Woman begin mindful in the moment

Introduction to Mindfulness: Enjoy the present moment and appreciate life

7 minutes to read
Elizabeth Lehmann

Elizabeth Lehmann

(Mindfulness facilitator)

Beginner Evidence Based

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Mindfulness as a practice and technique goes back thousands of years and is closely related to Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga. The term “mindfulness” only started being used in the last 60 years.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention and being present in the moment. It involves being non-judgmental towards your own thoughts, emotions and experiences. 

In this article, we will look more closely at the history and origin of mindfulness, certain notable individuals and also the current research and studies done on mindfulness.

How to define mindfulness?

According to an English dictionary the meaning of mindfulness is the quality of state of being. 

Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of: 

  • one´s thoughts
  • emotions, or
  • experiences on a moment-to-moment basis 

It is a “a way of paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally.” 

When we pay attention this way our relationship with ourselves and with our environment changes. We become more aware, and we emerge from the autopilot mindset in which we are most of our time.

Mindfulness is a practice and a way of being

To experience life, we need to be mindful when we are doing our everyday tasks but also be purposefully connected with our body’s self-calming mechanisms by recognising when we are going into unhelpful patterns of behaviour and reactivity.

Work and frustration
Source: FreePik

We train our mind through mindfulness practice to be present in each moment, which is how we develop a “mind muscle” to deal with challenging situations as they arise

There are two types of mindfulness — informal and formal. 

Informal mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime with anyone by being fully engaged in the here and the now. It is usually practiced by being mindful while doing daily activities like eating, walking, showering and talking. 

Formal mindfulness refers to meditation of which there are several forms, such as  mindful breathing, body scanning, mindful listening, mindfulness of emotions, mindful thinking etc.[1]

This brings us to our next question is mindfulness and meditation the same, or are they different.

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Mindfulness and meditation are interrelated but they are not the same. It could be said that mindfulness is an art form and meditation is a tool which we use to create that art.

Meditation is focusing the mind on one object in order to calm the mind.  While meditating, we notice the mind sometimes wandering away, and we can gently bring it back to the object that we are focusing on.

Mindfulness is to be fully aware of the sensations in our body, our thoughts, our feelings and the environment.

Mindfulness is the result meditation

There are many types of meditation, depending on the focus of attention and the aim of the meditation, breath-awareness, loving-kindness, mantra based, visualisation, or guided meditation. 

RELATED — Introduction to Meditation: Ancient medicine for mind and body healing

Meditation is, usually, an intentional sitting to increase calmness, concentration, awareness, and emotional balance. It can take from a few minutes to a few hours, in a comfortable position, beginning with conscious breathing guided towards a focal point. 

Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment without judging or reacting. The goal is to be directly conscious of what we are doing and while we are doing it.

Mindfulness and being present in the moment
Source: FreePik

We are actively mindful, noticing the world around us, our thoughts, our feelings and emotions, our behaviours, our movements, and the effects we have on others around us.

History and origin of mindfulness

The English word Mindfulness is a translation from the word Sati (Sanskrit), which constitutes a mental quality of crucial importance in early Buddhism. The word sati is related to the verb sarati, which means “to remember”. 

People have been practicing mindfulness meditation for more than 4,000 years, and its origins are based on Hinduism, Buddhism, yoga and more recently on secular science base practice meditation.

Hinduism and Mindfulness

Hinduism is considered the oldest religion in the world. It arose around 4,000 years ago, however, it is not known who the founder is. It’s believed that it started as a cluster of traditions in the Indus Valley, which is today’s Pakistan. 

These religious traditions and rituals continued to develop into Vedic writings, 2,500 to 3,500 years ago. Around 1,500 to 2,500 years ago additional texts including the concepts of Dharma and temple worshiping were included in the Vedic writings. 

In the 1800s the British writers started calling Hinduism the Vedic traditions and writings.

Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami explained the connections and differences between hinduism, yoga and mindfulness. While yoga is “limited to stress reduction and physical health”, mindfulness tends to be taught as a “non-spiritual practice”. 

In contrast, in hinduism the act of mindfulness, “emotional management, stress reduction and enhanced mental focus” are only beginning-level goals. In other words, mindfulness is a preparatory practice for raja yoga, which leads to the advanced attainment of higher states of consciousness.[2]

Buddhism and Mindfulness

In Buddhism, mindfulness is considered the first step towards enlightenment, which is why mindfulness has a closer relation to Buddhism than to Hinduism. 

Siddhartha Guatama (around 400 – 500 B.C.E) also known as Buddha was born and raised in current India and Nepal. 

