The simplest, most basic definition of mindfulness is “to remember.” To remember what? In the Dhamma teaching, mindfulness is very specific. It means remembering the present moment, remembering what the body is doing right now and remembering what the mind is doing right now. Normally, our body is doing one thing and the mind is doing another. We might be eating or driving a car but we are often lost in thought and/or distractions. The first stage of mindfulness then is to bring the mind back to the body, remembering what the body is doing. The beginning of mindfulness practice is mindfulness of the body. The body is always in the present moment, it is always here and now. Now you’re sitting. That’s what the body is doing right now. But, as you will see in meditation, after five minutes of sitting your mind may have gone traveling around the world several times already. So, when your body is sitting you should be mindful that it is sitting; when breathing in and out, you should be mindful of breathing in, breathing out. At any time of the day the body is sitting, walking, standing, or lying down, and, of course, breathing. To remember that this body is sitting/breathing, or standing/breathing, walking/breathing or that it is lying-down/breathing, this is the basic grounding in mindfulness practice. This is our bodily life process that is going on 24/7. You have heard the expression 24/7, but we have to add one number, 24/7/365. It’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
We use our centered attention on the body to act as a home base or anchor in order to restrain the wild mind, to tame the “monkey mind.” The mind of the untrained person is constantly thinking about this and that, getting lost in worries or anxieties, is in the past or future, is running here and there all over the inner world or all over the external universe. This is what produces stress, tension, anxiety, and suffering. The mind is usually lost in the past and future; all problems arise from dwelling in the past or the future. When the mind is resting fully in the present moment no problems can exist. This is an essential but hidden truth. So the basic practice is remembering what the body and mind are doing right now. You remember by directly feeling your body: you feel the weight or heaviness of the buttocks pressing into the seat; you feel the way your feet are tucked under your body; you feel the straightness of the back or the head balanced between the shoulders; you feel the hands touching together. You are aware of “sitting” and aware of “breathing in—breathing out.”
Breathing awareness forms a special focus of concentrated mindfulness. In the beginning we want to develop what is called “deep slow breathing.” The breath and the mind are related. The quicker and shorter your breaths are, the more agitated your mind is. However, the slower and deeper the breaths are, the more calm and peaceful the mind is. That is because the body needs oxygen to live. Every cell in this body needs oxygen to do its work, but because we often breathe in a very shallow way, the cells do not get enough of this essential life force. We have to breathe faster and the heart and lungs have to work harder. This causes wear and tear in the body and agitation in the nervous system. When you breathe deeply, you get enough oxygen in one breath. When you hold the breath in for two or three seconds, even more oxygen will absorb into the blood and enter into circulation. So the heart does not need to beat faster. The body and mind become more peaceful and we can get into meditation more easily.