What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Integrate mindfulness into your therapy experience

One form of anxiety reduction and stress management that has become increasingly widespread in the United States and other Western countries may be meditation. Mindfulness meditation, in which a person generally focuses on the present moment, may be especially popular, particularly for those who desire to manage stress and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation usually focuses on developing awareness and cultivating peace with a non-judgmental mindset. You can try this type of meditation for yourself by taking a seat or lying down in a comfortable, quiet space, setting a timer, and using your breath to center your attention on the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is often incorporated into various types of therapy, such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which can be completed in person or online.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is often defined as a state of being fully present in the moment and aware of what we are doing and where we are, and not being overly reactive to what is happening around us.

The first part of the mindfulness definition may seem relatively simple. However, you might consider all the distractions you face every day. Between getting lost in your thoughts or compulsively pulling out your phone and scrolling through social media, most people are rarely fully present. Mindfulness generally teaches people how to get out of their heads and ignore outside distractions so they can fully take in what is happening in front of them. 

This state of awareness can help people appreciate the world around them and experience more happiness. Being fully present can also help manage anxiety and excessive stress. When you are truly in the present, you are usually not worrying about the past or future.

The second aspect of mindfulness, not being overly reactive to what is happening around us, can be even more challenging. It tends to be human nature to respond immediately in situations and to let our thoughts guide our emotions and behavior. Often, this can lead us to overreact or realize in hindsight that our response to a situation was not appropriate. It may also lead to extra negativity or distress in our lives when we allow ourselves to dwell on something bad that happened.

Mindfulness typically teaches practitioners to be open to all situations and stay calm rather than react negatively when something does not go as planned. This is because, according to mindfulness principles, all thoughts may be fleeting, and we can be viewed as being separate from our thoughts. When you believe that your thoughts do not have to guide your emotions or behavior, it is often easier to let them pass without having an emotional or behavioral response.

Mindfulness, depression, and anxiety

Mindfulness-based therapy can be used for a wide range of mental health disorders. Realizing that thoughts are often fleeting is often a useful mindset for those who live with depression or anxiety. Sometimes, a triggering depressive thought or worry can develop into a major depressive or panic episode. By realizing that all thoughts may be temporary and will likely pass, one may prevent their thoughts from triggering a deeper problem. 

Still, mindfulness on its own is typically not an effective treatment for conditions like anxiety or depression. One should still work with a therapist who may incorporate mindfulness into their treatment with therapies like mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

It can be important to remember that all people may already possess the innate ability to live mindfully. One can tap into their ability to live mindfully by making minor lifestyle modifications and incorporating practices like meditation, which can cultivate mindfulness in their everyday life.

What is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation can be viewed as a form of meditation that typically encourages practitioners to be more mindful, even when they are not meditating. It may be the form of meditation that is most widely practiced, and it tends to be what most people think of when they hear the term meditation. 

Mindfulness meditation frequently helps practitioners feel more present in their bodies and the world around them. While meditating, practitioners are often encouraged to clear their heads and "just be" in the present moment. While this can be different from being mindful in everyday life, it may be a helpful exercise in not letting yourself get too caught up in your thoughts. 

When thoughts do arise during meditation, practitioners are usually instructed to let them go, which can emphasize the mindfulness concept that thoughts can be fleeting, and one should not allow them to influence their emotions and behavior. Like mindfulness in general, mindfulness meditation can be a way to help people manage stress and anxiety.

A brief history of mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is thought to have originated from the Buddhist religion, although it is also mentioned in ancient texts from other major religions, such as Hinduism, Christianity, and Judaism. In many religions, mindfulness meditation has been a way for practitioners to detach from their thoughts and connect with their spirituality. 

Buddhism, however, helped pave the way for the popularity of mindfulness meditation due to the practice's integral role in the Buddhist path to enlightenment. One of the key teachings of Buddhism is that one should not be judgmental of themselves, their thoughts and feelings, or their environment. Mindfulness meditations are a tool that can be used to cultivate this non-judgmental awareness.

The main components of mindfulness meditation

There may be no single way to practice mindfulness meditation. Different guides or practitioners may take different approaches to achieve the goal of being more present and living more mindfully in everyday life. Still, there are usually three main components of mindfulness meditation that hold true regardless of the specific teacher or methods they use in their practice.

Developing awareness

This is typically the biggest focus of mindfulness meditations. The goal is generally for practitioners to develop a greater awareness of the world around them and the present moment in their everyday lives. One may practice this during meditation by focusing on their breath or body.


Mindfulness meditation normally emphasizes a state of non-judgmental awareness, both during meditation and in life in general. In everyday life, this can translate to the mindfulness principle of not being reactive in situations or having a negative emotional response to one's thoughts. During meditation, this can mean letting any thoughts that arise come and go naturally, and not judging oneself for experiencing those thoughts or being "bad" at meditation.