Guatama was a prince of a small kingdom, however, he decided to leave his family and life of luxury behind. It took him many years of listening to different teachers and studying text before he experienced a profound change in his life and became the Buddha, the enlightened one. 

Siddhartha Guatama taught the four noble truths, which are: 

  • that all life is characterised by suffering
  • the origins of suffering
  • the idea of self
  • the cessation of suffering

He formed the first sangha (community), instructing men and women to bring understanding to everyone, and he taught mindfulness as one of the steps on the noble eight-fold path to enlightenment.

Yoga and Mindfulness

Yoga also has its origins in Hinduism. Its relation to mindfulness,  it’s correlated to the practice of body and mind awareness. 

Yoga as a physical discipline can synchronise our body in a smooth posture that allows us to physically be present in the moment. 

While practicing yoga, the first thing that we start with is to pay close attention to our body and movements, while mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening at the moment. 

Both aim to achieve the higher order of awareness or connection between the body, mind, and spirit. Also, they help us to quiet our mind and form a connection with a deeper understanding of ourselves and our surroundings. 

RELATED — The Origins of Yoga: History, Development and Modern Times

Vipassana Meditation and Mindfulness

Vipassana meditation is believed to first be taught by Buddha. It has some similarities to Mindfulness meditation as both involve: 

  • observing thoughts and sensations without judgment
  • focusing on the present moment
  • sitting meditation
  • breathing observation
  • body scanning 

Vipassana meditation has the goal of releasing suffering and realising the truth of impermanence. 

However, mindfulness incorporates mindful eating, mindful walking, stress coping and gratitude.[3]

Notable individuals

It could be said that the word mindfulness began to be widely used by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., who is the founder of Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Jon Kabat-Zinn developed his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme aimed at helping on how to cope and reduce stress. 

Kabat-Zinn studied with Buddhists teachers including Thich Nhat Hanh, who is called the father of Mindfulness. Hanh was born in Vietnam, became a Buddhist monk, moved to the USA where he taught Buddhism, and also founded a monastic community in France while in exile from Vietnam. 

Another important individual is meditation teacher Eckhart Tolle. He is of German origin, based in Vancouver Canada, and has two impressive books “The Power of Now” and “New Earth” where he explains hard esoteric concepts in a way that is easy to understand.

Eckhart Tolle

Satya Narayan Goenka, is the most influential teacher of Vipassana Meditation in the West and founder of the 10-day Silent retreat.

Born and raised in Myanmar (Burma), Goenka learned the technique of Vipassana from Saygyi U B Khin. For almost 45 years, Goenka and his teachers taught hundreds of thousands of people in India and other countries about Vipassana.

The technique taught by Goenka goes back two and a half millennia to the Buddha, who taught Dhamma – the way to liberation. In the same tradition, Goenka´s approach is non-sectarian and scientific in character.

For this reason, his teaching has had a profound appeal to people of all backgrounds, of every religion and non-religion and from every part of the world.[4]

Research on mindfulness

In the West the increase in the popularity of Mindfulness is closely related with the increase in the number of scientific research. 

In the 1950s the interest started with the practice of humanistic and existential Zen psychotherapies. 

In the 1960s we saw a boom in the use of mantras from Hinduism in therapies, with the aim of calming the mind. 

In the 1970s the mindfulness interventions based in Vipassana meditation were used in medical settings as well as in universities and psychotherapy. 

In the 1980s and 90s mindfulness began to grow exponentially, and a part of it is attributed to Jon Kabat-Zinn and his observations in Mindfulness-based therapies. 

Matthieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz, Richard J. Davidson and others also did important research on the benefits of mindfulness.[5,6]

Baminiwatta and Solangaarachchi did a study using the Web of Science in mindfulness publications. They found 16,581 publications from 1966 to 2021 on mindfulness. Nearly half (47%) were in psychology and about one-fifth (20.8%) in psychiatry, where mindfulness was included as a component in treatment.[7]

Today, PubMed (National Library of Medicine) gives 20,092 results on research about mindfulness alone.

Health benefits of mindfulness

With the increased use in mindfulness as a therapy, researchers have reported studies on the benefits, effectiveness and also possible risks.

The publication “Mind of the meditator ” (2015) Ricard, M., Lutz, A., Davidson, R.J. mentions meditation promoting calmness and general wellbeing, and how the three most common forms of meditation (focussed attention, mindfulness and compassion) are becoming widely used as well as attracting scientific scrutiny.[5]

The Effects of Mindfulness and Meditation
The effects of mindfulness and meditation
Source: Eberth, J. The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation: A Meta-Analysis. (2012)

They show images of physiological changes in the brain of meditators. 

