Mindfulness has proven benefits but can be intimidating for many people. Two minutes of meditation seemed like torture for me when I first started. It’s certainly easier now, but it can still be a challenge. I’ve taken months-long breaks from it, but I always came back. Sometimes because I could tell I needed it through my thoughts and actions but mostly because I kept coming across research illustrating the benefits and testimonials from people I admire.
So I kept giving it another shot. Looking back, I’m really glad I did. And a simple form of mindfulness would be one of the first practices I’d recommend to someone who’s feeling inspired to improve their mental health.
Three Easy Ways to Practice Mindfulness
When people picture mindfulness in their minds, they may see someone on the bank of a lake staring into the distance, a yogi in an impossible pose, or the Buddha touching his finger to his thumb, sitting legs crossed the way we used to be able to do as kids.
But we can practice mindfulness every day, in simpler ways, and experience the benefits for ourselves.
Meditation is the form of mindfulness that most of us think of when we hear the word. And many people, including me, think it’s a bit woo-woo. At least I did… until I did it. It was so hard. But because it was hard, I saw it as a challenge, so I kept going at it. Now I’m up to twenty minutes per day and I love it.
Meditation has proven benefits for our health. It lowers blood pressure and heart rate, can release endorphins which improves our mood and reduces pain, reduces cortisol and stress, and best of all… causes physical changes in the brain that can improve our ability to focus, help with long-term cognition, and improve emotional stability.
In fact, researchers have found that eight weeks of meditation increases the gray matter concentration of the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory and regulating emotions.
Believe it or not, prayer is also a great form of mindfulness and has similar effects on the brain. While much writing seems to be about the differences between prayer and meditation, I think the similarities are more important.
In current research, your brain responds the same to prayer as it does during meditation. So, if you’re someone who would rather spend their time in prayer, not only are you strengthening your bond with God, you’re getting cognitive benefits too.
Journaling, for me, is actually harder than meditation. I have a mind full of self-judgment that criticizes every word I write. Plus, my brain works faster than my hands, so I get frustrated trying to scribble my free-flowing thoughts.
But, I now journal daily, and here’s why: It makes me slow down. It makes me reflect on my day, actions, and feelings in a deliberate manner. Now, I intentionally write slower, neater, and with more thought behind each word. I take my time, and I TRY not to judge. Many times, the words don’t flow freely, and I struggle to begin. It may flow from there. Or I may just have one sentence to write.
Integrating These Practices into Your Day
I had to be very intentional when I began these habits. I had to keep telling myself, “the benefits outweigh the small cost of time.”
Start with a goal of two minutes. Set a timer and get ready to struggle. Two minutes may feel like an eternity. Over time, it will get easier. That means it’s working.
I don’t know if my gray matter grew. I don’t know if, on a scale of 1-100, my cognition improved or my stress levels dropped. I do know that I feel better. I know that each practice is easier, so something had to change.
I also know that I’ve become more understanding, slow to anger, and able to navigate the day without a knotted stomach, and that seems worth it to me.
Just remember, the goal isn’t blissful peace. The goal is not to quit redirecting your attention back to the task. Each time you do that, you’re improving your mindfulness and gaining all the benefits.