What is Mindfulness Meditation?


Because mindfulness itself is the foundation of mindfulness meditation, let’s begin there. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment on purpose with kindness and curiosity.


Mindfulness is a non-religious, non-dogmatic practice with roots that can be tied to Eastern contemplative practice. Today, mindfulness is practiced by people all around the world, with many diverse languages, cultures, and spiritual beliefs.

The work of any mindfulness practice is to bring our attention to the present moment. While the mind is a great time-traveller, planning a project or remembering the birth of a child or the grocery list, the body is only ever right where it is. So, when we practice coming home to the present moment, we use the body as an anchor to what is really happening right here, right now.

In this moment …
Can you feel the sensation of the soles of your feet?
Can you notice the feeling in your chest?
Can you notice your breathing?

By coming home to the body and the senses, we cultivate an awareness of life as we live it, moment to moment. This is mindfulness.

Mindfulness has both formal and informal practices. 

When we practice mindfulness formally, we take time apart from the rush of our day to stop for a set amount of time and to pay attention. Formal mindfulness meditation practices include guided and unguided meditation, breathing exercises, body scans, mindful movement, mindful walking, and mindful eating. These formal practices are where we really build the muscle of focused attention and compassionate insight. (We’ll share more about how below.)

Mindfulness can also be practiced informally, amidst the rush and whirl of our days. We practice mindfulness informally when we take a deep breath before seeing a client or changing a diaper, when we simply become aware of the sensation of walking on earth or flooring or pavement, when we can notice the color and taste of our lunch, when we pay close attention as we fold the laundry, and when we can take a moment to look into the eyes of a loved one at the end of a hectic day. These moments of mindfulness are important as well. While we may not be wearing special clothing, or sitting peacefully on a mountain top, we are still practicing present moment awareness through the demands of a normal day.

Informal practice can be an extraordinary way to bring more depth and pleasure to repetitive tasks and as a resource for times when life gets particularly tough.

Can I take a breath when I realize that I’ve made a mistake? Can I notice the sensations in my stomach when I say “yes” to something when really I want to say “no”? These moments of mindfulness cultivate a stronger relationship with ourselves, our bodies, and our own knowing.

(If you’d like inspiration for making your everyday more mindful, the free Daily Calm Calendar here is full of ideas.)

Mindfulness meditation: How to begin

Mindfulness meditation is any formal meditation practice that we do with the intention of bringing ourselves back to the present moment, through our focused attention. The length of formal practice can range from a couple of minutes to an hour with the potential to go on for much longer periods of uninterrupted silence. Begin where you are. Even two minutes a day can make a significant difference in our peace of mind and sense of well-being.

The first step in starting a mindfulness meditation practice is choosing the time. Experiment. Try first thing in the morning. Try after lunch. Try before bed. Try during your commute (if you’re not driving).

Start with two minutes, or twenty. Whatever you feel is manageable for now.

Next, explore and experiment with different forms of mindfulness meditation to find the practice -- or mix of practices -- that best suits you.


Different types of mindfulness meditation

Guided meditation - The simplest way to begin a mindfulness meditation practice is with a teacher. Not everyone can easily get to a meditation class, though, so the Calm app is our way of making mindfulness meditation teacher Tamara Levitt available at any time, anywhere. All of Tamara’s guided meditations in the app are mindfulness meditations. She will gently guide your practice with her words and reassuring voice, keeping you on track.

Walking meditation - When you walk with intention and deep presence, you are practicing a form of mindful meditation. Bringing awareness to your steps and your surroundings returns you to the now.

Mindful eating - Eating with full attention through our senses can be a meditative mindfulness practice. Dr. Michelle May teaches a master class in Mindful Eating in the Calm app. If you’re interested in combining mealtimes with active mindfulness meditation, we think it’s a helpful listen.

Mindful movement - Paying attention to your body and its sensations as you move it is another form of mindfulness meditation.

Body scan - In stillness, when you connect, through your mind, to all the sensations of your body, you are practicing mindfulness meditation and deepening your awareness of the present moment.

Breathing meditation - Whatever our circumstances, the breath is available to help return us to the body and return us to now -- and calm us down. We place our attention on our breathing, without trying to change it, and this brings us to a state of mindfulness.

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Download the Calm app

Calm is free to download and includes a collections of meditations, Sleep Stories, mindfulness tools, nature scenes and music for focus, relaxation and sleep