“Meditation is the most effective tool I have used to center myself, giving me a more calm, clarified way of working through things that are unsettling.” —k.d. lang
BY SUSAN REYNOLDS
Mindfulness meditation is the means by which you learn to be more self-aware of what’s going on inside you—your physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts. The ongoing practice of pausing to breathe slowly and look within can help you deal with difficult emotions and help you be less reactive and more in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is designed to help you learn to find peace within, which will help you weather life’s ups and downs, as well as cultivate more compassion, self-acceptance, and kindness, for yourself and others—and you can do it in five to ten minutes a day.
There’s an app for it
Tools for Peace, an educational nonprofit, focused on teaching mindfulness as a way to foster kindness and compassion, particularly in schools, created an app—“Stop, Breathe & Think”—to be a simple mindfulness and compassion-building tool to help you learn to slow down, manage your stress and emotions, and approach everyday situations from the perspective of kindness and compassion. You can access the free app via the web or your smartphone. It will not only help you establish the habit of mindfully meditating—anywhere, anytime—it will track your progress.
Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa, founder of Tools for Peace, wants to encourage everyone, and particularly children, to cultivate mindfulness and a peaceful attitude. “We spend a lot of time pressuring our children to win at sports or to get good grades, but not much effort is put into teaching them how to be good, kind people. Something is lost when we don’t help them cultivate those qualities.” Tools for Peace has offered instruction and enrichment activities to over 4,000 youth in underserved and underrepresented communities.
k.d. lang is an enthusiast
Grammy-Award-winning singer-songwriter k.d. lang has been formally practicing meditation for 14 years and serves as an ambassador and fundraiser for Tools for Peace. “The practice of meditation is something I wholeheartedly believe in and include in my everyday life,” lang explained. “I love the app [and] find it particularly useful when I’m feeling distracted or bored . . . or hard to motivate myself, it’s right there in the palm of my hand. I love the check-in feature that guides me to a specific meditation. It’s quick. Easy. And effective.”
We also love the app, because it’s a reminder to modulate stress and come from a more peaceful, thoughtful place—and because all funds raised go directly toward Tools for Peace programs to teach meditation to schoolchildren and adults.
Why you should start being kind today
Studies have found that cultivating and performing acts of kindness and compassion has positive physical and emotional benefits, such as:
- It strengthens pleasure and reward circuits in your brain.
- It increases levels of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine.
- It boosts the hormone oxytocin, which helps reduce blood pressure.
- It helps lower your heart rate, and reduces stress hormones.
- It reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system.
- It fosters a strong sense of connection, and improves long-term relationship satisfaction.
- It creates a “3-degrees of separation” ripple effect.
Seven Basics Steps for Practicing Mindful Meditation
- Create a Space. To calm and center your mind, it’s desirable to have a quiet, private space, but some people can focus when around others, so whatever works for you is fine. Having a “sacred space” may help you detach from ordinary life and focus on the meditation. You can also use talismans as a focal point.
- Sit Erectly. Cross your legs and put a firm pillow under your hips; or sit up straight on a chair, feet flat on the floor. Place your hands palm upward, on your thighs. Some like to touch their index fingers and thumbs together (in a yoga mudra), but whatever feels comfortable and receptive is fine.
- Inhabit Your Body. Visualize a string running from the base of your spine that you are using to slowly pull each vertebra upwards into alignment. Progress slowly, engaging with the transformation, and when you reach your crown, you should feel fully present in your body.
- Minimize Distractions. Lower your eyes to minimize your focal range. If you want to play music or use a guided meditation, choose something soothing that relaxes rather than excites your mind. If you have trouble minimizing your focus, try laying a small object on the ground in front of you and use it to refocus whenever your mind wanders.
- Focus on your breath. Breathe normally at first, and then slow and lengthen your breath, noticing each breath as it enters and exits your body. If you have trouble focusing and slowing your breath, place a hand on your bellybutton, so you can feel your belly rise and fall as you breathe in and out.
- Stay focused on your mind. You want to experience how your mind works, so every time an outside thought arises, mentally release it, bringing your focus back to your breath, training your mind to slow down, relax, and focus clearly on one thought at a time.
- Cool Down. Once you have meditated for the allotted time (5-10 minutes works well), slowly bring your awareness back to the room. A few deep, cleansing breaths is a great way to notify your body and mind that you’re transitioning from focused meditation to living in your normal world.
Surrendering to your experience, whatever it is, means feeling your body even if you’re experiencing a strong emotion, and letting whatever is happening flow through you without disturbing your center. It means coming back to your breath, again and again, until you train your mind to detach from thoughts, emotions, and distractions. It means noticing that thoughts and feelings and sensations come and go without feeling the need to control them or to avoid them—unless that’s your chosen goal. The more you practice mindfulness meditation, the more you will find the process both relaxing and rejuvenating. You may soon also find yourself corralling your mind and living fully present and conscious in your everyday life.
Being kind and compassionate improves your health, makes you happier in all areas of your life, and beats back the effects of aging. Now, that’s what we call motivation!
Susan Reynolds is Grand Magazine’s Editor and has authored or edited more then 35 nonfiction books, including Train Your Brain to Get Happy, Meditation for Moms, Everything Enneagram, Adams Media¹s My Hero anthology series (Mother, Father, Teacher, Dog), and Woodstock Revisited. She owns a literary consulting business in Boston.