What is mindfulness?

The business world is abuzz with mindfulness. From the health and wellbeing professionals who offer courses on the subject to the managers who declare that mindfulness has changed the way they lead, it seems that everyone is talking about it. But what is mindfulness, really?

In this four-part series, I will de-mystify mindfulness, so it becomes a tangible practice that you may or may not want to try rather than a ubiquitous word whose meaning has lost its significance.

In its essence, mindfulness refers to a process of tuning into the present moment. That reads easy enough, but once you start to work at it, you will find just how complex the ever evolving present moment is. I emphasise the word process, because it is exactly that. It is not a state that one arrives at and then glides through. It is truly a process that we have to work at, moment to moment.

Mindfulness is often used synonymously with a myriad of words, but it is strong enough to stand on its own. Let’s play a quick game of true or false.

  • Mindfulness and meditation are the same thing. False. One form of meditation is mindfulness meditation, but the two practices should not be conflated. One can be mindful without meditating, however one cannot meditate without being mindful.
  • Mindfulness is only for Buddhists. False. Mindfulness is universal and does not require any particular religious or spiritual affiliation.
  • Mindfulness can only be practiced in stillness. False. Mindfulness can be practiced from the moment you wake up until the moment you go back to sleep. It is possible to practice mindfulness in everything you do.
  • Mindfulness is a type of yoga practice. False. Mindfulness is simply mindfulness, but it can be experienced and heightened with the help of a consistent yoga practice.
  • Mindfulness changes the brain. True. A great deal of research over the last few years has documented and illustrated the positive impact regular mindfulness practice has on a person’s brain. It keeps the brain healthy, supports self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and it helps protect individuals from toxic stress.

The enormous benefits of a regular mindfulness practice are enough for most people to want to give it a try. Here’s a small exercise. Stand up and put your feet together. With a straight spine and closed eyes, begin to listen in. Stay here for just two minutes. You might notice that your weight is shifting from one foot to the other, one hip is higher than the other, your jaw is tense, or you have goose bumps on your left arm. Your physical body may not be reacting at all.

The many observations that we make when practicing mindfulness is the beauty of the technique. Its greatest reward is to observe all of those things without judging them as either good or bad, right or wrong. In the next three pieces, I’ll explain, in greater detail how to practice and what to expect.



This post was originally written for Beyond Classically Beautiful