Origins of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an ancient concept derived from the Pali word sati, which can be translated as presence of mind. It has roots in Asian Buddhist contemplative practice and is used in secular health applications.

Mindfulness involves purposefully paying attention to the present moment in a curious, open way without judgment. Experts in the science and application of mindfulness, have described it as receptive attention to and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness is thought to be more experiential and less analytical than typical wakefulness, providing an opportunity to disengage from habitual and potentially taxing preoccupation in biases, defenses, and rumination.

This use of the term mindfulness differs from common use referring to being careful, heedful, or conscientious. Mindfulness can be a “transformative process” associated with increased ability to “be present” with “acceptance,” “attention,” and “awareness” that may enhance well-being and sustain a therapeutic presence.

Mindfulness is considered an inherent capacity that can be cultivated through various meditative practices. Through such practices, people typically can cultivate a level of mindfulness that can decrease psychological distress and physical symptomatology. At a basic level, these practices involve paying close attention to the present moment, bringing into awareness what is, as well as how one reacts to what is.

Ultimately, the mindfulness practice also involves letting go of judgments (e.g., labeling thoughts/responses as good or bad) to truly attend to any experiences that occur to facilitate focusing on any experience that occurs, rather than avoiding some while clinging to others.

An example of mindfulness practice is being mindful of a particular object or phenomenon, such as one’s breathing, which entails observing the moment-to-moment sensations of each inhalation and exhalation in a receptive, curious manner.

When thoughts and emotions arise, they are noticed kindly and simply as thoughts and emotions. This maintains or returns awareness to the present moment, where attention can again be anchored on the breath. Breathing meditation is a common mindfulness practice, especially with novices.

Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of

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