What Even Is Mindfulness?

By: Narges Khazraei, MA, RP, CCC

Mindfulness has become extremely popular and a sort of buzz word over the past few years. But what IS mindfulness exactly? Mindfulness can be described simply as: practicing presence and awareness, by purposefully paying attention to one’s mental events and internal experiences (e.g., thoughts, feelings, sensations) in the present, without judgment (Jon Kabat Zinn, 2004).

Mindfulness in the form that is practiced for well-being became more popular around the world during the past 3 or 4 decades with Jon Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness program. This program and subsequent ones had a large influence on its popularity after demonstrating a number of psychological benefits like stress reduction and general psychological well-being.

If you’re curious about mindfulness, there are a few core components that are helpful to understand before beginning the practice.

The first are the three A’s:  attention, awareness, and acceptance.

Attention: One of the main components of practicing mindfulness is bringing attention to one’s experience in the present moment in a non-judgemental manner (Kabat-Zinn, 2004). In formal mindfulness, attention is usually focused on, and brought back to one’s breath repeatedly. When practiced regularly, this process helps to reduce stress and improve well-being. As your mindfulness practice grows, you learn to connect with your thoughts and emotions without getting involved or attached to your internal dialogue. Instead, you can come back to practicing presence through bringing your attention back to your breath.

Awareness: Awareness in mindfulness refers to consciously observing one’s experiences in the present moment, and seeing one’s psychological experiences as they are, without attempting to change them (Kabat-Zinn, 2004). Awareness refers to the broader aspect of consciousness, and attention refers to focusing on a particular experience or what is salient in the moment (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Germer, 2013).

Acceptance: Acceptance in mindfulness is practiced hand in hand with non-judgmental awareness, and it refers to acknowledging your one’s thoughts, emotions and experiences, instead of suppressing, resisting, or ignoring them. Acceptance in mindfulness does not refer to becoming passive towards hurtful behaviour of others or what may be unhealthy. Rather, it refers to looking at and creating a safe space for one’s psychological experiences, observing and acknowledging them instead of denying them.

Next are the “nons” – non-judgement and non-attachment:

Non-judgment: Non-judgment in mindfulness refers to not labeling your experiences (thoughts, emotions, sensations, or observations) as good or bad. This practice helps with reducing stress, and not reacting to situations based on old and automatic patterns of the mind, when triggered.

Non-attachment/ letting go: Non-attachment in mindfulness is practiced as you learn to be an observer: aware of your mind and its activities but not involved or engaged with them. You can do this by regularly bringing your attention back to your breath. Gradually through non-attachment, you can learn to be less involved in your mental activities, and rather be an observer watching your mind and its activities.

Lastly, there are the two components of human connectedness:

Compassion: Practicing mindfulness includes practicing compassion towards others as well as towards oneself. Compassion is similar to kindness, but adds the component of acknowledging and understanding pain and suffering.

Loving-kindness: Practicing mindfulness is also about practicing loving kindness towards all, but this does not mean that one needs to let go of their healthy boundaries. Practicing loving-kindness can be helpful to forgive others and yourself, and develop a humanistic perspective as you maintain healthy boundaries.

If you’re interested in trying mindfulness in therapy reach out to book an appointment and let us know!