These days the term ‘Mindfulness’ seems to appear everywhere you turn. From the worlds of business and finance, wellness, education, medicine, entertainment, sports, and even the correctional system Mindfulness has gone mainstream and is often referred to as “The Mindfulness Movement.” But what exactly is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness roots reach back 2500 years and its practices most commonly are attributed to Buddhism with the intent to ‘relieve suffering’. It’s move into the secular world can in large part be attributed to Jon Kabat Zinn. As a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) he was introduced to Zen Meditation and the teachings of the Buddha (Dharma). With a desire to take these mind/body practices to all, he developed a secular 8 week program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in the late 1970’s. The effectiveness of this program in lowering stress levels and enhancing well-being has subsequently been supported by thousands of scientific research studies and has led to the development of further Mindfulness Based therapeutic interventions as well as the application of these practices into numerous areas of life. Although other definitions exist, Jon Kabat Zinn defines Mindfulness as;
“…the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Through both informal and formal practices, Mindfulness allows us to connect with the present and in doing so become increasingly aware of habitual patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour. With Mindfulness Meditation, we can train ourselves to pay close attention to what is going on in the present moment, just as it is, without the judgment that so often accompanies our experiences. We learn that much of our suffering is a result of regrets about the past, worries about the future or judgments about the present. As we learn to cultivate Mindfulness we become aware of and explore these habitual patterns and ways of reacting to the stressors in our lives. This attitude of curiosity, kindness and compassion allows us to create new and healthier ways of responding to life’s challenges. In doing so we can develop a different, more responsive and compassionate relationship with the our challenges.
As a secular practice, anyone, with any belief system, can enjoy its benefits.
Mindfulness practices can be both informal (practiced at any time throughout your day) and formal (Mindfulness Meditation). These practices go hand in hand, supporting each other and if practiced regularly allow you to live life with greater awareness, wakefulness and ease.
Mindfulness is first and foremost a practice.
A practice that takes us out of the ‘autopilot’ of our western, fast-paced striving lives and into the vivid freshness that is possible when you are tuned-in to the present. Current research has shown that it can:
- Improve physical well-being (eg. lowers blood pressure, reduces chronic pain, improves sleep, alleviates gastrointestinal difficulties)
- Improve mental well-being (eg. relieve stress, anxiousness, negative thought patterns, develop resilience)
- Improve mood and memory
- Cultivate feelings and acts of kindness, compassion and non-judgment for yourself and others
- Directly impact optimum brain functioning
Although in recent years Mindfulness Meditation has become an important element in the treatment of a variety of mental health problems (eg. depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, etc.), it is widely accessible to the general public who are just looking to cultivate a healthier relationship with the challenges that accompany the human condition. Mindfulness Meditation courses and coaching are now widely available as well as a plethora of on-line information and applications. If you are interested in diving in, it is suggested that you access a course or coach who will help you navigate the information and get you started on developing your own personal practice.
To breathe; to recover hope, courage or strength.
Christy Hutchison, B.Ed., M.A, OCT, (Mindfulness Certified)
Mindfulness and Mindful Meditation Coach