Some studies suggest the following benefits of mindfulness meditation, where regular practices makes it easier to: 

  • control our temper
  • fend off depression
  • reduce worry and anxiety
  • lose weight
  • lower daily stress
  • fall asleep faster
  • be a better listener
  • enjoy sex more
  • deepen our spiritual life
  • stick with your goals
  • improve our immune system.[7]

Although there are few studies that can prove all these benefits, others are beginning to show encouraging results.  

In recent years, Dr. David S. Black has published numerous studies on the health benefits of mindfulness, such as significant reduction in specific markers of inflammation and improvement in the immune system as effects of mindfulness meditation.[8]

In our following articles, we will cover this topic in detail.

Side effects and possible risks of mindfulness

Mindfulness-based programmes like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are implemented in various clinical and hospital settings for the specific treatment of:

  • stress
  • depression
  • substance abuse
  • chronic pain

Although studies have described adverse events, such as anxiety and psychosis associated with mindfulness meditation, there haven’t been consistent control trials to report adverse side effects. 

The aim of habitual mindfulness meditation is to become aware of feelings and sensations and how to deal with them. 

In the short 8-week mindfulness meditation course studies have shown that adverse side effects are rare and mainly occur in intensive meditation practice.

Mindfulness is considered very safe to practice daily

Studies and anecdotal case reports described more severe negative events attributed to mindfulness in intensive long-term practice for those with pre-existing mental health issues.

This would include individuals who already have past history of psychiatric disorders, sleep deprivation, and social stressors.[9]

Related Questions

1. What does mindful living mean?
Mindful living means to be able to become aware and present throughout the day and every moment with our thoughts, sensations and with the environment and the effect it has in us and in others.

2. How do I incorporate mindfulness into my daily routine?
From the moment we wake up till the end of the day one can put into practice simple techniques such as to: 

  • become aware of the body sensations
  • practice gratitude and curiosity
  • observe without judging
  • have patience

3. How long does it take for mindfulness to change the brain?
It would depend on the consistency of the practice. The longer and more regular practice, the sooner the changes will be evident. 

If you liked the article or have any questions, please let us know in the comments below.

Elizabeth is a Certified Spanish – English Interpreter, and over the years has worked for various New Zealand agencies. Given that interpreting requires a high level of concentration and a good memory among many other demanding mental skills, Elizabeth found mindfulness meditation a useful tool to calm her mind and improve her performance. Also, she found meditating calming, and helpful to control panic attacks which she used to suffer from.

Today, she is an avid meditation practitioner and has two diplomas in Mindfulness Meditation, one in New Zealand and one in Mexico. Elizabeth is a member of International Mindfulness Teachers Association (IMTA), and is currently providing Mindfulness Meditation classes to women. 

In Elizabeth’s words: “I find teaching meditation very rewarding because I get to help people. Also, I  continue learning and growing myself since I must research, prepare classes, and put into practice what I preach.”

References

(1) Eisler, M. (2019, August 27) Explaining the Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation. Chopra.

(2) Hannay, C. (2022, 10, 23) Hindu Perspective on Mindfulness and Yoga. Mindfulness Teachers. Retrieved from https://www.mindfulteachers.org/blog/hindu-perspectives-on-mindfulness 

(3) Selva, J. (2017, Mar 13) The History and Origins of Mindfulness. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/history-of-mindfulness/ 

(4) Grabowski, S. (2020, April 13) 16 Of The Most Respected Mindfulness Teachers Of Modern Day. Retrieved from themindfulnesssteward.com https://themindfulsteward.com/16-of-the-most-respected-mindfulness-teachers-of-modern-day/  

(5) Ricard, M. Lutz, A. Davidson, A. J. (2015). Neuroscience Reveals The Secrets Of Meditation Benefits. Scientificamerica.com. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/neuroscience-reveals-the-secrets-of-meditation-s-benefits/ 

(6) Bishop, S.R. (2004). Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 11, 03. Health Module pg. 230. Retrieved from https://www.qigonginstitute.org/upload/tinymce-editor/docs/mindfulness-_a_proposed_operational_definition.pdf 

(7) Baminiwatta, A., Solangaarachchi, I. Trends and Developments in Mindfulness Research over 55 Years: A Bibliometric Analysis of Publications Indexed in Web of Science. Mindfulness 12, 2099–2116 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-021-01681-x

(8) Black DS, Slavich GM. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016 Jun;1373(1):13-24. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12998. Epub 2016 Jan 21. PMID: 26799456; PMCID: PMC4940234. https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nyas.12998

(9) Binda, D.D. Greco, C.M. Morone, N.E. (2022, April 19) What Are The Adverse Events In Mindfulness Meditation. Global Advances In Health And Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9024164/

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