Ultimately, mindfulness—nonjudgmental present-moment awareness—is a quality we are aiming for; mindfulness meditation is the tool for building that quality in ourselves, and calming down our reactivity. “Meditation” can mean many things to people; for our purposes, I’ll define it as a practice of training the mind to become less reactive and more present.
How do you practice mindfulness meditation? You deliberately focus your attention on what is happening in the here and now, aiming to be more attentive to the present moment rather than distracted. You practice noticing what’s going on moment to moment, within you and around you, with kindness and curiosity—nonjudgmentally. Let’s try it now so you can experience exactly what I’m talking about
· Find a quiet time and place. Sit up tall on a chair or a cushion. Sit upright but relaxed. Be comfortable! You can even meditate in a recliner. But set a timer for 1-3 minutes so you don’t have to worry about the time. Then, either cup your hands, letting your thumbs touch, or simply rest them on your legs.
· Close your eyes fully or leave them at half-mast. Bring your attention to a neutral sensation in the present moment, like your breath or the feeling of your hands touching your legs. Let your mind be spacious and your heart be kind and soft. Feel your breath at your belly or your nose, letting it be natural. Notice each in-breath and notice each out-breath. Say to yourself “breathing in” as you breathe in and “breathing out” as you breathe out. For some of us, the breath is not conducive to calm attention. If that’s the case for you, direct your attention to a different “anchor” in the present moment like the feeling of touch or the sounds you hear.
· Expect your mind to wander right away. That’s normal! The goal is not to stop your thoughts but to train your attention. It’s to spend more time in the present moment and less time lost in distraction. Label your thoughts “thinking” if you want, then return your attention to your breath. Do this again, and again, and again, and again, without judging yourself (it’s just part of the process!). Each time you discover your mind has wandered, it’s an opportunity to do a “rep” and build that mindfulness muscle. And even if you think you are doing this badly, you’re still making progress.
· Meditation thrives on practice and a kind approach. If you do this simple practice every day, you will gradually become more grounded and aware.
Mindfulness meditation has many benefits and effectively zero negative side effects. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University found 47 studies that show that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses from anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.* More research has shown that it increases positive emotion,** increases social connection and emotional intelligence, and, importantly, improves your ability to regulate your emotions*** (this is just what parents need!). I’ve seen all these benefits in my own life and in the lives of my students. Put simply, practicing mindfulness gives us the sense of equanimity and the groundedness we need to parent well.
Hunter Clarke-Fields, MSAE, is creator of Mindful Parenting, host of the Mindful Parenting podcast, and author of Raising Good Humans. She coaches parents on how to cultivate mindfulness in their daily lives and cooperation in their families. Hunter has more than twenty years of experience in meditation practices, and has taught thousands worldwide.