What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” -Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn

When thinking about what mindfulness is and what it entails, several thoughts and images come to mind. Perhaps thoughts of being calm and at peace with yourself. Or an image of a serene person closing their eyes and paying attention to the current moment. However, the truth about mindfulness practice is that it can look differently for everyone and should be based on the individual’s own personal needs for the practice. There are certain elements that help make up mindfulness practice that an individual can use to guide and build upon their practice. For example, practicing mindfulness includes paying attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental and nonreactive way (Kabat-Zinn, 2015). This means not viewing thoughts or experiences in a good or bad way-just letting them be. And instead of immediately reacting to our thoughts or experiences, we try to approach them with an open attitude by taking a pause and simply noticing them. It is also important to note how challenging it can be to practice mindfulness, especially for those who are new to the practice. Remember to give yourself grace and to not be hard on yourself. The constant thoughts and worries that often run across an individual’s mind, and in a short amount of time, can be overwhelming and difficult to approach them in a nonjudgmental and nonreactive way. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to start developing and learning about mindfulness and how to practice it.

One classic approach to practicing mindfulness is for an individual to center their attention on an attentional “anchor” or focus, such as the breath (Bishop et al., 2004). When attention begins to wander from the focal point of the practice, the individual simply takes notice and brings their attention back to the breath in a nonjudgmental, nonreactive manner (Bishop et al., 2004). Although there are several other methods (e.g., guided mindfulness apps, mindful walking, etc.), this traditional approach can help an individual who is first learning about mindfulness and help foster their practice. It is also worth mentioning the numerous health benefits, both physical and mental, that one can experience when practicing mindfulness. For example, individuals can experience reduced anxiety and stress when being mindful (Grossman et al., 2014). Additionally, mindfulness practice can help individuals suffering from chronic pain and cancer (Grossman et al., 2014). In addition to the various health benefits that one can experience, coupled with the accessibility and convenience of the practice, has exponentially increased the popularity of practicing mindfulness and how it can be used in various settings and for countless reasons.