- TRADITION: Buddhism
- LEVEL: Beginner, Intermediate
These seven days can change your life. Starting from the very beginning, you will learn how to build a strong meditation practice and begin to relate to the world in a totally new way. Each day brings us deeper into the sensory experience of environment, body, mind, and breath through exercises that cultivate focus. Mindfulness isn't about working harder—it's about paying better attention to the rich reality that is already there.
Mindfulness meditations are designed to slow down or stop our habitual brain chatter and unconscious emotional reactions. This allows us to fully experience the present, moment by moment. When we develop the ability to detach from our unconscious mental, emotional or physiological reactions, we see things as they really are and respond to life with more wisdom and compassion—both for ourselves and others.
In the past three decades, this practice has been increasingly used in a variety of therapeutic settings. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus, was the first to incorporate mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine. In 1979, Kabat-Zinn, a long time student of Buddhism, created the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His eight-week stress reduction program is now offered by medical centers, hospitals, schools, and health maintenance organizations throughout the country.
In addition to stress reduction, mindfulness training has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain and to improve sleep. It is also useful in the treatment of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, heart disease, cancer and addiction.
Recent neuroscience and clinical research has helped to explain why mindfulness practices work. In 2010, a group of neuroscientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Massachusetts Medical School studied the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain. Through brain imaging, they discovered measurable changes in brain function after just eight weeks of mindfulness training. The researchers found increased gray matter in the area of the brain involved in learning, memory, self-awareness, empathy and self-control. They also discovered that the gray matter in the amygdala—the area of the brain that controls the release of stress hormones—had decreased. Britta Hölzel, one of the researchers, concluded that by practicing mindfulness meditation, “...we can play an active role in changing our brains and increase our well-being and quality of life.”
More recent studies have explored the impact of mindfulness training on children and teens. Researchers in England have found that after an eight-week mindfulness program, children in the ten to eleven age bracket were better able to ignore distractions. Another study found that students twelve to sixteen had fewer symptoms of stress and depression. Research also suggests that mindfulness training can help both children and adults cope with attention deficit disorder, which may offer an alternative to medication.
This meditation can progress in stages. In the first week, you focus your attention on your breath; in the second week, you expand your awareness to include your body; in the third week, you include an awareness of your thoughts and feelings. Jon Kabit Zinn recommends that we meditate in the same place at the same time everyday, and that we start by making a commitment to daily meditation for a period of at least six months.
We practice informal mindfulness meditation by keeping our attention focused moment-by-moment, on each task as we go about our day. Additional mindfulness meditations include body scans, eating and walking meditations.