Mindfulness Exercises

What is Mindfulness Meditation? Aware & Curious in the Present Moment

Welcome to this introduction to mindfulness meditation–what it is, why it has been practiced around the world for hundreds of years and, most important, why so many people continue to make meditation a part of their day to relieve stress and anxiety, create caring relationships, and simply to create an oasis of quiet and reflection in the midst of daily demands.

So, what is mindfulness meditation? A description we like to use is gentle, curious awareness of the present moment.

Mindfulness is like a mirror. It reflects back to you what is here, what you are experiencing, with no embellishment or goal, judgement or resistance. It’s a way to rest in a safe, compassionate place with an attitude of, “I am here, come what may,” a way to fully, intimately and kindly engage with your life just as it is.

With some mindfulness practice, you can discover first-hand how often you may be:

  • Thinking about the past or future, rather than being with what is happening in and around you right now
  • Listening to a critical, resistant or unkind inner dialogue, rather than observing yourself with non-judgement and kindness.
  • Not particularly aware at all, but unconsciously bouncing from one thought and emotion to the next.

Mindfulness meditation will take you step-by-step through how to notice these habits (that we all have!) and guide you toward a more and more direct and curious connection with all of your life, just as it is.

Mindfulness is like a mirror. It reflects back to you what is here, what you are experiencing, with no embellishment or goal, judgement or resistance.

Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation.

There has been a lot of interest in studying the benefits of meditation over the past few decades. We now know people enjoy a vast range of measurable physical, mental and emotional changes from some regular practice. 

  • Some of the physical benefits are better sleep, reduced heart rate and less anxiety. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to activate your parasympathetic nervous system– the relaxation and healing system within your body.
  • Mental benefits include the ability to calm a busy mind, improve problem-solving and focus, and enjoy greater creativity.
  • People who practice mindfulness meditation also come to understand their emotions well. They can ride the waves of changing emotions more skillfully for their own sake and respond to situations in ways that improve connection and understanding with others.

All of these positive changes interact with and strengthen each other to give you an inner core of well-being and resilience you can call on in everyday situations.

People who practice mindfulness meditation also come to understand their emotions well. They can ride the waves of changing emotions more skillfully for their own sake and respond to situations in ways that improve connection and understanding with others.

Watch your breath

Start with Breath Awareness.

Let’s take a look at a long-standing form of practice in meditation traditions: mindfulness of breath. There are hundreds of breath practices, but they fall essentially into two types: breath awareness and breath manipulation.

In breath awareness meditations, you observe your breath closely, as it is, without trying to change it in any way: is it shallow or deep, warm or cool, loud or quiet?

Breath manipulation, on the other hand, uses different techniques to change the pattern of your breath: to improve mental focus, increase energy or calm anxiety. Many of these breath practices are easy to learn, but have a powerful and often immediate effect.

This article focuses on the practice and benefits of breath awareness: practicing a precise and sustained attention on your breath. 

So, why is mindfulness of breath a fundamental practice?

Watching the Breath Calms Your Nervous System.

The simple act of paying attention to your breath sends a clear message to your brain and nervous system: “You’re safe. You can relax and recover!” Your brain has evolved to detect external threats, so turning your attention inward toward your breath and body turns off the danger-detecting system of your brain and turns on the healing system.  

It’s Always with You.

The basic skill of mindfulness meditation is to learn where your attention is going at any given time and to become most interested in the present moment.

Wherever you are, you’re breathing. So, you can use your breath as an anchor to the present whenever you want to practice a bit of mindfulness. You don’t need any props or meditation apps.

The simple act of paying attention to your breath sends a strong message to your brain and nervous system: “You’re safe and you can relax.”

Your Breath and Your Mind Reflect Each Other.

If you pay attention to your breath, you may start to notice that the quality of your breath reflects the quality of your mind. Slow, deep breaths are often accompanied by clear, calm thinking. Shallow, quick breaths can alert you to a busy mind or even an anxious one. Breath manipulation practices take advantage of this relationship, by showing you how to slow your breath to help calm your mind, for example. In breath awareness practices, beginning to simply notice this intimate connection will give you a powerful glimpse into the mind-body connection.

