What is Mindfulness? + Meditation Instructions

What is Mindfulness?

Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn


Myths about Mindfulness

1. Mindfulness is about taking a “time out” and quieting the mind (or stopping thoughts).

Mindfulness is about awakening rather than retreating. It’s not about stopping thoughts, but rather, attending to thoughts and anything else that arises in the moment. We become aware of our mental habits and experiences without believing them or becoming consumed by them.

2. The purpose of mindfulness is to achieve an alternate state of consciousness.

The heart of mindfulness is that it is not goal-oriented. Although “goals” may bring people to the practice initially (i.e. reducing stress, becoming happier, reducing back pain, etc.), focusing on a goal can impede the process. Instead of “zoning out” during meditation, we “tune in” to what is arising within us and around us.

3. Mindfulness is passive.

A mindfulness practice requires continual effort, commitment, and intention. Mindfulness is something you (ideally) apply throughout your life, not just when sitting on a cushion. Being present to difficult emotions or uncomfortable sensations (such as physical pain) is no small feat!

4. Mindfulness Meditation is pleasant and relaxing.  

Attending to the present moment is not always pleasant. You will be physically and mentally uncomfortable at times. Emotions are fleeting, so if you practice being present, you will inevitably experience unpleasant sensations, feelings, thoughts, people, situations, scents and sights.

Mindfulness Resources

Mindfulness Bell http://www.mindfulnessdc.org/bell/

Insight Timer Meditation Timer (free phone app) https://insighttimer.com/

Jon Kabat-Zinn YouTube Video https://youtu.be/HmEo6RI4Wvs

Book: Mindfulness for Beginners (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Mindfulness Meditation Instructions

(Adapted from Coach Yourself to Flourish, ©2015)

1. Posture

Sit in an upright position in a chair or on floor so the back, neck, and head are vertically aligned1. If sitting on the ground, make sure your hips are higher than your knees to prevent back pain. Place your hands, palms down, on your thighs.

2. Eyes

Eyes can be open or closed. Meditating with the eyes open allows for easier transition into real life and makes the meditation more applicable, as we do not go through life with our eyes closed!

 3. Breath

Bring the attention to your breathing. Allow the breath to find its own natural rhythm without trying to control or manipulate it. Be present to the experience of breathing and any sensations associated with it. Try to feel the breath as it enters and exits the body.

 4. Observe

Nonjudgmentally, with an open awareness, observe what you are experiencing in each moment. This includes any thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, sounds, tastes, scents and sights. You can treat each experience that comes up like a cloud in the sky, just passing through. No need to hold on or push anything away. Just being present to the arising and passing of all things.

5. Label

It can help to label thoughts as they arise. Sometimes giving a name to what we are feeling or experiencing can facilitate the process of letting go. For example, if your back is hurting, you could mentally say “pain”. If you find yourself fixated on a particular memory, you could use the label “clinging”. If you catch yourself daydreaming or anticipating a future event, you could use the word “craving” or “future”. Or, you might choose to label all distractions as “thinking”. The word you use is not important as the practice of naming and releasing.

 6. Refocus

Each time you catch yourself taken away by a thought, emotion, feeling, or sensation, gently bring your attention back into your body and feel the breath (if you are just noticing a thought and staying present to it, notice the arising, staying, and passing of each thought/emotion/feeling). The exact moment you realize you were not in the present is itself a moment of mindfulness. The mind naturally pulls attention away. You cannot control how many thoughts you have, or how often you get carried away, but you can control how you respond once you notice you are distracted6. Mindfulness is about continuing to come back to the present moment over and over again with patience and kindness toward ourselves.