If you’re even the least bit interested in wellness, meditation or spirituality, then you’ve probably heard the term “mindfulness” about a million times. But it isn’t just the latest buzzword. It’s a long-proven way of living that’s shown to ease anxiety, reduce stress and expand our attention span.
So what is mindfulness? Simply put, it’s the practice of paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without judging our thoughts or experiences. It’s about being aware of who we are, where we are, what we’re thinking and feeling, and what’s going on around us at any and every moment. And although its roots trace back thousands of years to Buddhist meditation, the more secular, modern-day approach to mindfulness has become popular in recent decades thanks to Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program that launched in 1979. Since then, countless studies have demonstrated the mental and physical benefits of mindfulness—also known as mindful awareness—which has helped it spread around the world and catch on in our everyday lives.
In today’s busier-than-ever world, it’s incredibly easy to slide into “autopilot” mode—to get so distracted by the dozens of things we’re doing, watching or listening to that we don’t take a moment to notice where we are, what we’re experiencing or how we’re feeling. But by practicing mindfulness, we’re able to “wake up” and intentionally maintain a moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the environment and people surrounding us, allowing us to acknowledge and accept what we’re experiencing, without trying to change it or label it as good or bad.
When we’re practicing mindful awareness, we can turn our attention to what we’re experiencing in the present moment, rather than ruminating on a past we can’t change or a future we can’t predict. Mindfulness also allows us to observe ourselves and others without criticism, helping us to develop greater compassion and acceptance.
Though it does take some practice, mindfulness can be easy to learn and make a habit through seated, walking or mindfulness meditation, as well as by intentionally taking pauses throughout the day to check in with yourself and what’s going on around you. Mindfulness can also be practiced alongside other any number of activities, such as yoga, exercise, eating, reading, listening to podcasts and interacting with other people.