Mindfulness Explained

Mindfulness is awareness that
arises through paying attention,
on purpose, in the present moment,

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Jon Kabat-Zinn, author Wherever You Go, There You Are

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a popular word that is used to describe everything from yoga exercises to coloring activities. But it’s good to have a clear and simple, straightforward definition:

  • Modern mindfulness is simply noticing what is happening right now.
  • It’s taking notice of how your body feels, and what you see, smell, taste, and hear.
  • Mindfulness is also noticing what your mind is doing, and paying attention to your thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them or ‘lost in thought.’

Mindfulness is…

Paying Attention on Purpose

A common misconception about mindfulness is that it means to stay in the present moment. People who practice meditation can get quickly frustrated by their mind’s disinterest in staying in the present moment.

Where we place our attention is one of the keys to being mindful. When we place our attention on something it creates awareness. If we are listening to our students with attention, suspending our judgment, emotions, and thoughts, we become mindful listeners.

Educators are highly skilled in multitasking. Mindful attention with a purposeful intent helps practitioners focus and experience an event more dimensionally. For example, while preparing for students, you may be focused on the tasks of gathering supplies, checking technology, etc.

Paying attention on purpose is the deep listening during the preparation. Noticing the temperature in the room, or the colors behind you on a remote screen, or even what your demeanor is. By paying attention on purpose, you are able to more fully stitch yourself to the present moment and all that arises within it.

A Way of Living
Mindfulness is more than just a practice. It brings awareness and caring into everything we do—and it helps us handle disruptive stress responses. Even a little makes our lives better. Plus, it’s not obscure or exotic. It’s familiar to us because it’s what we already do, how we already are. 

As humans, we already have the capacity to be present, and it doesn’t require us to change who we are. 

We can develop these innate qualities in the same way we can strengthen and increase our body’s muscles, by engaging in simple practices that are scientifically demonstrated to benefit us and our students.

Evidence Based
Both science and experience demonstrate its positive benefits for our health, for our happiness, for our work as teachers, and for our relationships. 

For over 50 years, scientists have studied the brains of meditators and non-meditators through x rays, cat scans, and MRIs to see changes in the brain after only 8 weeks of meditation. *The change they saw in the brain was an increase in grey matter!

The grey matter in the brain is important as we age because science confirms that Alzheimer’s and dementia are associated with a lack of grey matter. As we age, we naturally lose grey matter, so by increasing grey matter through mindfulness, we are lessening our chances for those conditions. Pretty exciting, huh?

Kral, T. R., Schuyler, B. S., Mumford, J. A., Rosenkranz, M. A., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2018). Impact of short- and long-term mindfulness meditation training on amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli. NeuroImage, 181, 301–313. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.07.013

Self-regulation of Attention and Emotions

Self-regulation is the ability to take control of our attention and emotions. If WE can control where WE put OUR attention, WE can regulate OUR focus.

It’s also about regulating emotions. We learn to put our attention on how we are feeling. And if we are more aware of the emotion that we are feeling, then we can choose how to respond and work through it thoughtfully instead of reacting to it.

A common misconception about mindfulness is that it means to stay in the present moment at all times.

Oftentimes, when we begin a formal mindfulness practice, we can find ourselves quickly frustrated by the mind’s disinterest in staying in the present moment.

Many students and teachers have said: “I can’t be mindful. I can’t stay in the moment!” But the reality is no one’s mind stays in the present moment. 

The awareness of those thoughts is the mindfulness practice.

Considering the nature of what our mind needs to process and compute each second, we would not be able to control our mind to chronically stay. 

But, we have control over the return.

You can always return your mind to the present moment, return it to your breath or your senses, which immediately returns your attention to the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness can provide you the coping tools that you need to live a happier and healthier life. The key to mindfulness is to find time every day to practice so that it becomes a habit.