Dr. Martha Calihan

| 09/20/2016

Mindfulness and Meditation: a fad?

Mindfulness and Meditation: a fad?

People have been asking me about mindfulness and meditation, and if and why it might be “right” for them.

It’s popular. Everywhere you turn you see something about mindfulness, including a new magazine, Mindful (which is actually quite good). Why is it so popular? Is it just a passing fad? Or is there substance and merit to this phenomenon?

I believe the recent surge in interest in Mindfulness is because it’s providing a solution to one of the most overwhelming factors in many of our lives – stress.

What is it?

Mindfulness is a practice to bring focus and attention to the present moment. With your attention on the present moment, you are truly present; this is the key. Mindfulness helps you show up in your own life in a way that allows you to be more fully present.

Mindfulness is a kind of meditation. But what does that mean?

There are a number of styles of meditation, mindfulness falls into the category of both concentrative and awareness meditations, where you use the breath as the focus.

Why is it beneficial?

It keeps your focus in the present moment and as such, keeps you from distraction, from anxiety and worry about something that might or might not actually happen.

How do you do it?

1. Start by sitting comfortably–in a chair or on a cushion. You may close your eyes or, if that is not comfortable, gently lower your gaze…Start by taking some slow deep breaths, focusing on where you feel your breath in your body; perhaps your belly, your chest, or your nose…Don’t force deep breaths, but just bring your awareness to the breath.

2. As you sit and breathe, you may notice that your mind wandering or your thoughts distracting you–this is normal and is going to happen. When it occurs, gently acknowledge that your mind wandered and bring your attention back to your breath. Do this over and over, as often as you need to. Do not judge yourself for your mind having wandered; just bring your attention back to the breath and to the present moment. We try not to bring judgment to the situation, just bring your awareness back to the breath.

3. Let your breath be your anchor and your guide. Use your breath to bring you home. It is important to not try to strive for a particular experience when meditating, whatever experience you have is what you have. The goal is to not be judgmental, rather to be open to experience whatever it is that happens.

Again, you might ask, what does it do for you?

Mindfulness is used for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it keeps you in the present moment and as such, you are less likely to miss what is going on in your life. If our thoughts are always on the past or on what is coming next, we might miss what is happening now.

Because it can keep us grounded in the present moment, it can help alleviate stress and anxiety. In fact, mindfulness is increasingly being prescribed as a treatment for stress and anxiety. And it would follow then that it can be useful in the treatment of many stress-related conditions; from high blood pressure and cardiac disease, to IBS, as well as in the treatment of migraines and chronic pain. It is also used for depression as well as for anxiety and insomnia.

As with any new habit we try to establish, it takes practice to develop a mindfulness practice. Generally, I recommend that you begin by choosing how often you think you will be able to practice, and then make a commitment to doing that. If it is 5 days a week, then do it 5 days a week. You can start with short, 5-10 minute sessions, and gradually increase the time that you sit. It will get easier the more that you do it. The trick is to be consistent, that way you are more likely to make it a habit.

It can be very helpful to meditate in a group, as many people find that the energy of the group enhances the meditation experience.

People often ask me about the benefits of a mindfulness practice: I can only say what my experience has been. For me, it provides access to a calmness, a peacefulness, which I am increasingly able to access at times other than during my meditations. And that is a gift, particularly in the middle of a busy day. It means being able to stop for just a minute and focus on the present, to have the space to be present, not to be distracted by multi-tasking and thinking about the next thing that needs to be done. And this can happen many times throughout the day, a good return on my investment of time in meditating!!

About the Author

Dr. Calihan is a Certified Functional Medicine physician, and the founder and owner of The Five Stones Healing Arts and Wellness Center (


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