by Anne Batty
Mindfulness is a practice involved in various religious and secular traditions from Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to yoga and, more recently, non-religious meditation.
People have been practicing it for thousands of years whether by itself or as a part of a larger tradition, and today mental health professionals, Life Coaches and Spiritual Directors all agree that the practice of mindfulness is an important ingredient in improving and maintaining mental health.
What is Mindfulness?
There are many accepted definitions for this practice. Among them are:
• The Cambridge Dictionary – Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your body, mind and feelings in the present moment.
• Psychology Today - Mindfulness is a state of active open attention to the present.
• The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley – Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment.
• Wikipedia – Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.
• Mayo Clinic – Mindfulness is the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment – without interpretation or judgment.
• Buddhist Teaching – Living mindfully and with connection we see a deeper reality and are able to witness impermanence without fear, anger, or despair.
• Operational Scientists describe it as “self-regulation,” referring to how one can take control of their attention, and regulate their focus by paying attention to body language, memory or breath. Then, by being interested and curious open themselves to learning and acceptance.
Some Things Experts Say About Practicing Mindfulness
• It can be practiced anywhere.
• There’s no way to quiet the mind. The object is to pay attention to the present moment without judgment.
• The mind will wander. It’s part of human nature, and it provides the essential piece of the practice that researchers believe leads to healthier more agile brains; that moment when one recognizes that the mind has wandered … recognizing it, and bringing it back to the present moment.
• The judgmental brain will try to take over. That’s the time to notice the judgments and choose how to look at them and react to them. Make a mental note of them, let them pass and recognize the sensations they might leave in the body, and letting those pass as well.
• Mindfulness is about returning the attention again and again to the present moment. It is the practice of returning again and again to the breath. Using the breath to anchor the present moment, every time one returns to breathing they reinforce the ability to do it again.
Six Suggested Mindfulness Practices
• Take a seat – Find a place of calm and quiet.
• Set a time limit. Start short, 5 to 10 minutes.
• Notice the body. Make sure it is in a comfortable, stable position, one that can be maintained for a while.
• Feel the breath. Follow the in and out sensation of the breath.
• Notice when the mind has wandered. When it wanders, simply return the
attention to breath.
• Be kind to the wandering mind. Make no judgments and don’t obsess over the content of thoughts, just come back to the breath.
Mental health professionals and Spiritual Directors all seem to agree that mindfulness is a natural quality that everyone possesses, that it is available to all every moment if the time is taken to use, appreciate and practice it. It is a tool when practiced that creates space – room to think, to breathe, and to make space between the self and its reactions. And in the process it is said to help to ease the psychological stresses associated with anxiety, depression and even pain.