Mindfulness meditation has been defined as “paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,” but it includes other definitions, such as awareness of the surrounding space and “waking up from a life lived on automatic pilot and based in habitual responding.”
Why people practice mindfulness meditation
According to Dr. Shapiro, there are three main reasons why people practice mindfulness meditation: self-regulation (reducing stress and pain), self-exploration (increasing self-awareness and understanding), and self-liberation (pursuing personal and spiritual growth). In particular, Shapiro’s study discovered that the main reasons people started meditating were: to reduce negative experiences, to achieve general wellbeing, and due to a friend’s recommendation.
The health benefits of mindfulness meditation
Practicing mindfulness meditation can help your health in many ways: it can even help reduce the symptoms of a variety of mental health problems. Let’s have a look at them more closely.
Depression is a very serious mental health problem that affects millions of people worldwide, potentially decreasing people’s mental, physical, and social health, significantly lowering their overall quality of life. Meditation can help people living with this mental health problem in two ways:
By increasing awareness of the present moment, people are much more likely to go from processing negative experiences in a pessimistic way to looking at such experiences in a more objective way.
Through the acceptance of their emotions, they can find new ways to cope with such emotions.
Anxiety is a common mental health problem characterized by constant fear and panic, most days of the week. People who live with anxiety usually spend a lot of time scanning the environment looking for physical or emotional threats — such as having to interact with strangers— and they usually misinterpret the information they gather from it. Basically, they think their environment is much more dangerous than what it actually is. Meditation can help people look at their surroundings in a non-judgmental way in order to gather the most objective information possible.
Stress is a cognitive state characterized by different factors, including irritability and excessive worry. Meditation is a powerful resource for people struggling with stress because, similar to people suffering from depression and anxiety, it can help them look at problems nonjudgmentally and redirect their attention to the present as soon as the problems don’t concern them anymore.
A study investigated the effects of mindfulness meditation in the three aspects mentioned above. The participants, selected randomly, attended a 10-week meditation course at the Well-Aware-Ness meditation center in Sydney. After the course, the levels of these three aspects decreased significantly.
Sleep and noise
If our goal is to meditate, we should find a peaceful and quiet space where we can hear no sound. Noise can not only decrease our concentration but also affect our health.
Many studies have shown the various negative effects that noise can have on different aspects of our life. The main one is sleep, an activity that is fundamental to our wellbeing.
Having a good night sleep is important because it’s a way to recharge. External noise can affect our sleep quality and, in the long run, have severe repercussions on our health. People who experience sleep disorders may experience two different phenomena:
- Sleep deprivation, an acute or chronic lack of sufficient sleep.
- Sleep disturbance, which includes different disorders, like insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, and sleep-related breathing disorders.
Noise causes sleep disorders because our brains are able to capture sounds even when we’re asleep — if there’s a loud noise, we’re able to hear it even if we’re sleeping. Moreover, a “normal” noise level during the day has a bigger impact on ourselves when we’re sleeping because the sound levels responsible for disturbance are much lower during our sleep.
Recent studies have shown that sleep disorders can have a huge impact on our health. In fact, not only does it negatively affect our cognitive ability, but it can also cause viral illnesses, diabetes, obesity, heart diseases, and depression. Lastly, sleep disorders can cause fatigue, irritability, and an overall decrease in concentration during the day.
Mindfulness meditation experiences
Now that we’ve seen the positive effects of meditation and the negative effects of noise, it’s only fair that we look at some meditation practices.
Sound bath, also known as sound meditation, is a meditation therapy that uses mainly Tibetan singing bowls, gongs, and quartz crystal singing bowls, sounds you can also access using an app or a video. The goal of a sound bath is to reach calmness through a reduction in stress levels, because, as Goldsby says, “certain sounds are able to shift brain activity into beneficial brain wave states.”
Sound meditations can be extremely beneficial for your health. A 2016 study investigated the effects of listening to a high-intensity, low-frequency combination of singing bowls, gongs, and bells while you’re lying down. Out of all the 62 people who took part in the study, everyone, at different levels, experienced a reduction in stress and tension, as well as a reduction in feelings of physical pain that were present prior to the sound meditation.
Sound Cradle is a more innovative and technology-focused sound bath approach. Users are suspended in darkness and they control sounds through their own breathing. Meditation usually starts with finding balance and attention but, inevitably, after some time our mind starts to wander. But with this non-traditional interactive medium, users are forced to keep influencing their sound environment through their breathing even if they’re distracted because breathing is an automatic process.
A 2014 study investigated the effects of Sound Cradle on a group of people. After the session, participants described this technology in a very positive way, comparing it to floating or “looking up at the stars.” During the meditation, they experienced a distorted sense of time and place, but they ended up wanting more. The overall general feeling was of relaxation and semi consciousness, and in some cases sleepiness. Even though this can be considered a negative result — because meditation requires focus — this device still helped them relax and clear their minds, two equally important factors when it comes to mindfulness meditation.
You certainly don’t need an innovative medium like Sound Cradle to improve your mood and health through meditation. There are a lot of meditation techniques that can help you find balance. Try them out and see which technique has the best results! What works for me may not work for you because we’re all different — and that’s the best part.