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April 14, 2017

A beginner’s guide to mindfulness meditation, and the best apps for learning

by John_A

“Mindfulness” is probably a word you’ve heard a lot of lately. It gets thrown around as a synonym for words like attention and concentration, often as a command or suggestion: “be mindful of the step,” or “be mindful of others’ emotions.” It’s also possible you’ve heard it said by those in the self-help crowds, often dressed in flowery, poetic cushioning. But meditation and mindfulness can have very real, measurable effects on your well being. That said, the practice is more than simply sitting calmly.

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What, exactly, is “mindfulness?”

Mindfulness is, essentially, being aware of your body and your mind; being aware of thoughts and emotions as they pass through your head, and sensations that occur in your body. In modern life, it’s easy to get lost in thought, as we often get distracted and become busy at almost all hours of the day. This makes it hard to recognize that subtle back pain or twinge of irritability, making it easier to act on impulse rather than calmly respond to it. It also makes us less likely to recognize our surroundings or positive emotions, and thus, we miss out on them. So how to do we fix this, and increase our mindfulness? The answer is meditation.

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Mindfulness Meditation is a form of meditation that incorporates aspects from Buddhist meditation styles, like Vipassana and Zazen, but is presented in basic terms divested of any religious or overtly spiritual/metaphysical vestiges and vocabulary. Traditionally, meditation was thought of as a way to “liberate” oneself of the cycles of life and rebirth, and reach enlightenment, or Nirvana. However, mindfulness meditation focuses purely on the benefits of meditation on your brain and body, and by extension, your relationships and daily life. There are many benefits, all backed up by science. Lots of science, in fact. Lower blood pressure, better focus and creativity, and a deeper sense of compassion and empathy are all within reach.

So what’s the best way to begin meditating? Believe it or not, but you can meditate anywhere, at any time, without a monastery. Here’s how:

  • Find a quiet spot, sit comfortably but with your back straight, and breathe.
  • Feel your breath going in and out. Make note of it as it does, or count each breath up to 10 before starting over.
  • Your mind will wander and be busy, but don’t fret. When you notice this, just gently bring your attention back to the breath.

That’s it — no altered states of mind, levitation, or communing with the universe. Simply breathe, and reset your attention when you notice your mind has wandered.

Ironically, by embracing one of the most egregious distractions we possess — our smartphones — we unlock the potential for more effective meditation. These seven apps will help you begin meditating, learn to stick to it, and practice. Furthermore, they’re all light on (or entirely devoid of) any references to Buddhism or new-age spirituality, and just focus on the facts. Within days, you’ll begin to notice the positive changes slowly taking place.

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