What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way:  on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

  • Go with the flow. In mindfulness meditation, once you establish concentration, you observe the flow of inner thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judging them as good or bad.
  • Pay attention. You also notice external sensations such as sounds, sights, and touch that make up your moment-to-moment experience. The challenge is not to latch onto a particular idea, emotion, or sensation, or to get caught in thinking about the past or the future. Instead you watch what comes and goes in your mind, and discover which mental habits produce a feeling of well-being or suffering.
  • Stay with it. At times, this process may not seem relaxing at all, but over time it provides a key to greater happiness and self-awareness as you become comfortable with a wider and wider range of your experiences.

Mindfulness is a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, and smells – noticing anything we might not normally pay particular attention to.  The actual skills might be simple, but because it is so different to how our minds normally behave, it takes some practice. Mindfulness can simply be noticing what we normally don’t because our heads are too busy in the future or the past – thinking about what we need to do or going over what we have done.  Mindfulness might simply be described as choosing and learning to control our focus of attention.

There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment. All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation.

Being on “Auto-Pilot” is the opposite of being “Mindful”

In a car, we can sometimes drive for miles on “auto-pilot”, without really being aware of what we are doing.  In the same way, we may not be really present, moment-by-moment, for much of our lives: We can often be “miles away” without knowing it. On auto-pilot, we are more likely to allow events around us and thoughts, feelings, and sensations (of which we may be only dimly aware) to trigger old habits of thinking that are often unhelpful and may lead to worsening mood. By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice; we do not have to go into the same old “mental ruts” that may have caused problems in the past.

Mindful Activities

If we wash the dishes each evening, we might tend to be “in our heads” as we’re washing up, thinking about what we have to do, what we’ve done earlier in the day, worrying about future events, or regretful thoughts about the past.

Washing up or another routine activity can become a time to practice mindful activity for us. We might notice the temperature of the water and how it feels on the skin, the texture of the bubbles on the skin, and yes, we might hear the bubbles as they softly pop. The sounds of the water as we take out and put dishes into the water. The smoothness of the plates, and the texture of the sponge. Just noticing what we might not normally notice.

A mindful walk brings new pleasures. Walking is something most of us do at some time during the day.  We can practice, even if only for a couple of minutes at a time, mindful walking.  Rather than be “in our heads”, we can look around and notice what we see, hear, sense.  We might notice the sensations in our own body just through the act of walking. Noticing the sensations and movement of our feet, legs, arms, head and body as we take each step. Noticing our breathing. Thoughts will continuously intrude, but we can just notice them, and then bring our attention back to our walking.

The more we practice, the more we will notice those thoughts intruding, and that’s okay. The only aim of mindful activity is to bring our attention back to the activity continually, noticing those sensations, from outside and within us.

Mindful Breathing

The primary focus in mindful meditation is the breathing. However, the primary goal is a calm, non- judging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.

  • Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight.
  • Direct your attention to your breathing.
  • When thoughts, emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them, giving them the space to come and go without judging or getting involved with them.
  • When you notice that your attention has drifted off and is becoming caught up in thoughts or feelings, simply note that the attention has drifted, and then gently bring the attention back to your breathing. It’s okay and natural for thoughts to arise, and for your attention to follow them. No matter how many times this happens, just keep bringing your attention back to your breathing.


Breathing Meditation 1

  •  Assume a comfortable posture lying on your back or sitting.  If you are sitting, keep the spine straight and let your shoulders drop.
  • Close your eyes if it feels comfortable.
  • Bring your attention to your belly, feeling it rise or expand gently on the in- breath and fall or recede on the out-breath.
  • Keep your focus on the breathing, „being with‟ each in-breath for its full duration and with each out-breath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own breathing.
  • Every time you notice that your mind has wandered off the breath, notice what it was that took you away and then gently bring your attention back to your belly and the feeling of the breath coming in and out.
  •  If your mind wanders away from the breath a thousand times, then your job is simply to bring it back to the breath every time, no matter what it becomes preoccupied with.
  • Practice this exercise for fifteen minutes at a convenient time every day, whether you feel like it or not, for one week and see how it feels to incorporate a disciplined meditation practice into your life.  Be aware of how it feels to spend some time each day just being with your breath without having to do anything.


Breathing Meditation 2   

  •  Tune into your breathing at different times during the day, feeling the belly go through one or two risings and fallings.
  • Become aware of your thoughts and feelings at these moments, just observing them without judging them or yourself.
  • At the same time, be aware of any changes in the way you are seeing things and feeling about yourself.  Using mindfulness to cope with negative experiences (thoughts, feelings, events) as we become more practiced at using mindfulness for breathing, body sensations and routine daily activities, so we can then learn to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings, to become observers, and then more accepting of them. This results in less distressing feelings, and increases our ability to enjoy our lives.
Basic mindfulness meditation 1

–          Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.

–          Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.

–          Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and your ideas.

–          Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.

Basic mindfulness meditation 2

–          Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.


Body sensations

–          Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.



–          Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.



–          Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.” Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.


Urge surfing

–          Cope with cravings (for addictive substances or behaviors) and allow them to pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters. Replace the wish for the craving to go away with the certain knowledge that it will subside.

Cultivate mindfulness informally

In addition to formal meditation, you can also cultivate mindfulness informally by focusing your attention on your moment-to-moment sensations during everyday activities. This is done by single-tasking—doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. As you floss your teeth, pet the dog, or eat an apple, slow down the process and be fully present as it unfolds and involves all of your senses.


Learn to stay in the present

A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. You can choose any task or moment to practice informal mindfulness, whether you are eating, showering, walking, touching a partner, or playing with a child or grandchild. Attending to these points will help:

–          Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body

–          Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.

–          Now breathe out through your mouth

–          Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation

–          Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation

–          Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.

With mindfulness, even the most disturbing sensations, feelings, thoughts, and experiences, can be viewed from a wider perspective as passing events in the mind, rather than as “us”, or as being necessarily true.

When we are more practiced in using mindfulness, we can use it even in times of intense distress, by becoming mindful of the actual experience as an observer, using mindful breathing and focusing our attention on the breathing, listening to the distressing thoughts mindfully, recognizing them as merely thoughts, breathing with them, allowing them to happen without believing them or arguing with them. If thoughts are too strong or loud, then we can move our attention to our breath, the body, or to sounds around us.

Think of your mind as the surface of a lake or an ocean. There are always waves on the water, sometimes big, sometimes small, and sometimes almost imperceptible.  The water’s waves are churned up by winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up waves in our mind.  It’s possible to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates the mind.  Whatever we might do to prevent them, the winds of life and of the mind will blow.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”

The effects of mindfulness meditation tend to be dose-related — the more you do, the more effect it usually has. Most people find that it takes at least 20 minutes for the mind to begin to settle, so this is a reasonable way to start. If you’re ready for a more serious commitment, Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends 45 minutes of meditation at least six days a week. But you can get started by practicing the techniques described here for shorter periods.