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How can I practice mindfulness meditation?

Diana Winston
Diana Winston on behalf of UCLA Health
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
The simplest way to practice mindfulness meditation is to find a relatively quiet place and time in your daily life, sit down and be comfortable, and focus your attention on your breathing. Usually people notice their breath in their belly, chest or nose. When your attention starts to wander—and everyone’s attention wanders—gently redirect your attention back to the sensations of breathing. Start with five minutes a day and gradually increase over time. Mindfulness is more than just a meditation practice. It is a quality of attention that you can bring to any moment in the day.
Master Stephen Co
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

As you meditate, you learn to keep your attention on each discrete moment as it presents itself to you. You note each breath, thought, and external impression that registers upon your senses objectively and without judgment. You notice and let go of frustration or anger. You gently bring your attention back to your breathing or some other point of focus and remain aware. This is the essence of mindfulness: moment-to-moment awareness that allows you to have true reflection, not only on the inner workings of your thoughts, but also your daily existence. Most of us lead lives that are too hurried and filled with nonessential chores. We have lengthy personal to-do lists that we make without full consideration of their true value to us. Our lives have inadequate reflection, high stress, little peace, and frequently numerous mental and physical ailments. When you incorporate mindfulness into meditation and daily life, however, you see how many of these activities are actually mindless and unimportant. Mindfulness enables you to see and choose meaningful actions and activities and then to appreciate better the actions and activities you do choose. By making time for meditation, you make more time for real life in your daily life.

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Here are two mindfulness exercises you can try on your own.

A meditation exercise

This exercise teaches basic mindfulness meditation:

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

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

3. Once you've narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, other sensations, feelings, and thoughts.

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

The effects of mindfulness meditation tend to be dose-related—the more you practice, 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, Professor emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, recommends 45 minutes of meditation at least six days a week. But you can get started by practicing for shorter periods.

Practicing awareness in daily life

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 mindfulness informally, whether 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 naturally. 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.
  • When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.