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What is Mindfulness?

The realm of mindfulness seems to be ever expanding over the last 10-15 years in the West.  At this point it seems like mindfulness is becoming a bit more of what you make it, but there are some key principles that can help us define what mindfulness is, how we can practice and the positive benefits it can have on our life. The biggest thing about mindfulness is that it’s completely accessible to everyone.  Regardless of where you come from, your religious background, job title, upbringing or past; mindfulness is something everyone can practice and learn from.  Not everyone will have the same practice, outcomes or experiences, but practicing mindfulness allows us to more effectively tap into the most powerful computer in the world, our brains, so we can more effectively maximize our human potential. 
 
The first key to mindfulness is Awareness. Our mind and brain have so many thoughts, inputs and distractions going on all the time, on top of the number of distractions increasing day by day through the adoption and growth of technology.  While so many amazing benefits come from technology, it has moved a lot of us into a state of constant stimulus and continual interruptions of our day with dings, beeps and multiple tabs. The practice of mindfulness really says, how do we give our mind something to focus on, that enables us to bring more awareness back inside of our body and forego judgement on that moment to just BE. There are so many things we take for granted everyday that are truly miracles, like the fact our heart continually beats without us thinking about it.  Many mindfulness practices will bring you back inside the body and bring awareness to something very simple like the feeling of your feet on the floor as you sit, the feeling of the belly moving as you breathe or even just noticing our breath.  All of these help us bring more awareness inside of our own body, as opposed to continually focusing on what is happening outside of us; online, in the news, on the street. That is why you will see many mindfulness practices that will focus on bringing internal awareness into our body so we can give our mind something to focus on.  There's a great video from a Buddhist monk on how focusing on the breath quiets the monkey mind. Mindfulness starts with awareness and then the real work begins. 
 
The second key of mindfulness is working to build your awareness.  More studies continue to come out regarding the power of mindfulness in the brain and what we’ve come to realize is the brain is a muscle that we can train similar lifting weights.  If you look at mindfulness as a way to train your brain there will be many different types of training.  We need to find the ways that work most effectively for each of us because mindfulness is a subjective experience.  The common misconception people tell me is that “they can’t shut their mind off, or stop their thoughts” which is totally true and may be a longer term objective of mindfulness.  But, the core focus is on building the time between when you lose awareness/focus and bringing yourself back.  The true work or practice in mindfulness or meditation is becoming aware of when your mind wanders away from the focus on your breath.  Once you notice you’ve lost your awareness is when the strength comes in as you practice bringing your awareness back inside. Overtime ideally you will strengthen this awareness muscle so you can prolong the amount of time between distractions, but some days will be better than others.  This is why meditation is a practice, you will never be done on this path as you continue to journey inward and master yourself. 
 
The last key part of what mindfulness is, has to do with taking your practice with you in everyday life.  Just as in yoga they talk about taking the principles of your yoga practice off the mat, the same is true with meditation.  The true power comes from you when are able to apply this practice in your day to day life.  When you get in a tough situation, opposed to reacting immediately take a breath and focus, notice what is coming up for you, where it’s coming from and then define how you want to react.  The classic quote from Victor Frankl fits so perfectly here, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  The power of mindfulness is this ability to help you build more space between your reactions.  When we can react not from a fight or flight mentality, but with the new ability we have as human beings to communicate!  Every situation isn’t life or death anymore we can have more effective relationships and interactions with others by leveraging the power of pausing and communicating.
 
Mindfulness is many things to many people, more and more we are seeing mindfulness come in to the business world because of the countless benefits from health to happiness and more success.  The keys to remember are mindfulness is for everyone who wants it (and probably a lot that don’t), we are looking to build awareness that can lead to slowing our mind down and then seeing how we can take this practice with us everyday so we can be more mindful of our actions/reactions and take more control to be the best version of ourselves. 
 
What do you think?  Mindfulness has many different definitions, what does it mean to you?
 
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