What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness teaches us to be present for our lives, with more kindness and compassion for ourselves and others.
Mindfulness is sweeping the country with over 25 million Americans engaging in some kind of practice. It is now offered in a wide array of professional settings, including business, law, medicine, healthcare, the military, veterans, education, professional sports, and the non-profit sector. Why this interest?
Researchers at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center define mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment with curiosity, kindness, and willingness to be with what is. It can also be described as the ability to be present with whatever is happening – whether pleasant or unpleasant – without judgment. This fundamental human capacity is part of who we are as people. It awakens naturally in moments when our senses are heightened and we experience feelings of wonder, keep falling in love, or holding a newborn baby.
Yet much of the time, we live in habit energy and are not truly present. Many of us feel like human doings instead of human beings, as we push ourselves relentlessly to accomplish our pages-long “to-do” lists. We go through our daily routines lost in thought about what has recently transpired, or worried about what might happen in the future, instead of being present with this moment. And, when we are present, we often find ourselves making comparisons and judging ourselves and others, instead of being open to what is happening. The mind is a gift that allows us to reflect, remember, plan, discern, and many other activities, but many of us cannot seem to turn it off. We can’t let go of whatever is bothering us. We sometimes lie awake at night. We are lost in thought while we drive, eat, and do other daily activities. Sometimes, we even are caught up in our thoughts when we are watching a movie, exercising, or enjoying a relaxing outing.
With training, we can learn to release this perpetual habit energy and become more present. We can find more balance in our lives. We learn to see our experiences and the people in our lives as teachers. We can key into our inner wisdom. More than anything, however, mindfulness teaches us, not only to accept ourselves and others, but to be gentler and kinder to ourselves and others no matter with what we are struggling.
Health Benefits Of Mindfulness
The newest research suggests that mindfulness can:
- reduce stress & create a sense of well being
- improve attention
- boost immune system functioning
- decrease anxiety, depression, and physical pain
- change the structure and functioning of the brain, including calming areas of emotional reactivity and increasing gray matter in areas of impulse control, judgment, memory, and learning.
The body of research on mindfulness is compelling enough that corporations such as Aetna, Google, McKinsey & Co, Proctor & Gamble, General Mills, and others are offering mindfulness to their employees.