Mindfulness and Meditation

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of present experience such as thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Like its name suggests, mindfulness is simply the act of shifting your focus to any personal phenomena happening in the ‘here and now’. Whether observing the motion of your feet with each stride or observing the curl pattern of your hair, there are countless ways in which mindfulness can be practiced. The only aspect needed is a complete focus and acknowledgement of your reality. Merely the act of said awareness instills greater acceptance of your experience.

It is called mindfulness practice because it is an improvable skill that can be developed over time. Like professional musicians, exceptionally skilled mindfulness practitioners eventually adapt practice times as just a part of daily routine. Thus, the more time devoted, the more your improve psychological functioning and decrease emotional distress. Mindfulness and meditation help cultivate the ability to be with the fullness of not only negative experiences but also positive experiences. Research has shown that trying to avoid negative thoughts and feelings can actually intensify these experiences, and suggests that mindfulness works through non-reinforced exposure to previously avoided emotions. Individuals who report higher levels of mindfulness skills report less experiential and emotional avoidance. Further, increased mindfulness is associated with decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression. These are just a few of the many benefits that are achievable through mindfulness practice.

Why Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of present experience such as thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness is the skill of anchoring the focus of your awareness in some aspect of the present moment. When we are mindless, we do things on autopilot or without awareness. To change habitual patterns in thoughts, behavior, or emotions, we need to cultivate a mindful awareness of them. While mindfulness is simple conceptually, the challenge is in the execution. This is because it is the nature of the mind to wander. So often we’re physically present, but the focus of our awareness is on the future, as is the case when we’re anxious or worried, or the past. By cultivating the skill of mindfulness and learning to anchor in the present moment, we can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. It can enhance our enjoyment of positive events because we are truly present for them.

The Benefits

Research shows that mindfulness practice has various positive psychological effects. These include increased subjective well-being, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, improved regulation of emotions and behavior, and increased positive emotions.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Meditation is certainly one way to cultivate the skill of mindfulness, but it’s not the only way. By bringing nonjudgmental and undivided awareness to any aspect of your daily routine it can become a mindfulness practice. Rather than drinking your morning coffee while watching the news or checking email, savor it like it’s a wine tasting. Attend to sound on the subway or focus on the movement of the car. Rather than walking to the subway listening to music or checking your phone, practice just walking. Attend to the sites around you or the sound of your footsteps.

Resources

Thought Leaders

Apps We Like

Literature

Places to Practice

How Can I Start a Practice?

Meditation is one way to cultivate the skill of mindfulness, but it is not the only way.  Essentially, any part of your of your daily routine, from drinking coffee to riding the subway, when done with a different quality of awareness—nonjudgmental and undivided, becomes an opportunity for mindfulness practice. There are unlimited, non-time intensive ways to practice. For example, rather than eating your lunch while checking emails and/or voicemails, just eat. Bring your complete focus to your salad, sandwich, or piece of pizza as if you’ve never eaten anything like it before. Notice all the colors, bring your awareness to the sound of chewing, the flavors and the act of swallowing. Slow it down. It’s about the experience of eating rather than finishing the food.

Starting a mindfulness practice can seem daunting, so here are a few ways to start.

 

Sharon Salzberg’s Metta Hour podcast brings Buddhist wisdom to everyday life in a practical, common sense vernacular. From everyday experiences to pithy revelations, each podcast is a journey on the path of self-discovery led by Sharon, often with special guests.

The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is a global leader in understanding the mind, our emotions, and well-being.

The following meditations and exercises are drawn from the MSC program, and are presented in order of the particular MSC sessions in which they are taught.

The Compassionate Brain: A FREE eight-part video series, hosted by Dr. Rick Hanson, that explores effective ways to change your brain and heart and life.

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