Mindfulness: How to do it

Part two of a three part series
By Bill Abbott, MD

If you paid careful and mindful attention to Part One of this series on Mindful Awareness enough to want to try it, you might be asking, “How do I do it?”

Practice, practice, practice

Mindful Awareness among other things is a practice in the fullest definition of that word. It is an intention that needs to be acted upon repeatedly, that is not just “one and done” – all fixed. As with any other learned behavior or skill, the more you do this, the more the benefits will grow and accrue.

Repetition means near daily practice and it matters less as to the duration of each practice as it does to the frequency of them; better five minutes a day for a week, than 35 minutes on only one day.

Of course, since Mindful Awareness can be many different things as noted in Part One, there are several aspects to these practices; basic – informal versus formal practices.

Informal practice

Informal practices are many and are all based on the single premise of remembering to pay attention, albeit even briefly, to the present experience many times a day. Many people use reminders or cues over the course of the day to bring them into present awareness. For example, every time you look at your wristwatch, just pause and pay attention to what is happening right then; not what you are doing at this moment but rather being present there while you are doing it. Try it and you will know what I mean; it is quite a different experience.

Formal practice  

Formal practices are many and varied.  They are considered formal because you are setting aside a given amount of time specifically for this purpose. Most of these practices would be considered under the general term of “meditation”. Thus, it is important to emphasize that not all meditation is mindful, and further, Mindfulness Meditation is practiced in many ways, as already noted.

Mindful Awareness formal practices are most often done while sitting, but can also be done while standing, walking, or lying down. Some practices are sort of in between the formal and informal, such as my favorites, washing my hands, and driving.

But for purposes of brevity here, let’s consider the most common; sitting. Now you can go full tilt here with this by sitting in the lotus position on a specific special cushion of buckwheat husks, but no need – a chair works fine. The position is most important; that is comfortable, erect, and balanced; often described as “dignified”, if possible, with minimal or no support in the back. But most important, whatever you choose needs to be okay for being there for more than just a few minutes.

From here it gets more detailed and it’s important to keep this posting brief.  To repeat, it is not so much the length of the sitting but how often you do it. My pledge to myself is to meditate every day without any commitment to how long I do it. That works for many.

Start with breath awareness

For starters, most teachers including me, begin with breath awareness. This is focused attention to the simple sensations of the breath wherever you feel it most prominently. My spot is the nose; yours might be the chest or belly. But the point is to keep your attention to just that; each breath in each present moment. When the mind wanders, which it will do, just note it and come back to the breath. No worries here; that’s just what normal minds do.

It can go on from there, but at least that’s a start. You can  find many excellent guided practices online. I often recommend those by psychologist Tara Brach. I’ve attended her classes and here’s a link:  https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditation-basic-meditations/ There are many others, of course.

In conclusion, no matter what, this is something you can choose to try knowing. It has been helpful to many others – me included.

Next time, in Part Three, we will address the question as to “Why you might want to do it”. That will be  a review of the solid science which supports this practice for those with addiction.


Bill Abbott is a long time SMART volunteer. He can often be found in SMART meetings in the Boston area and in our online community.


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