Verified by Psychology Today

Mindfulness

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. This state is described as observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.

Understanding Mindfulness

To live mindfully is to live in the moment and reawaken oneself to the present, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. To be mindful is to observe and label thoughts, feelings, sensations in the body in an objective manner. Mindfulness can therefore be a tool to avoid self-criticism and judgment while identifying and managing difficult emotions.

Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist and Hindu teachings. Buddhism includes a journey toward enlightenment, and the concept of “sati,”—which encompasses attention, awareness, and being present—is considered the first step toward enlightenment. The term was roughly translated from the ancient language Pali into the term “mindfulness.”

The emergence of mindfulness in Western culture can be attributed to Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn studied mindfulness under several Buddhist teachers, such as Philip Kapleau and Thich Nhat Hanh. As a professor at the University of Massachusetts medical school in the late 1970s, Kabat-Zinn developed a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to treat chronic pain. He discovered that patients would often try to avoid pain—but that that avoidance would lead to deeper distress. Practicing mindfulness was a more successful approach.

As mindfulness shifted into mainstream science and medicine, it became a pivotal therapeutic technique; it was integrated into Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, among others.

Practicing Mindfulness

A person’s experience of time tends to be subjective and heavily influenced by their emotional state. Fears and insecurities about the past and the future can make it difficult to fully appreciate the present. The key is learning how to pay attention.

Mindfulness can take place through meditation sessions or smaller moments throughout the day. To cultivate a state of mindfulness, you can begin by sitting down and taking deep breaths. Focus on each breath and the sensations of the moment, such as sounds, scents, the temperature, and the feeling of air passing in and out of the body.

Shift your attention, then, to the thoughts and emotions that you’re experiencing. Allow each thought to exist without judging it or ascribing negativity to it. Sit with those thoughts. The experience may evoke a strong emotional reaction. Exploring that response can be an opportunity to address or resolve underlying challenges.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is frequently used in meditation and certain kinds of therapy. Its benefits include lowering stress levels, reducing harmful ruminating, and protecting against depression and anxiety. Research even suggests that mindfulness can help people better cope with rejection and social isolation.

Essential Reads

Recent Posts

Most Popular