The Benefits of Mindfulness—Here’s How To Live in the Here and Now (And Why You Should)

As we try to find ways to manage stress and anxiety, more and more people are turning to meditation techniques to help calm their minds. Mindfulness, a form of meditation ideal for beginners and experienced meditators alike, is increasingly popular since it can be done anywhere and anytime—and you don’t need any special tools or props to do it. But what is mindfulness, exactly, and can you, should you, incorporate it into your busy life?

The short answer: Mindfulness is the act of living in the here and now, in the present. You aren’t thinking about what happened five minutes ago or yesterday. You’re not contemplating what you need to do later today or tomorrow. You’re only thinking about what is happening at that very moment. Mindfulness helps you become aware of your surroundings—the sounds, the smells, the sights—how you’re feeling physically, and more.

You can take part in mindfulness as a scheduled activity, or you can do it at any time that seems right. You can do it as you prepare for your day, on the bus on your way to work, in an elevator, anywhere.

What is mindfulness meditation?

There are several ways to describe mindfulness meditation but the clearest way to explain it is that mindfulness is an activity in which you purposely live in the moment and experience that moment with all your senses.

The goal of mindfulness is to help you focus on the here and now, and to remove the clutter in your thoughts of what has happened and what might happen. It helps remove self-doubt and negative thoughts. You can practice mindfulness on your own or you can use guided imagery, breathing exercises or anything that helps you focus.

“We're not centered in the present moment,” says Amy Sullivan, PsyD, ABPP, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “We’re constantly thinking one step ahead of the game, which is a survival mode for many of us. And it helps us to be achievement-oriented.” But for others, this constant grind is exhausting and may lead to problems like anxiety, so mindfulness can help pull that back.

Related: If You're Feeling Burned Out, It's Not You. It's Probably Your Job. Here's How to Get on the Road to Recovery

Benefits of mindfulness meditation

We’re very action-oriented these days. We’re so used to seeing results from what we actively do, how can something as simple as sitting still and focusing on our senses be helpful? Once you’ve tried, you may be surprised to see just how beneficial mindfulness can be physically and psychologically.

Researchers have studied the brain during meditation, including mindfulness. They’ve found that there are actually physical changes in the brain during the meditation process. Meditation not only increases concentration and memory and helps decrease stress, it can help alleviate anxiety and some mindfulness techniques even help treat depression.

According to Dr. Sullivan, meditation increases creativity, compassion and feelings of kindness. “It can also help with some physical effects. It can help decrease blood pressure or GI [gastrointestinal] upsets, or pain or sleep difficulties.” Some people report lower pain levels caused by chronic conditions. Others say that mindfulness has helped them achieve goals like weight loss or learning a new skill.

This is just the start of the rich benefits of mindfulness meditation, specifically. Other science-backed benefits include:

Related: 100 Benefits of Meditation

Mindfulness techniques

Are you reluctant to try mindfulness because you aren’t sure how to set yourself up? The beauty of meditation, and mindfulness meditation in particular, is the ease and portability of the activity.

“There’s a myth that you have to have the perfect mindfulness room where you sit cross-legged and you put your fingers in that [circular] position,” Dr. Sullivan says. “That's not the case. When I'm doing mindfulness or any form of meditation in my practice, I just ask people to find a very comfortable position. For them, that may be lying on their couch, maybe in their bed or on the floor, or sitting with their back against the chair. I want this to be comfortable for people because nobody's going to continue if they're in an uncomfortable position.”

The best mindfulness techniques are the ones that enable you to better integrate the practice into your life—it doesn't have to be complicated.

Mindfulness exercises & activities

So, you’ve learned about the benefits of mindfulness and that you can do this without any special tools—now what? Now, you need to learn the basic mindfulness exercises and activities—this is where beginning meditators often start.

Don’t forget that like any type of meditation, it can take some trial and error to find what fits you best. And mindfulness also takes practice, so if you think you’re not successful when you first try, think about how you felt. Was it the actual process you weren’t comfortable with and you want to try something else, or you were shy or unsure of what to do, which could mean you just need to try it more often?

