• TRADITION: Buddhism
  • NEED: Health, Stress Relief and Relaxation, Relationships, Positive Attitude, Spiritual Development, Performance
  • LEVEL: Beginner, Intermediate
TECHNIQUE DESCRIPTION

This meditation will help you to slow down or stop your habitual brain chatter and emotional reactions. When we learn to see things as they really are, we respond to life with more wisdom and compassion. A mindful life is one rooted in the present.

What’s behind the name of this meditation practice?
Mindfulness is the common Western translation for the Buddhist term sati, which means “awareness” or “skillful attention.”
What’s the concept?
According to author Jon Kabat-Zinn, "mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally."

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.
How did this meditation practice originate?
Mindfulness meditation is an adaptation of the Buddhist practice of vipassana, or insight-meditation, and other Buddhist practices, such as zazen. These ancient practices were used to develop concentration, tranquility, and spiritual insight.

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 longtime 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.
What’s unique about this meditation?
This meditation can be practiced in two different ways: as a formal mind training practice, or informally as we go about our day. In the latter practice, we keep our minds focused on the present moment—rather than the past or the future—as we work, cook, or care for our children.
What are its chief benefits?
In a study done by the Harvard Medical School, mindfulness was found to be a key element in happiness. Being mindful makes it easier to enjoy the pleasures in life as they occur from moment to moment. When we practice mindfulness, we are less likely to dwell on the past or worry about the future. In addition, by learning to accept our experiences, we develop a greater capacity to deal with the ups and downs of life.

In addition to stress reduction, mindfulness training has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, and improve sleep. It is also useful in the treatment of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, heart disease, cancer, and addiction.
Is there evidence of its effectiveness?
According to Kabat-Zinn, at least a thousand research studies on mindfulness-based stress reduction programs are in print in peer-reviewed journals. These studies clearly illustrate its effectiveness on our emotional and physical health, and in the treatments mentioned above.

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.
Are there any side effects or risks?
Mindfulness meditation is safe and can be practiced by anyone, young or old.
Are there any controversies?
Mindfulness meditation is now being taught in elementary and high schools in the US, Canada, and Europe. Despite the obvious benefits, some parents have expressed the concern that meditation instruction will bring religion into the schools. In Plain Township, Ohio, the mindfulness program was stopped after some parents raised concerns that the technique was linked too closely to Eastern religions like Buddhism.
How can it be learned?
Mindfulness meditation can be learned by following written instructions, listening to audio recordings, or by attending classes with a qualified meditation teacher.
Are there any charges for learning?
The cost of the formal eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program varies by region. Mindfulness meditation trainings are offered by many schools and centers in the U.S. Fees vary.
How is this meditation practiced?
As mentioned above, mindfulness meditation involves both formal and informal practices. Formal or sitting meditation is the practice of sitting upright with your spine straight, on a chair, cushion, or kneeling bench, as you focus your attention on your breath, body, thoughts, or feelings in each moment.

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 Kabat-Zinn recommends that we meditate in the same place at the same time every day, and that we start by making a commitment to daily meditation for a period of at least six months. Our step-by-step guided meditation is available on this page.

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.
Can anyone practice this meditation?
People from all walks of life, young or old, can practice this type of meditation. Mindfulness is not a religion and anyone, with any belief system, can enjoy the benefits of this training. Several books and audio programs for children are available.
Who are the well-known practitioners?
The best-known teachers and authors in this field include:

Jon Kabat-Zinn
(www.mindfulnesscds.com)
Jack Kornfield
(www.jackkornfield.com)
Stephan Bodian
(www.stephanbodian.org)
Sylvia Boorstein
(www.sylviaboorstein.com)
Sharon Salzberg
(www.sharonsalzberg.com)
Is any equipment or material required for practice?
N/A
Mindfulness Meditation
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