What is mindfulness?
In recent times, mindfulness has become a mainstream, popular idea in the West — but what does it actually mean? The modern godfather of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn (the founder of MBSR — mindfulness-based stress reduction), once described mindfulness as: ‘the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.’
So, in a nutshell, it’s staying in the present moment whatever we are doing. Here, we’ll take a look at the idea of mindfulness, and at how you can take steps to achieve it.
With leading mindfulness experts, Jon Kabab-Zinn pioneered an eight-week mindfulness-based stress-reduction course at the University of Massachusetts Medical School for patients with chronic pain.
They harnessed the fundamentals of mindfulness meditation as taught by the Buddha, but with the Buddhism element removed. “I bent over backwards to structure it and find ways to speak about it that avoided as much as possible the risk of it being seen as Buddhist, new age, eastern mysticism or just plain flakey,” said Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Despite this comment, Buddhist mindfulness meditation has existed for centuries, and aeons ago, practitioners in the East were long aware of its multiple benefits. Back then, the key concept was the same as it is today — to cultivate attention on the body and mind, moment to moment.
In the East, they already realised that mindfulness meditation was an effective way of processing suffering or pain, both physical and emotional. Yet, unlike the modern secular mindfulness of today, Buddhists understood that mindfulness meditation also opened them up to deeper insights into the universe as a whole.
One of the UK’s leading mindfulness experts, Julian Daizan Skinner, who co-authored Practical Zen for Health, Wealth and Mindfulness, successfully transported the ancient body mind insights of Rinzai Zen from the mountains of Japan to help boost the secular and spiritual mindfulness movements in the West.
The benefits of mindfulness
“Mindfulness can dramatically boost stress resilience,” says Julian Daizan Skinner. “It also lifts and enhances your immune system and helps you to enjoy a new level of contentment. With practice, mindfulness also helps to improve everyday function beyond the normal. Just look at how it has inspired world-class athletes, actors, and CEOs to perform beyond the ordinary.”
Two striking examples are the late singer Leonard Cohen and the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs — both of whom credit the practice of mindful meditation for enriching their professional performance. They were then able to share their unique creativity wholeheartedly with the world.
How to achieve mindfulness
Many people associate mindfulness with meditation and yoga, but meditating on a mountain or standing on your head isn’t the only way to achieving a mindful state.
It’s worth considering that sitting still in silence is not for everyone and nor is doing yoga postures.
The good news is that you can still access a mindful state by cultivating mindfulness in your everyday life. The idea is to link your mind and body and present awareness to many activities — from swimming to running and playing the piano to washing up the dishes.
Another important component of mindfulness is the breath. By learning to use the breath in a mindful manner, we can apply mindfulness to almost everything you do.
What’s more, mindfulness can also be a goal, not just something to be practised in isolation. Today, we live in a very goal-oriented world and so learning to cultivate mindfulness is an aspirational and goal-worthy pursuit. Mindfulness is practical, accessible and available for everyone for free. So, what’s not to love?
One activity which actively promotes mindfulness is the ancient art of qigong. It has been practised by millions of people in the East for centuries, and unsurprisingly, it’s now popular in the West. Qigong, meaning life force cultivation, is a physical and mental and martial school of thought that harmonises body, mind, and breath. It’s a form of movement — think meditative flowing, dance-like motions.
It has a myriad of potential positive benefits, including lowering stress levels, boosting immunity, reducing chronic pain, improving cardio function and building tremendous mind power.
Besides improving flexibility and fitness levels, it can also give you a sense of oneness with the Universe too. Like yoga, qigong, aims to cultivate free-flowing energy in the body, but uniquely, qigong has the added benefit of being used for self-defence. Devotees stress that it is accessible for all ages and fitness levels too.
We don’t become mindful by just reading about mindfulness; we become mindful by learning and practicing it and by making it a lifelong goal. Ideally, it’s best to learn it from an expert, someone who is a living, breathing example of mindfulness.
If you’d like to learn more about how to become mindful, and particularly of how to do this with qigong, check out our blog here. Alternatively, if you’d like to become a student of White Tiger, feel free to look into our teacher retreats. It’d be our pleasure to have you and teach more of the secrets Qigong has to share.