If you’re familiar at all with meditation, you’ve likely heard about mindfulness. In fact, if you check just about any social media platform right now, there’s surely someone raving about “being more present.”
Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a distinction between meditation and mindfulness.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is actually a type of meditation that can be practiced just about anywhere. Although there are dozens of ways to meditate (including tantra, zazen, and transcendental meditation), mindfulness is the method which probably aligns most closely with our modern understanding of meditation.
The Origin of Mindfulness
Although meditation is an ancient practice, mindfulness was only recently popularized in 1979 with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s creation of an eight-week program called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.” Today this is still the main program used to help those suffering from stress and anxiety.
Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
While this sounds simple enough, it’s something too few of us really know how to do—but should. Reduced stress isn’t the only benefit of a mindfulness practice—there are more benefits of mindfulness, too, including improved overall health.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Luckily, with a little effort, you can start incorporating mindfulness into your everyday routine. It’s a generally flexible form of meditation that can be practiced using one of two different methods.
Mindfulness Method 1: Intentional Breathing Techniques
The first method involves staying mindful of your breathing. Here’s how you can get started:
1. Find a comfortable seat. Make sure you can relax undisturbed for the duration of your session. Try to keep a straight back.
2. Establish a time limit. Committing to a shorter session (even 5-10 minutes) can prove helpful for beginners.
3. Observe your body. Take note of everything you’re feeling, whether it’s your stomach growling or your heels resting on the ground.
4. Observe your breathing. This is where mindfulness really comes into play for this exercise. Try to focus solely on the sensations of your breath as it enters your nostrils, travels to your lungs, and fills your stomach. Then concentrate on the sensations you feel as it exits.
5. Take note of whatever thoughts arise. Your mind will try to wander—you’ll catch yourself thinking about what you want to eat for dinner, or about that big presentation next week. And that’s okay! When you catch this happening, just gently pull your attention back to your breathing.
Don’t worry if you get distracted—turning your thoughts back to your breathing is like strength training for your brain. Over time you will see improvement and everything will come more easily.
Mindfulness Method 2: Be Present Wherever You Are
The second method can be considered more of a freestyle exercise. You can find opportunities to practice this one almost anywhere.
While the first method requires you to be mindful of your breathing, the second method allows you to exercise mindfulness in just about any task.
For example, if there is a sport you really enjoy, try to focus all of your attention and energy on playing your best game. If it’s tennis, focus on the ball and your strategy for winning that game.
Just like in the breathing activity, thoughts will appear and try to distract you. Simply acknowledge them and let them go, turning your attention back to whatever you need to focus on.
Let’s look at another example.
Maybe you have a romantic dinner planned with your significant other. Try to focus all of your attention on them, being mindful of what they are saying and doing. If thoughts about work arise, recognize them but let them go.
Thinking about the office in this moment is futile—there is nothing you can do about work, and those thoughts serve only to divide your attention.
Being as present as you possibly can for the person in front of you will make your relationship stronger. An added benefit: If things are going well at home, you’ll likely perform better when you actually are at work.
Everyone Can Be Mindful
You don’t have to be a yoga expert or have a personal guru to benefit from mindfulness and mindful meditation. All it takes is a few minutes of practice each day to see measurable changes in your life!
Do you have any tips for being more mindful? Tell us in the comments below!
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