Do you suffer from stress, chronic pain, or stubborn, unwanted patterns of behavior or emotion? Would you benefit from an increased ability to relax, stronger concentration, greater awareness, and deepening insights into your personal style of being in the world? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then the practice of mindfulness is right for you. (For a more extensive list of the benefits of mindfulness, click here.)

Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as paying attention on purpose and without judgment to what is happening in the present moment. This way of paying attention can be practiced with any of our senses as well as in relation to our inner experience of thoughts, emotions, and imagery. When learning mindfulness we usually begin simply with mindfulness of breathing as an inner form of experience and mindful hearing as a way to attend to external sensory input. Gradually the practice is expanded until in includes all aspects of our experience. Once a good foundation of mindfulness is developed, it can be used as the central element in a deepening inquiry into dysfunctional patterns of emotion and belief and their relationship to our experience of our body and our behavior. This exploration leads to reduced stress, greater self-understanding, improved relationships, and a growing ease of living.

A faculty member of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Kabat-Zinn, PhD, developed a secular application of mindfulness for stress reduction and pain management that is now used in many hospitals and medical centers throughout the United States, including the Kaiser Permanente system in California. His approach to mindfulness, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), is now also taught in prisons, juvenile halls, corporations, and is used in several evidence-based psychotherapeutic modalities. Just in the past few years, mindfulness is now being taught with great benefit in some schools. (See my section on Mindfulness for Children.)

Jon’s protocol has also been adapted to address depression and anxiety for use with groups and individuals. Research has shown that mindfulness can be effective with a wide range of other clinical issues as well. 

Benefits of Mindfulness

A recent survey of the research literature on mindfulness lists the following as benefits:

Increased self-awareness, self-trust, and self-acceptance.

Enhanced appreciation of life.

Serenity in the face of difficulties.

More accepting attitude toward life and its challenges.

More fluid adaptation to change and development of more effective coping strategies.

Significant decreases in anxiety and depression.

Considerable reduction in the chances that depression will return.

Improved concentration and creativity.

Lasting decreases in a variety of stress-related physical symptoms, including chronic pain.

Improved immune system functioning.