Friday, August 20, 2010


Whatever is important to us deserves our careful and compassionate attention. Mindfulness, the practice of paying close attention, can enhance and enlighten every area of our lives.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of mind-body medicine, defines mindfulness in his classic book Full Catastrophe Living this way:

“Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives, based on our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness, and insight.”

There’s probably no better way to learn to live more mindfully than to develop a regular meditation practice. I’m going to give you some simple instructions, and also refer you to this beautiful video of meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh teaching mindfulness.

Since your breath is always with you, this method of “observing your breath” is a good starting point. Sit up as straight as you comfortably can and close your eyes, or look at one spot on the floor about three feet in front of you. Find a spot in your upper body where you can distinctly feel yourself breathing. This might be in your diaphragm area, your chest, or your nostrils. Now, just pay attention to your breath naturally coming in and out of your body. Don’t try to breathe deeply; some of your breaths will be short and light, others will be longer and deep.

That’s it. Oh, one other thing. Your mind will definitely wander all over, and, if you’re like 98% of people, you’ll get mad at yourself for this, or feel that you aren’t doing it “right.” The wandering thoughts happen to everyone. The Dalai Lama even says it happens to him. When you notice it, just gently bring your attention back to your breath.

Try to start out meditating 3 to 5 days a week for 5 to 15 minutes, and gradually work up to 5 days a week for 30 minutes. Since you will no doubt come up with questions, look for a group of people in your area who meditate, and join them. It is much easier to keep your meditation going with the support of other people. If you can’t find a local group, do a Google search for an online support system.

Readers — please comment!

1.  Do you meditate or practice any other form of mindfulness? Please tell us about your experiences with it.


  1. I have always had trouble with breathing exercises, mainly because I find it very hard to keep my breathing regular, and, as you say, I get frustrated with myself. I found this article very helpful - just to know it's quite normal for this to happen. Thank you for pointing this out.

  2. I'm glad this was helpful. If the Dalai Lama finds mindfulness challenging, I guess we're in good company!

    Thanks for your comments.