What is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” – Jon Kabat Zinn, Founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

How do you learn mindfulness?

Mindfulness is cultivated through formal and informal practices. Formal practice includes specific meditation forms which develop our capacity to reside in moment-to-moment awareness.  Informal practice is bringing the awareness that you’ve developed through formal practice into your daily activities.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Mindfulness practices have been studied for over three decades and clinical research has discovered it offers a range of benefits, including:

  • Reductions in stress, perception of physical pain, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, mental rumination (obsessive thinking), and emotional reactivity.
  • Increases to working memory, focus, mental flexibility (adaptability), empathy, compassion and relationship satisfaction.

How does mindfulness work?

Mindfulness works on a number of levels…

From a physical point of view, formal mindfulness practice encourage a relaxation response, which means your breathing slows, your blood pressure drops, you relax and feel calmer.

From a brain science point of view, regular mindfulness practice reduces the reactivity of the amygdala, the fight or flight part of your brain.  This means you become less reactive and less stressed out about things. Additionally, those who practice mindfulness show greater cognitive control and more awareness of their unconscious processes, which lends itself to being less reactive and more responsive behaviorally.

From a psychological point of view, mindfulness allows practitioners to start to experience a very natural and real sense of stability.  This sense of stability can increase our feelings of acceptance and openness to what is showing up in our lives. This openness to the present moment often decreases our striving to try to be perfect or resist what is happening.

What does mindfulness feel like?

Mindfulness isn’t one particular state, but rather a deepening into the experience you are having right at this moment – which could be pleasant, unpleasant or completely neutral.  Mindfulness is not designed to change our experience as much as change our relationship to our experience so it is perceived as less stressful and problematic.  

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Meditation is what we refer to as formal practice. Meditation cultivates our capacity to be mindful, both on the meditation cushion and off.

Can you learn mindfulness or meditation without formal practice?

Just as you can’t get in good physical shape without exercise, you can’t build your capacity for moment-to-moment awareness without engaging in formal mindfulness practices. This is why it is often referred to as a practice, because there is no point of arrival or graduation. It is a lifelong engagement.   

Do you have to be religious or spiritual to practice mindfulness?

Although mindfulness practices and principles originate from contemplative traditions, they can be learned and utilized by anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are identified with a particular religion, an agnostic or atheist. It is a discipline to be used to engage life in a more skillful way—a way of relating to the world that is unfamiliar to many of us, but which holds great promise for those who endeavor to learn.