Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment, such as how the air smells and feels as you walk your dog, or how a bite of bread tastes with dinner. The ultimate goal is to help shift your thoughts away from your usual preoccupations toward an appreciation of the moment and a larger perspective on life.
Scientific examination of mindfulness shows that it can improve both physical and psychological symptoms and create positive changes in health attitudes and behaviors.
Here are two mindfulness exercises you can try on your own.
Basic mindfulness meditation
- Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
- Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensation 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 ideas.
- Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it as good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
Mindfulness in everyday moments
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, or playing with a child. With practice, this sense of awareness will become more natural.
- Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body.
- Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air to move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Then 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.
- When you notice that your mind has wandered from what you are doing, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
To learn more about drawing on your strengths and finding the positive meaning in your life, buy Positive Psychology, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.