What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

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It's easy to get caught up in a pattern of swirling thoughts—thinking about a laundry list of things that need to be done, ruminating on past events, or could-be situations of the future—and learning mindfulness can help. But what exactly is mindfulness?

It can be defined as a mental state that involves being fully focused on "the now" so you can acknowledge and accept your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment. Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body.

Mindfulness techniques can vary, but in general, mindfulness meditation involves a breathing practice and awareness of body and mind. Practicing mindfulness meditation doesn't require props or preparation (no need for candles, essential oils, or mantras, unless you enjoy them). To get started, all you need is a comfortable place to sit, 3 to 5 minutes of free time, and a judgment-free mindset.

Remember, meditation is a practice, so it's never perfect. You are ready to begin now just as you are!

How to Get Started

Learning mindfulness meditation is straightforward enough to practice on your own, but a teacher or program can also help you get started, particularly if you're practicing meditation for specific health reasons. Here are some simple steps to help you get started on your own.

Set Aside Meditation Time

Whether you set your alarm 30 minutes before little ones rise or set aside time to wind down a few minutes prior to bedtime, do your best to carve out a time each day to practice mindfulness mediation. And don't be too hard on yourself if life gets in the way; just try again tomorrow.

Get Comfortable

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, loose clothing so you're not distracted.

Consider a Timer

While it's not necessary, a timer (preferably with a soft, gentle alarm) can help you focus on meditation and forget about time—and eliminate any excuses you have for stopping and doing something else.

Since many people lose track of time while meditating, it can also ensure you're not meditating for too long. Be sure to also allow yourself time after meditation to become aware of where you are and get up gradually.

Focus on Breathing

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.

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.

Give Yourself a Break

If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts—whether with worry, fear, anxiety, or hope—observe where your mind went, without judgment, and just return to your breathing. Don't be hard on yourself if this happens; the practice of returning to your breath and refocusing on the present is the practice of mindfulness.

Download an App

If you're having trouble practicing mindfulness meditation on your own, consider downloading an app (like Calm or Headspace) that provides free meditations and teaches you a variety of tools to help you get centered throughout your day.

Mindfulness in Your Daily Life

As you practice mindfulness meditation, it helps to find ways to bring mindfulness into your everyday life—especially on those days when life is too busy to carve out a minute alone. Mindfulness meditation is one technique, but everyday activities and tasks provide plenty of opportunities for mindfulness practice.

You can do most things mindfully, says Monahan. "Anytime that you are resting your attention in the present moment and whatever you are doing/experiencing you are practicing being mindful," she says. "Not only does this enrich the present moment activity/experience you're engaging in, but it also allows you to be present in your time rather than going back into the past or into the future."

  • Brushing your teeth: Feel your feet on the floor, the brush in your hand, and your arm moving up and down.
  • Doing dishes: Savor the feeling of the warm water on your hands, the look of the bubbles, and the sounds of the pans clunking on the bottom of the sink.
  • Doing laundry: Pay attention to the smell of the clean clothes and feel of the fabric. Add a focus element and count your breaths as you fold laundry.
  • Driving: 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: Instead of watching television while on the treadmill, try focusing on your breathing and where your feet are in space as you move.
  • Getting kids ready for bed: 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.

Mindfulness Meditation FAQ

Especially when you're new to mindfulness meditation, you likely have a lot of questions about how it works, how it can help you, and what to do if you just can't seem to get "in the now." Here are a few answers to common questions to consider.

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation?

Regular practice of mindfulness meditation has benefits for your physical as well as your mental health, including playing a role in the management of anxiety, stress, depression, sleep disorders, relationship issues, and eating disorders.

How Long and Often Should I Practice?

The goal is to make mindfulness meditation a regular practice, which doesn't necessarily mean that you need to do it every day. Studies have found that meditating three to four times per week can have big benefits—and, regularly meditating for 8 weeks will actually alter the brain, according to neuroimaging studies.

While some people meditate for longer sessions, even a few minutes every day can make a difference. Begin with a short, 5-minute mediation session and increase your sessions by 10 or 15 minutes until you are comfortable meditating for 30 minutes at a time.

What if I Can't Stop My Thoughts While Meditating?

The great news is that meditation isn't about stopping your thoughts, says Megan Monahan, author of "Don't Hate, Meditate." "As long as you have a pulse, you're going to have thoughts," she says.

The goal is not to stop your thoughts but to get more comfortable resting in "witnessing" the thoughts.

"It's almost as if you're overhearing a conversation that you're not getting involved in," Monahan explains. "And when you notice that you've gotten involved in the thoughts in your mind, in the sounds around you or the physical sensations, you find your way back to your point of focus."

How Long Will It Take Until I Start Noticing Improvements?

At the beginning of your practice, meditation will feel a lot like "sitting and doing nothing," says Monahan. The benefits of meditation show up outside of your meditation, so start to look for the benefits of meditation in your life. For example, if you have more focus when listening to your partner, you may become more intimate and connected in your relationship.

"One of the best ways to see those benefits is to get really clear on why you're meditating," says Monahan. "If you can keep in mind what is motivating you (desire to be less stressed, to sleep better, to cultivate more self-love, etc.), you'll have an easier time staying committed to the practice and will more quickly notice when the benefits reveal themselves in your life outside of your practice."

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.

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  1. Zeng X, Chio FH, Oei TP, Leung FY, Liu X. A Systematic Review of Associations between Amount of Meditation Practice and Outcomes in Interventions Using the Four Immeasurables Meditations. Front Psychol. 2017;8:141. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00141

  2. Monahan M. Don't Hate, Meditate! New York: Ten Speed Press; 2019.

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