Mindfulness is often mistaken for a practice that’s solely meditative, but meditation isn’t the only want to cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness is an approach and a perspective and, as such, it can be practiced through being aware of whatever we’re doing moment to moment.
There are both formal and informal methods within mindfulness practice.
Formal practice intentionally sets aside time to meditate. These practices could include guided meditations, body scans, or even walking meditations.
Informal practice on the other hand, includes bringing awareness to what's happening around you, even attending to daily tasks such as washing the dishes. The key element is to be fully aware of whatever task you're doing.
Mindful awareness can thus be practiced in various ways. The importance of formal practice is that, through learning focusing techniques, we enhance our ability to attend to daily tasks as well. The time we spend sitting down to meditate is crucial as it’s where we can actually practice changing the way our brains work.
One mindfulness meditation that touches on many aspects of the overall practice is the 5-step mindfulness breathing awareness meditation. If you’re curious about these steps, here they are:
1 - The first step includes counting from 1 to 10 after each breath. After you inhale, you’ll release the breath, exhaling as you count 1. You’ll repeat the process until you reach 10 and then you’ll start over at 1 again. The goal is not so much to focus on the count as it is to maintain attention on each breath.
2 - On the second step, we begin by counting before each inhale. You’ll count 1 and then inhale, release the breath, and then count 2 before your next inhale. As in the first step, you’ll repeat this process until you reach 10 and then begin again at 1. Changing the placement of when you count the breath serves the purpose of keeping you attentive and alert.
3 - Focus on the sensations that each breath creates in the body. Follow the path of those sensations that each breath creates. Feeling the breath in our chest or belly can help us to notice our breath’s connection to what’s happening in our body.
4 - Shift your focus to a specific spot on your body. Observe your breath as it enters and leaves your nose. Notice the sensations around the nose and examine your breath.
5 - The final step is open awareness. Just observe everything as it is around you. Notice if your mind wanders away and gently bring your attention back to the sensations of your breath. Gently observe your surroundings, listening to the sounds around you or the sensations of your body.