No one is “bad at meditating”: Embracing Mindfulness Meditation to Improve Health
There is a large body of research supporting the fact that mindfulness meditation reduces many negative health outcomes, such as heart disease, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline. Why, then, is it not more regularly practiced, especially among helping professionals? Many individuals new to meditation often say, “I am bad at meditating” or “I can never clear my mind.” This type of reluctance is born out of a lack of knowledge about what mindfulness meditation really is. We live in a society where we are inundated with information and taught to be constantly progressing and multitasking. For many, the idea of taking a few minutes each day to simply “be” is confusing at best and frustrating at worst. However, the secret to mindfulness meditation is simple, and it can change our lives.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of observing the present moment (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, environmental stimuli), non-judgmentally, and with curiosity.
This does not mean that we have to “clear our minds.” On the contrary, mindfulness does not dictate that we “have to” do anything at all. And because of this, there is no way to do it “wrong.”
Mindfulness frees us from our inner critic, the harsh voice inside us that tells us what we “should” do or be. Instead of judging our experience (“What is wrong with me? I can’t stop thinking about work!”), mindfulness guides us to be curious about our experience, even experiment with it (“I am noticing that I have thought about work 3 times thus far in my meditation. I wonder how many more times I will think about work before my meditation is over.”) This curious, playful, and nonjudgmental attitude is something that, when practiced, can be integrated into everyday life.
Starting to Meditate
So how do we start a mindfulness meditation practice?
Step 1: Find a place to meditate. Mindfulness meditation can occur anywhere. However, many people prefer to find a quiet or even sacred space to meditate. This could be a bedroom, an outdoor spot, a shared living space, or even a space at work. You can sit, lay down, or even stand to meditate. The most important thing is to do what feels comfortable, and it is okay to shift or move during the meditation.
Step 2: Set a timer. Many people like to start with a short period of time – say 10 minutes, and as they meditate more, they start increasing their meditation time to 15, 20, or even 30 minutes. Longer is not better; it is important to choose a time that feels right for you and your schedule.
Step 3: Choose a guide. Mindfulness is not something you have to learn from scratch; when you are starting out, guided mindfulness meditations are helpful to use. There are many YouTube videos and apps guided by meditators of diverse backgrounds. Below is a list of popular mindfulness apps to try:
– The Mindfulness App
– Insight Timer
Step 4: Choose a meditation. There are various types of mindfulness meditations that you can search for in YouTube or choose from in mindfulness apps. Some basic types of meditations are:
– Body Scans: These meditations walk you through the body, from head to toe, and guide your awareness to different parts of your body. Think of it as an exploratory journey through your body. You may discover that your back hurts or that you are hungry, that your body feels heavy or that your feet are cold. The more knowledge we have about our bodies, the better we are able to take care of ourselves. Body scans are particularly useful in grounding ourselves in moments of high emotion or stress.
– Breathing Space Meditations: These meditations are typically 3 minutes and provide a few moments for us to assess how we are, get oxygen moving through the body, and adopt an attitude of nonjudgmental awareness that we can carry through the rest of our day. These are great to do during a workday or right after a work shift to re-set our minds.
– Expanding Awareness Meditations: These meditations start with a focus on the breath and on the 5 senses, and slowly expand our focus to include the sounds or sights of our environment. This meditation helps with feelings of connectedness to ourselves and to our environment.
– Loving Kindness Meditations: These meditations help build positive feelings towards ourselves and others. They involve repeating phrases wishing good will to ourselves and others. These meditations build empathy, compassion, and positive emotions.
– Movement Meditations: These meditations are similar to sitting meditations except that as we observe our physical sensations, we are moving. This can be as simple as a walking meditation or as complicated as a series of guided movements. These meditations are useful when we are feeling sore, stiff, or restless.
Step 4: Set aside time. Set aside a time each day, or a couple of times a week to meditate and stick with it. Before you know it, you will be craving your meditation time, because it gives us a taste of what it is like to drink in the present moment.
Living in Our Bodies
Our culture is so head and brain-driven, that sometimes we forget that the rest of our body exists! In addition to this, many of us have experienced trauma or deal with sensory sensitivities that make focusing on our bodies uncomfortable. The first thing that mindfulness helps us understand is that there is no separation between our head and our body. Our feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations are all connected, and the more we understand this, the more integrated and present we will feel. The second thing that mindfulness helps us understand is that our thoughts, feelings or sensations that we experience in our bodies are not objectively “good” or “bad.” While certain sensations are uncomfortable, when we approach those sensations with curiosity rather than judgment, we are able to tolerate discomfort and learn how to soothe our body when discomfort occurs.
For more information about mindfulness, check out the websites below:
Suttie, Jill. “Five Ways Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health.” Greater Good, 24 Oct. 2018,