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Take a Moment to Take a Breath

The terms “mindfulness” and “meditation” are often used interchangeably, but in reality, mindfulness is actually a form of meditation.

“Meditation is a broad term that can mean anything, whereas mindfulness is a specific form of meditation. It doesn’t have to be done in the same formal way as what we would normally think of as meditation,” explains Richard Sears, PsyD, Ph.D., MBA, ABPP, of the Center for Clinical Mindfulness and Meditation at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati.

“Mindfulness can be taking a breath, taking a moment to notice the trees while taking a walk; it’s more about setting aside time to be with yourself—in whatever form that may take.”

Mindfulness is one of three common forms of meditation that are particularly popular today. Here’s a closer look at those three forms and how they can benefit you:

Compassion and Loving Kindness

This practice is designed to cultivate warm, compassionate feelings toward others, even toward those we may not like. It begins by cultivating feelings of self-compassion, then moves toward developing feelings of love and compassion toward others. A study from Stanford University led by researcher Cendri A. Hutcherson found that even a short, seven-minute compassion meditation can increase feelings of social connectedness with others.

Focused Attention

A wandering mind is the greatest challenge to effective meditation, and in focused attention, the meditator concentrates on the cycle of each breath as it goes in and out. Each time the mind begins to wander, the meditator returns his or her focus to the breath. At Emory University, a study revealed that different areas of the brain lit up as the attention shifted, further supporting findings that meditation—even in short increments—creates physiological changes within the brain.


Mindfulness meditation involves observing what’s going on during meditation—sights, sounds, smells, sensations and thoughts. Instead of being engaged in them or carried away by them, meditators observe and dismiss them, and studies have shown that those who practice mindfulness experience diminished activity in areas of the brain typically associated with anxiety, such as the amygdala and the insular cortex.

Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, teaches that walking and eating meditations are particularly effective for those who want to learn mindfulness. Both can be started informally, such as just being more “present” and aware while walking or eating, and then can become a more formal practice if desired. 

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