Cultivating peace

Non-judgment toward situations, thoughts, and emotions often leads to a greater feeling of relaxation and peace. Mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness practices can teach one how to live peacefully despite any negative thoughts or situations that may come their way. Meditation itself tends to be a very relaxing experience, and many practitioners emerge from meditation feeling serene and with greater peace of mind.

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Benefits of mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness, in general, has been proven to help people manage depression, anxiety, and excessive stress. Jon Kabat-Zinn, often considered to be one of the greatest influencers in bringing mindfulness to the United States, developed the popular mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program, which can help people effectively manage stress, chronic pain, anxiety, and other problems. 

MBSR served as inspiration for the development of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which can effectively treat major depression. Mindfulness meditation usually plays a large role in MBCT.

While mindfulness meditation on its own may not be a treatment for these conditions, it can help people manage the stress, worry, fear, and sadness that everyone can experience in their lives. Even those who do not live with a mental health condition may experience these emotions sometimes, and mindfulness meditation can be a great tool to incorporate into their lives when they face a tough situation or go through a hard time.

Being more present can also help people appreciate the little things in life more, which can, in turn, improve mood. All people may benefit from a little more happiness.

How to practice mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation can be a great tool to start living more mindfully and incorporating mindfulness practices into your life. If you are new to meditation, a good way to get started may be with guided mindfulness meditation. There can be numerous free resources online, as well as smartphone apps that can help you get comfortable with mindfulness meditation. You might try different services until you find one that resonates with you.

Some other tips for getting started with mindfulness meditation may include the following:

Choose a quiet space

Focusing on your breath and not getting lost in your thoughts can be very challenging at first. It may become even more challenging when there are a lot of external distractions. To make meditation as easy as possible, you might find a quiet space where you are less likely to be pulled out of your meditative state by distractions like noises or smells.

Set a timer

One of the easiest ways to get distracted during meditation can be wondering what time it is or how long you have been meditating. Setting a timer may allow you to fully immerse yourself in meditation without worrying about the time because you know that the alarm will alert you. To start, you can set a timer for a quick meditation of four or five minutes. Once you get more comfortable with mindfulness meditation, you can increase the time incrementally until you reach about 30 minutes. This can take quite a while, so do not get discouraged if it takes you a long time to get comfortable with meditating for longer than five minutes.

Find a comfortable position

Some forms of meditation require practitioners to feel a bit uncomfortable at first due to their rigid guidelines regarding how one must sit during the meditation. For mindfulness meditation, you should generally feel as comfortable as possible. If the traditional cross-legged, straight-backed pose does not feel comfortable to you, feel free to make adjustments. You may want to lean your back against a pillow or lie down. Keep trying different positions until you find one where you can settle in and not have to worry about your body. You should typically feel comfortable enough that you can forget about your position and not get distracted by any aches or pains.

Use your breath

Clearing your mind and letting your thoughts go is not always easy. A good tool for mindfulness meditation beginners can be to focus on your breath to stay present in the moment and not get distracted by your thoughts. Focus on each inhalation and exhalation, perhaps even saying in your mind, "Inhale, exhale," in tune with your breath. This strategy may force you to truly be present in the moment rather than letting your mind wander. If your mind does begin to wander, you can bring your attention back to the rhythm of your breathing.

In general, you have nothing to lose by trying mindfulness meditation. Set aside five minutes today, get comfortable, and start the process of incorporating more mindfulness into your life.

Benefits of online therapy

It can be helpful to have a professional guide you through mindfulness meditation, but this practice generally involves feeling comfortable and at ease. Sometimes, it may be difficult to feel fully comfortable in an unfamiliar therapist’s office. However, trying online mindfulness-based therapy typically enables you to get the same level of professional guidance from your home or any other familiar location with an internet connection. Plus, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp often make it easy to connect with therapists with specific backgrounds, such as those who implement mindfulness meditation into their sessions.

Effectiveness of online therapy

A 2020 study on the effectiveness of online mindfulness-based cognitive therapy stated that “those who received an online version of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in addition to usual care had greater reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms, higher rates of remission, and higher levels of quality of life compared with participants who received usual care only.” If you’re interested in adding mindfulness to your treatment plan, online therapy may be an excellent way to do so.


Mindfulness meditation can be defined as a type of meditation in which the practitioner focuses only on the present moment. This type of meditation can be effective in reducing stress and anxiety. It generally aims to maintain a non-judgmental perspective while cultivating peace and developing awareness. You may practice mindfulness meditation by setting a timer, sitting or lying down comfortably in a quiet space, and paying attention to your breath.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and other types of mental health treatments often implement the principles of mindfulness to help individuals heal from various mental health challenges. If you’re interested in this type of therapy, you can seek out a therapist who practices MBCT in your local area or through an online therapy platform.
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