What is Mindfulness, and Why Practice It?

Mindfulness has snagged the public’s attention recently. Oprah, Arianna Huffington, and Rupert Murdoch are among several prominent figures to embrace mindfulness. Athletes from the Golden State Warriors to the Seattle Seahawks have incorporated mindfulness practice into their training regimens.

Gaining more focus, reducing stress, and improving their emotional states, these celebrities are picking up the benefits of practicing mindfulness. But what is mindfulness?

A Simple, Clear Definition

Definitions abound. Here’s a simple one: mindfulness is being present, paying attention on purpose, and not judging.

Being present refers to focusing on what’s happening in this moment, right in front of you. It’s not slipping into a recollection or regret about the past, anxiety or anticipation about the future, or worries about what’s going on somewhere else.

As for paying attention on purpose, this means that you’re choosing what to focus on. Most of the time, most of us have our autopilots engaged so we’re just reacting to our environment out of habit. We aren’t making a choice at all. Deliberately bringing awareness to yourself and your surroundings opens the door for you to choose what you want to do.

The last part, not judging, refers to approaching whatever’s going on inside and outside of you with curiosity. You’re bringing a fresh lens to your experiences in the here and now. You’re also putting a little distance between yourself and your thoughts and feelings so they don’t control you.

Being present, paying attention on purpose, and not judging -- mindfulness sounds like a simple concept. Indeed it is. Practicing it has been shown to offer a host of benefits, including stress reduction, increased happiness, improved sleep, and more focus, among others.

How to Gain the Benefits

However, to gain the benefits, you need to practice. To grow your “mindfulness muscles”, your practice doesn’t need to be lengthy, but you do need to practice, ideally every day.

Practice usually comes in the form of concentrating on one thing in the present, such as your sense of sound or your breathing. You can use an app to help you, or you can join a group that practices in your area. Many people find guided instruction from experienced teachers to be helpful.  There are also companies dedicated to coordinating and providing onsite lessons and resources to support your practice.