What is Mindfulness?

The “Mindfulness Movement” was launched by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is in the featured video above, through his creation of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1989. Since that time, prisons, schools, hospitals, businesses, and other groups and institutions have used or borrowed Jon’s concepts of MBSR in their programs to help people deal with stress, depression, and anxiety.

Mindfulness Defined

Mindfulness is about bringing your complete focus and attention to what is happening right now: on your thoughts, the feelings that arise, your emotions and body sensations, as well as the surrounding environment, all without judgment, just noticing and accepting. It’s all about developing the ability to be aware in the here and now. To be aware of your conscious thoughts– becoming one who watches and observes.

Mindfulness can be the outcome of a meditation practice, the meditation practice itself, or a way of being for those who have practiced mindfulness for a long time. It is not about trying to bring about a certain state, like relaxation or bliss, but to simply notice what arises in the stream of consciousness and to adopt an open, curious, accepting orientation to what arises.

The concept of mindfulness is central in Buddhism, where it has far more complex meaning than is used in the west and the mindfulness-based stress reduction programs. But the simplified concept is quite useful to Westerners because it can easily be framed and taught in a way that isn’t associated with any religion. And, because of a recent increase in scientific interest and research into meditation and mindfulness, we now have proof that there are solid benefits to be gained with mindfulness, which also is spurring individuals on to incorporate it into their lives.

Some of the benefits include a reduction in rumination, decreased anxiety, and greater sense of well being. And, some studies have shown that it may even help slow-down cognitive decline as we age. Mindfulness works by exercising the portions of the brain that are involved in attention and emotional regulation, as well as body awareness, and because of neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to rewire itself with new, repeated experiences and learning), part of the brain will change over time with a mindfulness meditation practice.

How Can You Learn Mindfulness?

You have many options. In the field of psychology, many practitioners have adopted or incorporated mindfulness or an aspect of it into various psychological therapies. As a result, one way to learn mindfulness is to find a psychologist who specializes in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to work with. Another way to learn is to find a local training class that you can enroll in. Alternately, locate a meditation instructor who specializes in mindfulness. You could also begin by reading a couple great books on the subject and do exercises recommended in those books as a starting point.

However you choose to begin, remember that a daily practice for 10 minutes or more is far more beneficial than a once a week practice, because you are more likely to develop a habit of mindfulness, and so more quickly elicit the brain changes that bring the all the fabulous benefits.