To be “mindful” is to be attentive and aware. “Mindfulness” then, according to the dictionary, is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, and is used as a therapeutic technique.”
According to a recent article in Time Magazine (The Art of Being Mindful by Kate Pickert), “Mindfulness says we can do better. At one level, the techniques associated with the philosophy are intended to help practitioners quiet a busy mind, becoming more aware of the present moment and less caught up in what happened earlier or what’s to come. Many cognitive therapists commend it to patients as a way to help cope with anxiety and depression. More broadly, it’s seen as a means to deal with stress.” The author, a staff writer on health issues for the magazine, was not a regular practitioner of mindfulness prior to writing the article and simply explored mindfulness techniques for this “time when no one seems to have enough time” and when “our devices allow us to be many places at once but at the cost of being unable to fully inhabit the place where we actually want to be.” She goes on to say, “If distraction is the pre-eminent condition of our age, then mindfulness, in the eyes of its enthusiasts, is the most logical response.”
But is mindfulness, as the cover of the magazine implies (“The Mindful Revolution; the science of finding focus in a stressed-out, multitasking culture”), revolutionary? After all, yoga practitioners have included mindful meditation as part of the yoga journey for centuries and the word “yoga” means “union”, the process of finding harmony of the mind, body and spirit. But, do we incorporate intentional mindfulness in our every day practices often enough? Do we exercise the “mindfulness muscles” as well as we exercise the physical ones?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, an expert in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), suggests the five steps shown above as a starting point for mindfulness meditation. His studies and those of other scientists, “have been able to prove that meditation and rigorous mindfulness training can lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, increase immune response and possibly even affect gene expression. Scientific study is also showing that meditation can have an impact on the structure of the brain itself.” Studies are currently underway to learn “whether meditation – and the mindfulness that results from it – can counteract what happens to our minds because of stress, trauma and constant distraction.”
How about you? Are you using mindfulness meditation to help yourself be more present and less distracted? Do you need assistance in developing this practice further? Sunrise Yoga frequently offers classes in mindfulness meditation with the next one taking place on Sunday, February 16th from 3:30-5:00 pm. Gwen McLaughlin will coach you into finding ways to make this practice a part of your routine. Learn more about Gwen and the rest of the Sunrise Yoga staff here.