The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

woman meditating
By Kathryn Hummel
Posted by: Unison

Meditation is having its time in the spotlight as one of the most effective methods of improving general well-being. It’s an act that’s becoming a common practice for many people, with doctors and researchers touting its benefits. But what can meditation really do for you?

What is meditation?

Most people have a general idea of what mediation is, but are unsure of the details. Simply put, meditation is the practice of mindfulness and intention. In an article published in SELF, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D and meditation teacher, describes meditation as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

This means meditation teaches us to recognize our thoughts, acknowledge them with kindness, and let them go. Instead of dwelling on negative thoughts, or chastising yourself for having them, meditation brings a gentle sense of awareness to how we’re feeling right now. It teaches us to allow our thoughts and feelings to pass naturally.

How can meditation help me?

You’ll find dozens of lists referencing the many benefits of meditation, but the top 3 benefits research points to is help managing anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

A study in Clinical Psychology Review found that meditation based interventions were generally just as effective as traditional forms of managing depression and anxiety (such as cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants). Participants in the intervention saw results within 8 weeks, and continued to feel the positive effects following the study. Because meditation teaches us to break cycles of negative thoughts, by not dwelling on them, it can aid in managing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

For those suffering with chronic pain, meditation can be a useful tool in managing perceived pain control. While it doesn’t change the way the body experiences pain, meditation improves the ways in which our brains acknowledge the pain. This is likely due to the practice of observing feelings and letting them pass without judgment.

Looking for tips on how to start meditating? Check out three simple tools to help you begin your journey. For further assistance, Unison’s Counselling & Health Solutions are available for members of the Canadian music community in need. Register with Unison for free, and call 1-855-9UNISON to receive help.

How to Sit for Mindfulness Meditation 

  1. Take your seat. Whatever you’re sitting on—a chair, a meditation cushion, a park bench—find a spot that gives you a stable, solid seat, not perching or hanging back.
  2. Straighten—but don’t stiffen—your upper body. Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Then let your hands drop onto the tops of your legs. With your upper arms at your sides, your hands will land in the right spot. 
  3. Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids lower. If you feel the need, you may lower them completely, but it’s not necessary to close your eyes when meditating. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
  4. Be there for a few moments. Relax. Draw your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest. Choose your focal point, and with each breath, you can mentally note “breathing in” and “breathing out.”
  5. You may find your mind wandering constantly—that’s normal, too. Instead of wrestling with or engaging with those thoughts as much, practice observing without needing to react. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back over and over again without judgment or expectation.
  6. When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions. Pausing for a moment, decide how you’d like to continue on with your day.