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What is Mindfulness Meditation?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 17, 2024
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Mindfulness meditation is a practice used to achieve mental quiet and a sense of calm. Although commonly associated with Buddhism, meditation is not restricted to any specific religion or faith. It is a series of steps used to encourage reflection and deep breathing and to increase self-awareness. Mindful meditation especially focuses on thoughts and awareness rather than emptiness of the mind.

There are five aspects to mindfulness meditation: environment, practice, posture, gaze and breath. The most important item in the development of skill in mindfulness meditation is daily practice. It is better to devote five minutes each day than 60 minutes once a week. Brain scans of people who meditate regularly show increased activity in specific areas of the brain that are related to emotion. In general, people who meditate regularly have lower blood pressure and an overall improved mood.

The environment used for mindfulness meditation should have a feeling of peace and sacredness. Any place that is noisy or subject to constant interruption should be avoided. The actual space can be very small, as long as it has a calm atmosphere.

When starting a mindfulness meditation practice, one should start with short period of time. Selecting the same time each day helps develop a steady discipline. Meditation is an active thinking process and not just letting the mind wander. The practitioner should begin with a clear target or inspiration, because this can create a positive energy to help sustain the effort required.

There are two postures used in mindfulness meditation: sitting on the floor and sitting on a chair. When sitting on the floor, most people use a cushion so that the upper body can be upright and the legs folded comfortably. Sitting in a chair, the person should be upright, with the feet flat on the ground. The position should be comfortable but erect. Slouching should be avoided, and the posture should be corrected if it changes during the meditation.

The gaze should be focused downward a few inches in front of the practitioner's nose. Although some people prefer to meditate with their eyes closed, mental focus is improved by keeping the eyes open. Other people believe in looking at a flame or a spot on the floor. The actual location of the gaze is not important, as long as the concentration is maintained.

The primary focus of a meditation practice is the breath. Practitioners are instructed to concentrate all thoughts on the breath. As the breath is taken in, the chest is expanded. The breath is held for two or three sections, then slowly released. Paying attention to the breath will allow the mind to become clear.

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