How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

mindfulness meditation

Dougal Waters / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Whether you're thinking about family life, work, school, what you're going to make for dinner, what you said at last night's party, or all of the above, it's easy to get caught in a pattern of swirling thoughts. Sometimes we ruminate on past events—even to the extent that it leads to anxiety—or we focus on the could-be situations of the future.

Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that can be helpful in these situations. It brings you and your thoughts into the present, focusing on emotions, thoughts, and sensations that you're experiencing "in the now." While it can be initially difficult to quiet your thoughts, with time and practice you can experience the benefits of mindfulness meditation, including less stress and anxiety, and even a reduction in symptoms of conditions like IBS.

Mindfulness techniques can vary, but in general, mindfulness meditation involves a breathing practice, mental imagery, awareness of body and mind, and muscle and body relaxation.

Starting a Mindfulness Meditation Practice

One of the original standardized programs for mindfulness meditation is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a student of the Buddhist monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh. His eight-week program guides students to pay attention to the present, decrease reactivity and arousal, and achieve a state of calm. Other more simplified, secular mindfulness meditation interventions have been increasingly incorporated into medical settings to treat stress, pain, and depression among other conditions.

Learning mindfulness meditation is straightforward enough to practice on your own, but a teacher or program can help you get started, particularly if you're practicing meditation for specific health reasons. While some people meditate for longer sessions, even a few minutes every day can make a difference. Here's a basic technique to help you 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. It's also helpful to wear comfortable clothing so you're no distracted.
  2. Try to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and focus on the present.
  3. Become aware of your breath, attuning to 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. 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 judgment, and just 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.

Incorporating Mindfulness Into Your Daily Life

There's no law that says you must be sitting on a cushion in a quiet room to practice mindfulness, says Kate Hanley, author of "A Year of Daily Calm." Mindfulness meditation is one technique, but everyday activities and tasks provide plenty of opportunities to practice.

Here are Hanley's tips on cultivating mindfulness in your daily routine.

Washing 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 repetitive 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 and a clean kitchen.

Brushing Your Teeth

You can't go a day without brushing your teeth, making this task the perfect daily opportunity to practice mindfulness. Feel your feet on the floor, the brush in your hand, and your arm moving up and down.

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 put on something soothing, like classical music—imagine your spine growing tall, find the half-way point between relaxing your hands and gripping the wheel too tightly, and whenever you notice your mind wandering, bring your attention back to where you and your car are in space.

Exercising

Watching TV while running on the treadmill may make your workout go more quickly, but it won't do much to quiet your mind. Flex both your physical and mental muscles by turning off all screens and focusing on your breathing and where your feet are in space as you move.

Preparing for Bedtime

Instead of rushing through your evening routine and battling with your kids over bedtime, 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. When you relax, they will too.

A Word From Verywell

Of course, life can get in the way—maybe your little one calls for help while you're washing the dishes or a tricky traffic situation means you have to be even more focused on the road. But taking advantage of daily opportunities when they're available to you can help build a more consistent mindfulness practice. Even if you're not settling into a seated position for 30 minutes every day, just a few minutes of being present can reap significant benefits.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. dos Santos T, Kozasa E, Carmagnani I, Tanaka L, Lacerda S, Nogueira-Martins L. Positive effects of a stress reduction program based on mindfulness meditation in Brazilian nursing professionals: qualitative and quantitative evaluationExplore. 2016;12(2):90-99. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2015.12.005.

  2. Zeidan F, Emerson N, Farris S et al. Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief employs different neural mechanisms than placebo and sham mindfulness meditation-induced analgesiaJournal of Neuroscience. 2015;35(46):15307-15325. doi:10.1523/jneurosci.2542-15.2015.

  3. Zhang J, Ji X, Meng L, Cai Y. Effects of modified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on the psychological health of adolescents with subthreshold depression: a randomized controlled trialNeuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2019;Volume 15:2695-2704. doi:10.2147/ndt.s216401.

Additional Reading