Mindful awareness: Live in the moment

Living in the moment is something we may think we’re doing, but mindfulness living in the moment is different. Living in the moment means thinking about what you are experiencing right then and there.

Are you walking your dog? Sitting on a park bench? Looking out the window of a train? What do you see? What do you feel? What do you hear?

Take the time to absorb what your senses are telling you, blocking thoughts of what you were doing just before or what you must do next.

Mindful observation: Pay attention to the details

If you’re biting into an apple, how does it taste? Is it sour? Sweet? You’re admiring a quilt on your friend’s bed. How do the colors appeal to you? What are the shapes? How does the texture feel as you touch the fabric?

Mindful observation is an easy exercise you can incorporate into even the smallest moments of your everyday life.

Mindful immersion: Pay attention to your actions

Whether you’re vacuuming your carpets, washing your hands or cooking dinner, immerse yourself in the activity. Pay attention to the details. Note how the activity makes your muscles feel, how your hands are working, the sounds, and all the other stimuli that go with the activity. By paying attention to the activity, your mind is less likely to wander.

Mindful appreciation: Give thanks

Spend some time offering thanks or gratitude to yourself or others. You could send thanks for the roof over your head and food in your cupboards, or offer specific thanks to a friend who gave you a much-needed hug or sent you a card for your birthday. Research shows that daily gratitude practices confer significant mental health benefits. Incorporate this mindfulness exercise into your life via a daily journal where you jot down three things for which you feel grateful, or simply set aside a time each evening to reflect on a few things that went well that day—relive those memories and offer mindful appreciation for these small moments.

Related: Inspire Confidence and Find Inner Peace With These 75 Daily Affirmations

Mindful breathing: Focus on your breath

A big part of meditation of any type is the focus on breathing. We breathe out of necessity, but breathing properly gives us strength and relaxation when we need it most.

Once you’re sitting or standing in a safe place, close your eyes and take in a deep breath, expanding your abdomen. Hold it for a few seconds and then let the breath slowly leave your body. Repeat this a few times while bringing your attention back to the breath every time it wanders. But, be careful not to overdo it and hyperventilate as this can make you dizzy. Simply breathe slowly and calmly. Dwell in the moment and fully experience every aspect of breathing deeply.

Related: ‘I Tried 4 Different Types of Breathwork for Anxiety—This Is the Type That Actually Worked for Me’

Mindful exercise: Practice yoga

Mindfulness can be done along with other forms of meditation, such as a body scan, but a popular time for mindfulness is while doing yoga. The physical act of yoga, concentrating on the poses and your breathing, is not so different from being aware of other actions you do throughout your day. Yoga practice encourages this sense of well-being, particularly at the end of a session, when you take the time to lie on the mat and allow your body to relax and you think about what you accomplished and what you feel at that moment.

“Mindfulness promotes health and well-being,” Dr. Sullivan says. “So I think in a time with anxiety, disappointment or fear, I think we need things that are going to promote well-being. And mindfulness—or meditation in general—is something that can really promote that. I would love for people to just try it and see if they get benefit from it.”

To help build mindfulness into your daily life, try one of these great mindfulness apps.


  • Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand"Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students"

  • Psychology Today"Meditate Your Way to More Willpower"

  • Frontiers in Psychology: "A Workplace Mindfulness Intervention May Be Associated With Improved Psychological Well-Being and Productivity. A Preliminary Field Study in a Company Setting"

  • Greater Good: "Evidence Mounts That Mindfulness Breeds Resilience"

  • Psychosomatic Medicine: "Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation"

  • Archives of Sexual Behavior: "Mindfulness-Based Sex Therapy Improves Genital-Subjective Arousal Concordance in Women With Sexual Desire/Arousal Difficulties"

  • Mindfulness: "Relationships Among Premenstrual Symptom Reports, Menstrual Attitudes, and Mindfulness"

  • Journal of Cognitive Enhancement: "Cognitive Aging and Long-Term Maintenance of Attentional Improvements Following Meditation Training"

  • Psychotherapy Research: "Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial"