Know a thing or two... MINDFULNESS


The Simple Things - - THINK - Il­lus­tra­tion: NAOMI WILKIN­SON Words: JANE ALEXAN­DER

Right here, right now. Mindfulness is sim­ply the con­scious aware­ness of be­ing fully im­mersed in ev­ery mo­ment of life. Jon Ka­bat-Zinn, who pop­u­larised the prac­tice in the West says, “Mindfulness means pay­ing at­ten­tion in a par­tic­u­lar way; on pur­pose, in the present mo­ment and non-judg­men­tally.” Some have dubbed it ‘med­i­ta­tion for Western­ers’, but in fact it’s part and par­cel of med­i­ta­tion. It goes be­yond just pay­ing at­ten­tion to the world inside and out­side our­selves: its ul­ti­mate aim is pure aware­ness, free from judg­ment.

Mindfulness has been en­twined with Bud­dhism and Hin­duism for thou­sands of years. Schol­ars claim rightly that its roots lie in Hin­duism – it’s a vi­tal strand in Vedic med­i­ta­tion tech­niques. How­ever, Bud­dhism took the con­cept of mindfulness and… sat with it. Mindfulness ( known as

sati) is con­sid­ered to be the first step to­wards en­light­en­ment and it’s a cru­cial part of Bud­dhist prac­tice. How­ever, mind­ful practices can also be found in a wide ar­ray of other faiths, in­clud­ing Ju­daism, Chris­tian­ity and Su­fism.

Mindfulness broke free of its re­li­gious bound­aries in the 1970s. Pro­fes­sor Jon Ka­bat-Zinn was in­tro­duced to med­i­ta­tion by Zen mis­sion­ary Philip Kapleau and went on to study with Thich Nhat Hanh and other teach­ers. In 1979, he founded the Stress Re­duc­tion Clinic at the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts Med­i­cal School. Al­though his Mindfulness-Based Stress Re­duc­tion (MBSR) pro­gramme used tech­niques from Bud­dhism, he made the prac­tice to­tally sec­u­lar.

Since then, mindfulness has mush­roomed. Mindfulness ex­er­cises are now taught in schools, in psy­chother­apy ses­sions, in hospi­tals and even in the mil­i­tary. Mean­while there has been an ex­plo­sion of apps and books of­fer­ing mindfulness for ev­ery oc­ca­sion. Mind­ful colour­ing books are now so pop­u­lar, they have their own sec­tion in book­stores.

But let’s not get dis­tracted by all this flurry. Let’s take it back to the mo­ment: right here, right now.


Jon Ka­bat-Zinn aimed to teach his pa­tients how to kick­start their own heal­ing pow­ers. He found that mindfulness could help re­lieve chronic pain and lessen feel­ings of anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. Pa­tients were even able to clear pso­ri­a­sis much faster. He went on to in­struct peo­ple with ill­nesses rang­ing from heart dis­ease to ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, di­a­betes to cancer.

Since 1970, mindfulness has been scru­ti­nised by a huge num­ber of stud­ies. The re­sults to­tally sup­port Ka­bat-Zinn’s be­liefs. Mindfulness re­ally can lessen pain and it may also ease insomnia, sup­port weight man­age­ment and help to al­le­vi­ate de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and stress. It is prov­ing help­ful in the treat­ment of ad­dic­tion and ADHD, and even has ben­e­fits for peo­ple with psychosis.

Mindfulness can have an ef­fect on our im­mune sys­tems and may even have the po­ten­tial to in­flu­ence how our genes ex­press them­selves.

Even if there’s noth­ing par­tic­u­larly wrong with you, mindfulness can im­prove your life, sum­mon­ing up feel­ings of joy, peace and hap­pi­ness. It may even help you to dis­cover what you re­ally want from life. Nev­er­the­less, Ka­bat-Zinn warns that the very act of stop­ping and lis­ten­ing can also sum­mon up sup­pressed emo­tions – some peo­ple find they need to work through tough emo­tions such as grief, sad­ness, anger and fear.

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