Have you ever had the experience of driving on a highway and suddenly realizing that you passed your usual exit a while ago and had not even noticed? Your mind was simply somewhere else.

Similarly, have you ever caught yourself shoving handfuls of snacks into your mouth without really enjoying or tasting what you were eating?

These things seem to happen most when we are busy or stressed, and we are functioning as if on autopilot.

Our minds can be like unruly children running around a minefield of past and future scenarios while we miss being fully awake to our experiences of the “now.”

Mindfulness meditation is about being fully present in the moment without judging whether or not something is good or bad. In the 1970s, Dr. Herbert Benson was one of the first researchers to link meditation with a lowered stress response in the body, lowering blood pressure and increasing serotonin levels in the brain.

Originally based on an ancient Buddhist practice, it is now believed that practicing meditation even for as little as 5 or 10 minutes a day can reduce stress and improve your health.

Mindfulness is one of many different kinds of meditation practices. It is very easy to learn. One of the simplest ways to start involves paying attention to one’s breath.

This can be done anywhere but often people like to find a quiet place. Sit in a comfortable position with posture erect but relaxed. Begin by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Just notice the breath, the way the air flows in and out of your body. As you do this, thoughts will come into your mind. Simply notice them and let them float by without attaching to them. Thoughts come. Thoughts go. Return to the breath. Anthony DeMello, SSJ, referred to this process as “coming home to oneself.”

Some people like to set up a certain area in their home or office for meditation. The area they choose might include a comfortable chair and a table with certain objects or photographs that help them feel centered.

Some like to listen to soft music in the background or to CDs with nature sounds. Others find it helpful to meditate on a word such as “peace” or “breathe.”

Any activity can be done mindfully. For example, when you take your shower in the morning, focus on the sensation of the water as it trickles down your face. Notice if it is cool or warm and how the soap smells and feels against your body.

As you brush your teeth, notice how the toothpaste tastes and what it feels like to run your tongue against your teeth after brushing.

These are things we do every day, yet how often are we fully awake in our own bodies as we perform these simple tasks?

There are many good online resources for learning more about mindfulness practices. One good site is from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and the downloads are free. For a small fee, there are also apps for your phone, such as Mindfulness Meditation 2.0.

Mary Bieda, MS, LPC is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Old Town Bluffton.