If you've heard about mindfulness — a form of meditation — you might be curious about how to practice it and how it might benefit you.

What is mindfulness?

It is the act of being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling — without interpretation or judgment.

What are the benefits of mindfulness exercises?

There are many possible benefits, including:

• Reduced stress, anxiety and depression.

• Less negative thinking and distraction.

• Improved mood.

What are some examples of mindfulness exercises?

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. For example:

• Pay intense attention. The next time you meet someone, listen closely to his or her words. Think about their meaning and uniqueness. Aim to develop a habit of understanding others and delaying your own judgments and criticisms.

• Make the familiar new again. Find a few small, familiar objects — such as a toothbrush, apple or cellphone — in your home or office. Identify one new detail about each object that you didn't see before.

• Focus on your breathing. Sit in a quiet place with your back straight, but relaxed. Feel your breath move in and out of your body. Let your awareness of everything else fall away. Pay attention to your nostrils as air passes in and out. Notice the way your abdomen expands and collapses with each breath.

• Awaken your senses. Pick up a raisin. Look at it, smell it and anticipate eating it. Taste the raisin, and slowly and deliberately chew it. Notice the way the raisin's taste changes, your impulse to swallow the raisin, your response to that impulse and any thoughts or emotions that arise along the way.

When and how often should I practice mindfulness exercises?

It depends on what kind of mindfulness exercise you plan to do.

If you choose to closely pay attention to another's words, for instance, you can repeat the exercise as opportunities arise throughout the day. (Avoid this type of exercise while driving, however, so you can focus on that.)

For other mindfulness exercises, such as focused breathing, you'll need to set aside time when you can be in a quiet place without distractions or interruptions. You might choose to practice this type of exercise early in the morning, before you begin your daily routine.

Aim to practice mindfulness every day for about six months. Over time, you might find that mindfulness becomes effortless. Think of it as a commitment to reconnecting with and nurturing yourself.

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