What is Mindfulness?

As a blog focused around promoting mental health awareness and mindfulness, I came to the realization that I had not yet written an article about what mindfulness is. So, what is mindfulness? There are many definitions on what mindfulness is, but the definition that I’ve always preferred is “moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness”, which was coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness, as we understand it, stems from the Buddhist practices of vipassana, an insight into the true nature of reality, something I consider objective analysis through subjective perspective, satipaṭṭhāna, embracing mindfulness in one’s day-to-day life and anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing, also known as meditation. These three Buddhist practices make up the core concept of mindfulness. It was popularized and introduced in Western society by a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which aims to help in the management of mental illness. Mindfulness is useful in coping with thoughts, emotions and feelings throughout an individual’s day-to-day life via awareness and analysis of the present moment, something researchers and proponents of mindfulness have called “concentrated attention” or “mindful attention”. In this regard, mindfulness is often viewed as a mental state or a set of coping skills and techniques.

Through the use of mindfulness, individuals can focus their attention on their present situation in a non-judgmental but responsive manner, allowing them to view situations or external stimuli affecting them in a calm and collected manner. It’s often easy to respond in an emotional manner in relation to an external stimulus, but through mindfulness, individuals are able to attain a level of objective analysis in relation to their subjective experience of the world.

Mindfulness in everyday life isn’t easy to obtain, especially when one is stressing constantly. It is suggested that to become mindfully aware, one should begin with mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation can be done in a variety of ways, but is often performed by sitting cross-legged on something comfortable, with their back straight and eyes closed. Once this has been done, the individual should focus their attention on breathing in and out through the nose. Thoughts will inevitably come; when they do, an individual should focus their attention back to their breathing, allowing one to recognize that their thoughts have wandered, but in an accepting yet non-judgmental manner. Through this process, if applied daily for 10-20 minutes a day, an individual can begin to apply this to their thoughts and emotions, as opposed to their breathing, allowing them to cope with and manage their stress effectively.

For individuals who are suffering from a mental illness of some sort, a combination of mindfulness, medication and therapy may help treat their mental illness and allow them to live happier throughout their day-to-day life. Mindfulness of all things in relation to an individual can be very beneficial, such as the substances we put into our bodies and the interactions we have with other individuals of varying perspectives. Unnecessary stress, called distress, can be taxing to both the body and mind. We all want to be happy in life, but until we can analyze the stimuli that stress and impact us daily, it can be difficult to do so. Mindfulness, if properly used, may be of great help in coping with and managing day-to-day stress, allowing us as individuals to live happier and more harmoniously with the world around us.

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