Reduce Stress with Mindful Meditation
by Dorsey Standish
Mindfulness is a secular, science-backed practice of paying nonjudgmental attention to the present moment. It may be practiced informally by bringing our full attention to any part of daily life, such as washing the dishes, talking to a friend or eating dinner. Formally, mindfulness can be practiced through mindful meditation—setting aside specific time to train the brain to keep coming back to some aspect of the present moment like breath, physical sensations or sensory inputs.
A regular practice of mindful meditation has been shown to reduce levels of emotional exhaustion, psychological distress, depression anxiety and occupational stress, as well as better cardiovascular and immune health, and improved cognitive skill.
Long-term meditators also benefit from positive neuroplasticity, including larger amounts of folding in the brain, which helps with processing, decision-making and memory; increased grey matter density associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection; and reduced grey matter density related to anxiety and stress.
Anyone can learn and practice mindful meditation, especially people dealing with chronic stressors such as intensive work demands, home life challenges or caring for an ill relative. Many people believe that they can’t meditate because they don’t know how to turn their mind off, but that is not true. Our brain is continually thinking and processing, even in our sleep. Having a busy mind is part of being human. Practicing mindful meditation is good for busy minds because it heightens awareness and acknowledgement of thoughts and feelings allowing them to pass without judgement or attachment.
The best way to begin a mindfulness journey is to start small for a few minutes each day. Designate a cozy corner at home for mindfulness practice. Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Gaze four to six feet ahead or close the eyes. Feel the body resting and notice the sensations of breathing. Anchor attention wherever we feel the breath most strongly and stay with it. When we notice any distraction, return to the breath. Every time we come back to our object of focus, it strengthens the brain’s networks for peaceful, present-moment awareness.
Dorsey Standish is the chief mindfulness officer of Mastermind, a Dallas-based mindfulness and emotional intelligence resource. For more information, visit MasterMindMeditate.com.