath for two counts and exhale through your mouth for four counts.
Focus on breathing itself, such as how your chest rises and falls or the way the air feels coming through your nostrils. If your mind starts to wander, it’s okay; just notice that it’s happening and then gently bring your attention back to focus on your breath. You can keep your eyes open or closed, although many say it’s easier to concentrate with your eyes closed.
These have been used for thousands of years as a way to reduce stress and enhance mindfulness. “A mantra can be a word, a syllable, a phrase or a sound that is repeated several times as a way to help you connect and feel the energy within and around you,” explains Sherianna Boyle, author of Mantras Made Easy: Mantras for Happiness, Peace, Prosperity, and More. Sherianna is also a yoga and meditation teacher based in Barnstable, Massachusetts. Many people like to use a simple two-word phrase, such as “Big” (said or thought as you inhale) and “Calm” (as you exhale).
Actively focusing on different areas of your body, from your feet to your face, helps increase awareness of your body and can reduce stress and tension. Try this; lie face up on the floor or a bed with your eyes closed. Begin by focusing on your breath, then bring your attention to the toes of your left foot, moving your thoughts into your foot, ankle, up the calf and thigh and down the right leg. Stop when you feel an area that seems unusually tight or sore, focusing your breathing on this area until it relaxes.
Continue travelling throughout the body for as long as it takes for you to tune in to each area.
Sit somewhere quiet, close your eyes and recall a time when you felt loved. Remember how serene and blissful you felt, says therapist Linda Miles. Now imagine that positive energy bathing your body. “Positive emotions like this can release some of those feel-good chemicals which will help relax you further,” she notes.
“When you deliberately focus on the blessings of the present moment and notice what’s good, your whole outlook shifts to be more positive,” says Dillard-Wright. Need help getting started? He recommends making a list (mental or physical) of five to 10 things you feel grateful for. “It can be as simple as being grateful for that coffee you had this morning, or as big as feeling like your work today felt fulfilling.”
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Choosing Mantra Meditation
“Meditation is the training ground for learning mindfulness,” explains leading meditation app Headspace. Meditation exercises allow you to practice being fully aware of the present moment in a controlled setting. In the same way that you can strengthen your body by regularly doing push-ups, you improve your ability to be mindful through meditation.
Like meditation, breathing exercises can help you become more mindful. While we breathe all the time, intentional breathing allows you to connect with your body, which automatically brings you out of a distracted mind. Over time, breathing techniques also improve your focus by regulating certain chemicals in our brain. A more focused brain allows us to be more present.
What Mantra Should I Use for Meditation?
Pausing to reflect on your own thoughts and emotions, as well as what’s happening around you, leads to healthier and deeper connections. Choosing mantra meditation by repeating a phrase again (and again) can help you find calm and clarity no matter where you may be. This ancient practice is finding its place in modern times as a way to reduce pain, fight stress and improve health. A mantra is nothing more than words or sounds that help you feel more connected.
It can be saying that speaks to you or a sound you are drawn to, and is something you can repeat when you need an energy boost, are feeling anxious or just want to increase awareness. Here are seven mantras or sayings to consider using:
- Be calm
- Peace and love
- Breathe in, breathe out
- I am fulfilled
- I am blessed
- I am enough
- I love being me
Sat. Nam. Sat. Nam. Sat. Nam. Sat. Nam.
I say these words to myself when I’m feeling stressed out. Or when I can’t fall asleep. Or when I’m really annoyed at my boyfriend, or daughter, or that guy who just cut us off on the motorway. This is my mantra, and it’s served me well over the decades I’ve used it.
I never really thought much of having a mantra until one of my first yoga teachers had us recite the “sat nam” phrase before class. For whatever reason, it stuck with me. In Sanskrit, Sat Nam translates as “true identity” – but I just liked the simplicity of the words and how well they matched up to my breathing. Saying them again and again just makes me feel calm and in control.
They can provide support when you need it most.
Mantras have been used for thousands of years, mostly written in the ancient Hindu language of Sanskrit, and they were initially considered a sacred part of the Vedic tradition. But you don’t have to use Sanskrit to find a mantra that speaks to you. “You can choose whatever phrase, word or sound that you are drawn to,” says Boyle. You may want to pick something relatively short and easy to remember.
Try it a few times (Boyle says to ideally repeat the mantra at least 10 or 20 times daily for 40 days in a row); you can always change to another sound that suits you better.
Start Your Practice
Listen to the sound. Mantras are ideally said out loud or at least whispered. “Sounds that have a higher vibration create more positive energy,” Boyle says. Higher-vibration sounds like “I choose” or “I am” work better than lower-vibration ones like “I try” or “I think,” she adds.
Make it present tense. If you’re using English, keep the phrase active (“I am” rather than “I will”). “This will anchor you in the present moment,” Boyle explains.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. “One of the main differences between a mantra and an affirmation is that a mantra is traditionally repeated 108 times, whereas you may only say an affirmation a few times,” says Boyle. Some people use mala beads to help keep track. You can choose to break your mantras into shorter sets of 10 or 20.
Form a habit. Find a way to work mantras into your schedule, says Boyle. You don’t need to have a set time each day (although if you do, go for it!). Instead, you can blend your mantra into your daily routine – in a yoga class, saying prayers, taking a walk, working in the garden, even doing the dishes.
Say thanks. “These words help you build a relationship with the mantra,” notes Boyle. “You are saying “thank you” to the universe for putting this mantra into full motion.”
The Science of Mantras
Research shows that your brain experiences change when you take up a mantra practice. One Swedish study found that subjects who practised a mantra-based meditation had lower levels of activity in the area of the brain called the default mode network (a sign of being distracted) compared to those who did a different exercise.
How to Find Your Phrase
Below are some mantras from Mantras Made Easy. Boyle suggests these phrases to achieve specific goals or desires; experiment to see which sounds best to you.
For Happiness. I am blessed. I believe in my abilities and strengths. I smile big, even when no one is looking. I am a happy soul. Shine on!
For Love. I love being me. Let love grow. My body is a temple rich with love and light. Love is mighty and generous. The light in me sees the light in you.
For Peace. Let it be. Be here, right now. I believe in faith. My breath is deep, my eyes are soft, I am at peace.
For Healing. Breathing in and breathing out. Breathe in peace, breathe out stress. I live well. My spirit heals me.
To Overcome Fear and Anxiety. I am receiving energy now. The universe generously supports me. I feel the flow of light now. It’s got to be better than I think. I can do this.
For Prosperity. I am limitless. I am open to what the universe has to offer. I choose to rise. I deserve everything I desire.
So, why not try and think of three mantras or phrases you would like to call upon when you’re feeling stressed? And you can also think about your favourite quotes that give you a sense of strength.
I hope you enjoyed my post on choosing mantra meditation. As always, please consult your doctor before making any lifestyle changes. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please add them below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.