What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that involves focusing your mind on your experiences (like your own emotions, thoughts, and sensations) in the present moment. “It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it,” explains Kate Hanley, author of “A Year of Daily Calm.” “By choosing to turn your attention away from the everyday chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus so that it can quiet down.”
Mindfulness meditation can involve breathing practice, mental imagery, awareness of body and mind, and muscle and body relaxation.
How to Do It:
One of the original standardized programs for mindfulness meditation is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD (who was a student of Buddhist monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh). MBSR focuses on awareness and attention to the present. Other simplified, secular mindfulness meditation interventions have been increasingly incorporated into medical settings to treat stress, pain, insomnia, and other health conditions.
Learning mindfulness mediation is straightforward, however, a teacher or program can help you as you start (particularly if you’re doing it for health purposes). Some people do it for 10 minutes, but even a few minutes every day can make a difference. Here is a basic technique for you to get started:
1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck, and back straight but not stiff.
2. Try to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and stay in the present.
3. Become aware of your breath, focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall, and the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to the way each breath changes and is different.
4. Watch every thought come and go, whether it be a worry, fear, anxiety or hope. When thoughts come up in your mind, don’t ignore or suppress them but simply note them, remain calm and use your breathing as an anchor.
5. If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts, observe where your mind went off to, without judging, and simply return to your breathing. Remember not to be hard on yourself if this happens.
6. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.
10-Minute Technique: How to Breathe From Your Belly (Diaphragm)
Other Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Life:
There’s no law that says you must be sitting on a cushion in a quiet room to practice mindfulness, says Hanley. Mindfulness mediation is one technique, but daily life provides plenty of opportunities to practice.
Here are Kate Hanley’s tips on cultivating mindfulness in your daily routine:
Doing the dishes. Have you ever noticed how no one is trying to get your attention while you’re doing the dishes? The combination of alone time and physical activity makes cleaning up after dinner a great time to try a little mindfulness.
Savor the feeling of the warm water on your hands, the look of the bubbles, the sounds of the pans clunking on the bottom of the sink. Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls this exercise “washing the dishes to wash the dishes”–not to get them over with so you can go watch TV.
When you give yourself over to the experience, you get the mental refreshment of a mind-body practice and a clean kitchen. It’s multi-tasking at its best!
Brushing your teeth. You can’t go a day without brushing your teeth, making this daily task the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. Feel your feet on the floor, the brush in your hand, your arm moving up and down. Einstein said he did his best thinking while he was shaving–I’d argue that what he was really doing in those moments was practicing mindfulness!
Driving. It’s easy to zone out while you’re driving, thinking about what to have for dinner or what you forgot to do at work that day. Use your powers of mindfulness to keep your attention anchored to the inside of your car.
Turn off the radio (or turn it to something soothing, like classical), imagine your spine growing tall, find the half-way point between relaxing your hands and gripping the wheel too tightly, and bring your attention back to where you and your car are in space whenever you notice your mind wandering.
Exercising. Yes, watching TV while running on the treadmill will make your workout go more quickly, but it won’t do much to quiet your mind. Make your fitness endeavors an exercise in mindfulness by turning off all screens and focusing on your breathing and where your feet are in space as you move.
Bedtime. Watch your battles over bedtime with the kids disappear when you stop trying to rush through it and simply try to enjoy the experience. Get down to the same level as your kids, look in their eyes, listen more than you talk, and savor any snuggles you get. When you relax, they will too.
Related: 4 Tips on Being More Mindful Every Day and Meditation for Sleep