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What does it mean to “fold in” an ingredient into a mix?

I made pancakes this morning using a recipe on the back of the package. I mixed up the dry ingredients, poured in the water/egg yolks, and then I was supposed to "fold in" the beaten egg-whites.

What is the purpose of "folding in" the beaten egg whites? What is the proper technique? How do I know when I'm done?

I tried a gentle lifting motion, which didn't work very well. The egg whites were stiff enough to mostly keep their form so I had to smooth them out and push them around a bit to get them kind of mixed in. By the end, I felt like I was frosting a cupcake and then lifting the whites until they broke. I kept doing that type of motion gently until it became kind of pancake-y. I really had no idea what I was trying to accomplish.

I don't know if I did it right, but the pancakes turned out well! :) I would like to know how to do it correctly for next time though.

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