Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It involves acceptance and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Many consider mindfulness to have its origins Buddhism, but even before the Buddha’s birth some 2,500 years ago, Hindus practiced a range of meditations, some of which involved mindfulness. In recent years, mindfulness has evolved into a range of secular therapies and courses, most of them focused on being aware of the present moment and simply noticing feelings and thoughts as they come and go. Mindfulness is now part of both traditional psychology, which aims to help alleviate conditions such as depression or anxiety, and modern positive psychology, which advocates scientifically sound ways to raise levels of long-term wellbeing and satisfaction. There is also evidence that mindfulness can help with the symptoms of certain physical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, and HIV.
Seven Steps to Mindfulness Meditation
Find a comfortable place where you can focus and will not be disturbed. Find yourself a posture that is both relaxed and alert, with your back reasonably straight. Meditate for as long as you like. Decide how long you’re going to meditate. Start with shorter periods, just around 5-10 minutes.
1. Take a deep breath and relax, with your eyes open or closed. Be aware of sounds coming and going, and let them be whatever they are.
2. Know that you are taking this time to meditate. Drop all your concerns during this period, like setting down a heavy bag. After the meditation, you can pick those concerns up again (if you want to).
3. Bring your awareness to the sensations of breathing. Don’t try to control the breath; let it be whatever it is. Sense the cool air coming in and warm air going out; the chest and belly rising and falling.
4. You may softly count your breaths—count to ten and then start over; go back to one if your mind wanders. It’s normal for the mind to wander, and when it does, just return to the breath. Be gentle on yourself.
5. Once your mind settles down during the first few minutes, try getting more and more absorbed in the breath while letting go of everything else. Open yourself to the simple pleasures of breathing.
6. Be aware of whatever is moving through the mind. Just be aware of thoughts and feelings, wishes and plans, images and memories—all coming and going. Let them be whatever they are; don’t get caught up in them; don’t struggle with or get fascinated by them. Have a sense of acceptance toward whatever passes through the open space of awareness.
7. Keep settling into the breath, with growing sense of peacefulness. Notice how it feels to get caught up in the passing contents of awareness—and how it feels to let them go by. Be aware of peaceful awareness itself. You may bring the meditation to an end whenever you like.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is not directed towards getting us to be different from how we already are. Instead, it helps us become aware of what is already true every moment. We could say that it teaches us how to be completely in the present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is. It is NOT about getting us to stop thinking but rather be mindful of everything that’s happening.