Two mindfulness meditation exercises to try

If mindfulness meditation appeals to you, here are two mindfulness exercises you can try on your own.

1. A meditation exercise

This exercise teaches basic mindfulness meditation. (Free guided recordings of this and other mindfulness meditations narrated by Dr. Ronald Siegel, the Harvard faculty editor of this Special Health Report, are available at www.mindfulness-solution.com.)

  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 into your nostrils and out of your mouth, 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, sensations, and ideas.
  4. Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, re-turn your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.

The benefits of mindfulness meditation tend to be related to the duration and frequency of your practice—the more you do, the greater the 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 and still derive a benefit.

2. 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 informal mindfulness, whether you are eating, showering, walking, touching a partner, or playing with a child or grandchild. Attending to these points will help:

  1. Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body.
  2. Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air to fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth. This pattern may slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure, helping you relax. Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation.
  3. Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation.
  4. Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.
  5. When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.