Every day I find a little time for mindfulness sitting meditation, and as often as possible I practice mindfulness while walking, performing chores—taking out the garbage, shovelling snow, Tai Chi. Mindfulness is an important practice in virtually all schools of Buddhist thought, and in one form or another, most Buddhists practice it. From formal Chan practice, such as archery or KungFu practice in Shaolin, to facing the wall meditation, to active mindful chore meditation, to mantra or sutta recitation, to simple things like making offerings—all are methods of practicing mindfulness.
Benefits of Mindfulness Practice
There are manifold benefits to practice, not least of which are abandoning the clinging to the past and the worry about the future, both of which are the path of suffering. Daily practice, inexorably takes us to a place where lofty ideas like enlightened thinking is actually possible.
Personally, I find mindfulness practice has many other benefits beyond the main purpose of practice. It inspires courage by removing the worry about the future. What is there to be afraid of when you are in the present moment? It improves concentration in all tasks, making you more productive at work or play. It makes you much more attentive, making you a real blessing to your family and friends.
Mindfulness Proven to Reduce Stress
The most commonly mentioned benefit of mindfulness training—the very reason it is studied at every major medical university and used in psychiatry practice—is the known link between mindfulness and benefits to health through reduction of stress. To this, I can personally attest. Increased energy, improved self-esteem, ability to relax and sleep, and a general ability to cope with modern life are also often cited.
Science Proves Mindfulness Positively Alters the Brain
Apparently, it goes beyond all these already extraordinary benefits, by benefiting us in terms of bodily and neurological health. A May 2011 study in Neuroimage, which has been making the rounds of lofty publications and the science community, indicates that mindfulness physically changes the brain for the better. According to an article by Carolyn Schatz, an editor at Harvard Medical School publications, “all this focusing and refocusing is increasing brain connectivity. Researchers in Los Angeles, California compared the brain activity of volunteers who had finished eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction training with that of volunteers who did not do such training. Functional MRI scans showed stronger connections in several regions of the meditators’ brains—especially those associated with attention and auditory and visual processing.”
Many studies support the supposition—based on extensive evidence—that there are substantive health benefits associated with mindfulness meditation. More importantly, from a Buddhist point of view, the research specifically points to an actual alteration of brain function and also body function at a fundamental level. Dr. Herbert Benson, director of Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital discovered that mindfulness training can actually turn specific sets of genes on and off in people who practice regularly. These genes improve the body’s ability to handle free radicals, inflammation, pain, and even cell death.
Mindfulness Improves Physical Health
Other studies have shown that mindfulness meditation improves immune system function, can eliminate food cravings and binge eating, reduce stress and improve cardio-vascular health.
So, when I practice White Tara mantra mindfulness meditation, perhaps I am physically changing my body, probably enhancing my ability to prevent cell death (longer life, which is one of White Tara’s manifold blessings), reducing pain and removing free radicals which cause many diseases (also one of the many benefits of White Tara practice.) In other words, science proves that faith alone is not needed, since regardless of faith, mindfulness simply works.
[box type=”shadow”]I can also personally attest to the power of White Tara’s mantra in my own life. It simply has helped me overcome major issues relating to health, where medicine failed. Her mantra is
Oṃ Tāre Tuttāre Ture Mama Ayuḥ Punya Jñānā Puṣtiṃ Kuru Svāhā[/box]
Mindfulness Meditation How To
At it’s simplest, mindfulness is about keeping us in the present, allowing us to shed the clinging to the past and the worries of the future. For this reason, the most common techniques include sitting, standing or walking meditation involving single-minded focus on:
• the breath
• mantra repetition
• emptiness practice (focusing on nothing—which is an element of all mindfulness practice)
• observing practice — simply observing your own thoughts, your own body, the sounds around you
• focus on any single thought, word or phrase
• martial arts or repetitive physical acts such as archery, Tai Chi, Kung Fu but with single-minded focus.
The key skill, that develops over time—apparently because we are actually altering our neural pathways and brain function, according to these studies—is to allow stray thoughts to happen, observe them, but then refocus on the single-minded focus point. It takes practice. It’s relaxing. It allows you to remove the obstacles to enlightenment. And it’s good for the health.