Mindfulness meditation is a discipline of mind training, and it has been variously defined by many different groups over the centuries. A good contemporary definition taken from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy by members of The Insititute for Meditation and Psychotherapy is "awareness of present experience with acceptance." There are three elements of this definition: 1) awareness—a relaxed state of mind, of apprehension, 2) present experience—the moment occurring now as opposed to those imagined in the past or the future, where we typically spend a great deal of time, and 3) acceptance—a willingness to be non-judgmental about the experience that we have "in the present moment." Although all mindfulness exercises are meditative, they are not all what we might normally think of as "meditations" per se. They can be though, and they all do train the mind, some subtly and some more obviously. A small sampling of mindfulness exercises follows below in no particular order:
- Walking with the purpose of paying attention to (and only to) the physical sensations that accompany walking.
- Eating slowly with a focus on tasting, smelling, touching, swallowing, etc.
- Sitting in a quiet place in good posture with one's attention placed on breathing and with the instruction to bring one's attention back gently and non-judgmentally to the breathing when it wanders away (which it will).
- Washing the dishes with full attention on the dishes, the water, the sink, etc., and bringing attention back to the dishes when it wanders.
- Identifying with a feature of the landscape—say, a mountain—and imagining oneself as a mountain going through the seasons.
- Listening to a piece of music without telling a story to oneself about the piece--just listening to the sound, continually bringing one’s attention back to the sound.
- Observing one's mind stream without joining it, observing one's thoughts without "thinking" them.
- Performing a methodical, unhurried body scan.
- Doing a session of yoga while focusing attention on the physical sensations of doing it.
Mindfulness techniques have many applications. A sampling of applications follows below:
- Training psychotherapy patients in affect tolerance, fearlessness (exposure and response prevention), and patience.
- Investigating the very nature of experience at the most rudimentary cognitive and emotional levels.
- Training therapists (or executives) to be more active listeners and sensitive responders.
- Training chronic pain patients to move toward their pain instead of away from it, which often causes it to lessen in intensity.
- Training individuals in almost any line of work or activity to focus more completely on what they are actually doing, generating increased efficiency while simultaneously diminishing stress.
- Training children in the benefits of focused attention, helping them become more self-aware in the process.