In the last few years, meditation and mindfulness have become go-to therapies for those seeking ways to improve their mental wellbeing. In fact, people of all ages and from all walks of life are signing up to classes and courses and downloading apps (think Headspace) at an unprecedented rate, in a bid to reduce stress and find a sense of inner peace and ease.
But what exactly do these terms mean, how do they differentiate from one another and which would be most suitable for our needs? We speak to our experts to find out.
Meditation and mindfulness may be modern-day buzzwords but both are thousands of years old, rooted in ancient spirituality and religion. And while each has its own definition and purpose, they very often overlap.
Meditation is a practise of achieving ultimate consciousness, where the goal is to still the mind in order to move beyond the chatter of our thoughts to a place of just being rather than thinking / doing. There are many ways to practice meditation, from simply focusing on the breath to guided visualisation, chanting to silence and more.
Mindfulness is about focussing on the present moment in whatever we are doing. For instance, drinking a hot cup of tea and focussing on its scent, warmth and taste or brushing our teeth and becoming aware of the sensations of each stroke – all with an objective to remove overpowering emotions from the mind.
Said Seed’s meditation coach, Cecilie Gianneri, “In the Western world we react to everyday stressors in the same way our ancestors would have reacted to being chased by a lion. Our sympathetic nervous systems are being continually triggered, sending us into fight or flight mode, which causes a strong physical response. For instance, our hearts beat harder, our brows and palms perspire and adrenaline pumps around our bodies. Subsequently our internal levels of stress start to become chronic.”
In fact, many researchers in the West believe that there is a direct link between stress and the current epidemic of hypertension and heart disease. One academic, UK GP, Rangan Chatterjee, goes so far as citing stress as the underlying factor for 80% of dis-ease he sees in his clinics every day.
Said Cecilie, “With the tendency of the human mind to obsess over the past (which can cause depression) and worry about the future (which can lead to anxiety), meditation becomes a powerful tool in helping us consciously come into the here and now. By doing so, this helps us go beyond conditioned ‘thinking’ and into a deeper state of self-awareness.
“There is much research to show how meditation can help us both psychologically and physiologically, from alleviating stress and anxiety to reducing pain.”
Many perceive the origins of meditation lie in Buddhism, with mindfulness (Sati) considered to be the first step towards enlightenment in Buddhism. Yet, long before Buddha was born, Hindus practiced mindful meditation. Thus the origins of both meditation and mindfulness as we know them today, stem from both Hinduism and Buddhism.
Seed’s life coach, Sam Aspinall, specialises in mindfulness coaching. Said Sam, “Research shows that mindful living can help us reduce anxiety and recover from depression, boost our creative thinking in the face of obstacles, soften our judgements of ourselves and others, allow us to deal with difficult emotions, and much more. And yet, creating moments of mindfulness in a noisy mind can be tough, and sustained mindful living can seem beyond possible!
“Coaching can help you move towards mindful living in a sustainable way that’s unique to you and your life. A coach can help you re-learn how to live in the here and now: to mentally, emotionally and physically connect with the present moment. This involves identifying where your attention goes, and why you may be hanging on to old patterns of thought that aren’t serving you anymore. Our work involves helping you notice, appreciate, accept and ultimately let go of everything keeping you from the power of the present.”
In fact, mindfulness is also a form of meditation. Being mindful of your breath, for example, is a common form of mindfulness during meditation. Following your breath improves your awareness of being in the present. This is called mindfulness meditation, known among Buddhists as shamatha.
Said Cecilie, “Whether you want to learn all about the different techniques of meditation or if you simply want to learn how to be more mindful in your daily life to reduce stress, there’s plenty of evidence to show that harnessing your mind to be in the present can improve your mental and physical health.”
“Embarking on the journey of meditation can be challenging. So begin with baby steps. Just taking ten minutes out of each day to mindfully breathe or simply focus on the sensations whilst drinking a cup of tea, can reap huge rewards for mind, body and soul.”
Cecilie’s 5-Minute Meditation
Sam Aspinall specialises in mindfulness coaching. For more information or to contact Sam, click here