Commonly referred to as insight meditation, mindfulness meditation is a traditional Theravada Buddhism technique that guides a student through an exploration of the nature of their mind. Through direct experience, it allows the student to see first-hand the way things really are, without the influence of external theories, belief systems or opinions.
The practice calms the mind and creates awareness by having you sustain focus and create insight through observation. The exercise creates a natural state of reflection in which the mind is then able to contemplate (looks around) what it is meditating on.
There are many different basic mindfulness mediation techniques, all of which are based on three key concepts: body, breath and thoughts.
Body awareness is gained through a combination of stillness and energy. With correct posture, one of the most effective ways to create this is to sit still with a straight back. Slowly, the mind's attention should move up and down the body. The eyes are closed and all muscle tension is released, especially from the face and neck. Focus may occasionally be lost, which may allow for memories, daydreams, reflections and even doubts to wander in. To return to meditation, the mind is anchored back in by bringing attention is back to the body, where the process of scanning the body with attention begins again.
In place of body awareness, this practice progresses to develop mindfulness by focusing attention on the breath. Sitting in an upright posture, focus your mind on the sensation of air moving in the nostrils, filling the chest and abdomen, and out again. When the mind wanders, attention should be brought back to the breath. The process of focusing on the breath, losing the focus and refocusing again develops an insight and understanding of the inner workings of the mind that develops mindfulness in a person.
The art of mindfulness meditation may also be practiced when standing or walking (in conjunction with the sitting pose). Both are ideal, energising alternatives to sitting that give you different objects to observe, contemplate and reflect on.
When walking, your posture should be straight and your gaze should be held about three metres ahead of you (to ensure no other visual distractions). Walking up and down a selected path, stop at each end for a few breaths to observe all physical sensations, especially in the feet.
Unlike the sitting pose, walking should be used to observe the flow of thoughts and other phenomena versus a stillness of the mind. Through a steady pace, walking brings energy and fluidity to the practice, allowing you to witness the changing conditions of the mind and in this recognition, let them pass.
Lying down for a few moments of meditation at the end of the day is encouraged in mindfulness meditation. Through body and breath awareness, consciously let go of the day’s memories and tomorrow's expectations. This brings you back to the present moment, increases your mindfulness and ensures a good rest throughout the night.
Mindfulness meditation encourages a state of self-love and respect. Through breath and body attention, it creates an awareness that allows for feelings of love, forgiveness, kindness and tolerance towards oneself. Negative states of mind can be released, and a nourishing sort of peacefulness is able to grow within you.
It is important to remember that the main premise of mindfulness meditation is to just be mindful and aware, no matter what happens within your internal or external environments. Many people assume that meditation is about not thinking at all, and go on to mentally beat themselves up when a thought pops in. Mindfulness meditation does not aim to for the mind to become blank, but rather to practice a state of acceptance and awareness of the thoughts as they go in and out. So don’t try and eliminate your thoughts. Rather just observe and be mindful of them.