When I was a student at Duke University, meditation and yoga saved my life. The trials of academia consumed my mind to the point where I was constantly thinking about what assignment needed to be done next. I can confidently say that adopting a mindful practice—in my case, meditation—drastically improved the state of my mental health. While this is a blog post focused on the benefits of mindfulness, it must be acknowledged that even as mental health services become more readily available, there is still a lack of accessibility, availability, and quality of these services among racial and ethnic minorities; and similar patterns can be observed throughout different holistic health practices, such as yoga, meditation groups, and the immense variety of energy healing modalities that one hears about these days . Hopefully, this blog will demonstrate how a mindfulness practice can be done anywhere with any amount of resources.
What exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness can be defined as an accepting awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings, circumstances, environment, and bodily sensations . Mindfulness promotes a sense of non-judgement and brings one into a space where one is simply present in the moment. This might seem a bit cliche, but let’s be honest—how much of your day do you spend thinking about your past mistakes and how to prevent similar situations in the future? Our minds are constantly flowing with thoughts, like a pond filled with fish. Mindfulness is about not focusing on any one particular fish for too long. Not judging the size of any fish. Simply being aware of your pond and its contents without attaching yourself to any feeling for too long.
Now you might be asking yourself, how does one step into mindfulness? The truth is, mindfulness looks very different for everybody. While some of us have a natural ability to be present in the now moment, a majority of us grew up bombarded with distractions, such as phones, laptops, and televisions, that keep us unfocused and inattentive. One proven practice to step into an accepting awareness is the practice of meditation. Meditation is the practice of resting one’s mind by focusing one’s attention to a single point of reference, such as one’s breath, an image, or a mantra . There are thousands of different ways to meditate, but the common denominators among all of them are awareness and acceptance. An awareness of the moment and an acceptance of one’s thoughts and feelings as they are, without judgement. Additionally, meditation has been linked to an enhanced acceptance of emotional states, which results in better executive control among cognitive processes like planning, acquiring rules, attending to relevant stimuli, and initiating appropriate behavior .
Chances are you would benefit from adopting a meditation practice, if you haven’t already. It can be very easy to start! Start off by setting aside 10 minutes of your day for your meditation. As you practice more, you can increase your daily meditation time up to 1 hour! You’re going to want to choose a quiet, relaxing environment where you won’t be disturbed. Once you’ve found a suitable environment, you have the option of sitting upright or laying down flat. Personally, I prefer to lay supine, as it makes it easier for my body and mind to relax into a state of accepting awareness. Once you’re ready to start, focus on your breath as you breathe in, and then focus on releasing and relaxing as you breathe out. Keep doing this for the duration of your meditation. By focusing on your breath, you stop focusing on the thoughts bouncing around in your brain. At first, it can be easy to be distracted by any given thought—but this is also part of the journey. When you find yourself attaching to any given thought, simply acknowledge this thought, and then let it go. The beauty of this practice isn’t found through not attaching to your thoughts, but how you react to these attachments. By focusing on being non-judgemental, you will develop your mind to appropriately respond to situations, rather than to react. If you find yourself having a hard time getting the hang of the practice, I would recommend trying out different guided meditations available on Youtube. Everything you need to be successful in this practice is within you; it’s just about opening up and listening to yourself.