The benefits of mindfulness meditation are widely publicised and varied. However, if we approach meditation with a focus on the results we wish to attain, it can cause us more tension and stress as we try to 'achieve' our expectations. Seeing meditation as a time for rest can really help us to let go of that achievement driven mindset.
Zen mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says that during meditation you should: "Practice in a way that does not tire you out, but gives your body, emotions, and consciousness a chance to rest." He continues, "Our body and mind have the capacity to heal themselves if we allow them to rest." (1)
The importance of rest and relaxation
Rest has been at the heart of mindfulness teachings since the time of the Buddha. A traditional Tibetan instruction for beginning meditation is to imagine that you have just come home from a long day of hard physical work on the land – there is nothing more you need to do – you remove your shoes, sink into your favourite chair and fully surrender to deep rest. This is how the mind can feel during meditation: not pulled in one direction or another but totally at ease and comfortable, fully supported and gently resting and relaxing into the present moment.
Meditation is about giving ourselves a time in which we are able to put our constant 'doing' to the side and simply rest in 'being'. In a way, all of the strategies and techniques we use in meditation are just comfy cushions that we offer the mind to help it to let go and rest.
Why is meditation so useful to rest and quiet the mind
Strategies such as focusing on the breath or using visualisations or mantras are not there to be 'mastered' – they are simply suggestions that may help you to gently ease your mind away from the worries of the day and allow it to loosen and relax into restfulness.
Your attention will wander during meditation, that is part of it. Meditation is not about forcing your mind to stick to a certain object and achieving perfect focus, it is about learning how to simply notice the movement of your mind and to hold your experience with gentle kindness. This attitude of self-compassion is very soothing and it allows the mind to really let go of tension and allows you to rest.
We know that rest is really important to maintain good wellbeing. Even short periods of mindfulness meditation can help you to ease into a place of stillness and rest that is immensely nourishing for your mind and body.
A quick and simple five minute restful meditation breathing exercise
This five minute meditation is short enough that it can be slotted into a busy day either at a regular time or whenever you feel the need to take a pause. It can be really useful to set a timer for meditation because it holds a space in which you can let go without the need to keep an eye on the clock.
• Find a comfortable place to sit and set a timer for 5 minutes.
• Tell yourself that during this 5 minutes there is absolutely nowhere else you need to be and nothing that you need to do. Release any feeling of expectation or need to achieve.
• During this 5 minutes, you have complete permission to rest.
• As you sit, you might like to notice the sensation of your breath as it comes into your body and as it leaves your body. If it feels comfortable, you can just watch your breathing rise and fall.
• As thoughts and sensations come and go, you can simply sit and observe them. There's no need to stop them and there's no need to follow them.
• Let your mind gradually release and relax. Allow your body and breath to gently soften if that feels right.
• You can tell yourself, 'just for now, I am resting'.
• If you find yourself becoming too caught up in thoughts, soften the muscles of your face and very gently return your attention to your breathing.
• Know that by giving yourself this space, you are allowing your mind and body time to heal.
When your five minutes is up, congratulate yourself for having taken this time to nourish your mind and body and continue with your day, bringing a feeling of peace and ease with you. You deserve rest and peace of mind. Here's to stress-free, manageable habits!
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1. Thich Nhat Hanh: https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/