Various teachers may have differing definitions of what ‘mindfulness meditation’ is, so I will clearly layout my definition to avoid confusion.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of attending to one’s posture and breathing so that they become natural and relaxed.
Why would we want to do this? Because our posture and breathing are intimately related to how we ‘feel’ emotionally. When we are stressed our muscles tighten, we breath shallowly and from the chest, our body closes up. The way to relax and feel better is just to notice this happening, and consciously choose to open up our posture again and breathe deeply. Most people are too focused on what they are stressing over to notice their bodies, and hence don’t know how to relieve their stress.
By making a conscious effort to practice mindfulness for a few months we become intimately aware of our emotional reactions to events, and are able to consciously counteract stressors. Eventually it becomes automatic and you find that you are relaxed and standing with good posture everywhere. And you’ll also see people around you who are stressed, the signs are easy to see once you see them within yourself.
This practice is doubly effective, because it allows you to stop thinking about something that is stressing you. If I tell most people not to think of a laughing green buddha they usually struggle with it for a while, until they go do something else and naturally forget about it. The problem is obvious, you can’t stop thinking about something by thinking that you want to stop it. Instead, you have to find something else to do with complete attention.
By practicing focusing on the breath overtime we establish strong pathways in our brains associated with the breath. This makes it very easy to come to breath and stay there, it becomes easier and easier to concentrate on over time. This establishes the breath as an ‘anchor’ in the mind, a reliable place you know you can come to when you want to forget something else.
Next time someone tries to be a smart ass and tell you not to think of red space missionaries, just return to your breathing.
All of this establishes a solid foundation from which you can branch off into more advanced meditation techniques.