Breath Brings You into the Moment.

Since mindfulness meditation is about awareness of what is happening now, the breath is a perfect vehicle here as well. Your thoughts and emotions may be taking you into the past or future, imagining what was or what could be, but your breath will always be in the present. 

Breath is Subtle.

Many people who practice mindfulness, beginners and experienced practitioners alike, sometimes find it challenging to turn their attention inward.

Your breath can lead the way. It can guide you from the attention-grabbing things at the surface of your attention, to the physical sensations and sounds of your breath, to the most subtle and quiet experiences and states within you.

Breath is Subtle.

Take a few minutes to follow these steps. 

1.    Pay attention to your breath in as sustained a way as you can.

2.    When your attention wanders, bring it gently back to your breath. 

3.     Be sure to do Steps 1 and 2 in a curious, non-judgemental way.

Your thoughts and emotions may be taking you into the past or future, imagining what was or what could be, but your breath will always be in the present. 

1. Pay attention

  • Close your eyes, and take a few full, relaxing breaths, letting your body relax a little more with each out-breath. 

  • When you’re ready, begin to let your attention settle on your breath. Do your best to observe and feel all four parts of your breath: the in-breath, a short pause, the out-breath, another short pause.

  • Remember that when your attention strays from your breath, it’s ok. Begin again, tracking your breath for as long as you can.

2. When your attention wanders, come back to your breath.

  • You can be sure your attention at some point will wander from your breath: to the tightness in your back, the irritation about an argument with your spouse or an idea for a new creative project.

  • It’s important to know from the beginning that these are all part of the meditation, not in the way of it. Meditation practice is just that: a safe place to practice paying attention and learning different ways to respond to what you experience every day.

3. Respond in a curious, non-judgemental way.

  • This may be the simplest step to describe, but the most difficult for many of us to do! No matter what captures your attention, no matter how troubling or trivial, when you notice you are not attending to your breath, to your best to be curious and non-judgemental. Mindfulness is a criticism-free zone.

  • Why is this so important? Just like a critical comment from a friend can upset you or make you feel a bit shut down, your internal dialogue has the same affect. The inner environment you create for yourself and learn to abide in will have a huge effect on your well-being and resilience.

Tips for Mindfulness Meditation

Choose any sitting position on the floor, a cushion or a chair, that feels comfortable to you and has a quality of alertness. You can also lie down, if that works best for

If you are new to mindfulness meditation, start with 10-15 minutes or so. Whatever time you choose, do your best to stick to it even if your mind starts telling you to do something more interesting! And, you will progress more quickly if you meditate for shorter periods, more often: rather than sitting for an hour once a week, sit for shorter periods several times a week.

Your thoughts and emotions may be taking you into the past or future, imagining what was or what could be, but your breath will always be in the present. 

A great way to remember to practice mindfulness, and to get a feeling for how it can change how you react to everyday situations, is to link it to a daily routine, like sitting down for breakfast or getting ready for bed. You can make this activity a mindful moment, to practice non-judgmental awareness. 

How does a mindfulness meditation practice affect you? One way to answer that question is to do a quick check-in before and after you sit. Close your eyes before you start and rate your state on a scale from 1 to 5: where 1 is poor/upset/distressed and 5 is really great/relaxed/happy. And do the same when you finish your meditation. Noticing positive changes will enrich your practice and strengthen your motivation.

mindfulness meditation conclusion

Conclusion

Mindfulness meditation is essentially a practice of learning to trust life. In spite of ideas you may have about what is wrong or right about the moment, or about you, or about others, you repeatedly practice letting your life as it is, touch you.

When you sit with a non-judgemental awareness of the present moment, you are treating yourself and life with great care and respect. You are practicing trusting your life and your experience more than your beliefs, worries or past challenges.

That is the start of a wonderful and powerful journey of compassion and self-discovery. This website is here to offer you many ways to begin or continue your journey.

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