There are many ways to meditate: transcendental meditation, guided meditation, mindfulness meditation, forest bathing—even yoga is a path to meditation for many people. Each supports well-being by lowering stress levels, decreasing anxiety and depression, and improving sleep and memory. Each is also a practice.
Mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness of what is, in a gentle and non-judgmental way. This intentional awareness invites us to use the breath as the object of meditation as we learn to observe the mind and see what’s going on up there. Observing without judgment creates clarity, along with the opportunity for compassion.
Just as they guide their guests to be more mindful, spa and wellness professionals need mindfulness, too, with all of the benefits it has to offer.
Through repetition, we create a new habit that becomes increasingly available to us. Neuroplasticity explains this phenomenon: As we do something repeatedly, the neurons in the brain begin to connect in a new way, forming a new neural path to support the activity. Neuroplasticity can be seen in plenty of real life situations, like learning how to play the guitar, developing a tennis serve, practicing tai chi or creating important self-care habits.
But, how to get started? Finding time to meditate can be simple, as long as you let it be. When I’m teaching mindfulness meditation, I often hear, “But my life is busy! When can I fit it in?” The answer is: “Right here, right now!” Learn how to use the moment, whatever it may be, as an opportunity to meditate and be mindful.
Once you let go of the excuses, you can embrace the opportunity to bring a few minutes, or even 30 seconds, of mindfulness into your life. It’s all about building that mental muscle, and the concept is the same as in physical fitness. You are building and strengthening new neural paths to make mindfulness more accessible. The more you practice mindfulness meditation, the more you build mental muscle, and with it comes the opportunity for clarity, insight and sense of calm, no matter what’s going on around you. The situation may be the same, but you have changed.
Nina Smiley, Ph.D., director of mindfulness programming at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, holds a doctoral degree in psychology from Princeton University. She is the coauthor of The Three Minute Meditator and Mindfulness in Nature, as well as the CD “Mini-Meditations That Will Enhance Your Life.” Smiley has studied mindfulness with Jack Kornfield, founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of Insight Meditation Society, among others.