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Mindfulness is one of those fashionable terms that you see getting used just about everywhere, but what exactly does it mean?

In his book, The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being, Daniel J. Siegel, Director of the Mindsight Institute, Co-Director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and the author of several books, writes:

Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences.  With mindful awareness, the flow of energy and information that is our mind enters our conscious attention and we can both appreciate its contents and come to regulate its flow in a new way.  Mindful awareness, as we will see, actually involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself.  Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.

Being mindful is not only being aware, it is being aware of awareness. It is approaching the present experience with a reflective awareness including the qualities of curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love.  Siegel has coined the acronym COAL to remember these.

In the book, Siegel quotes Jon Kabat Zinn as defining mindfulness as: “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

Another definition he offers which comes from  The Innerkids Program, designed to teach young children basic mindfulness skills, is: “Being aware of what is happening as it is happening.”

Five Basic Factors Of Mindfulness

In mindfulness studies, there are five basic factors that tend to comprise mindfulness:

  • Nonreactivity to inner experience (e.g., perceiving feelings and emotions without having to react to them);
  • observing/noticing/attending to sensations, perceptions, thoughts, feelings (e.g., remaining present with sensations and feelings even when they are unpleasant or painful);
  • acting with awareness/not on automatic pilot, concentration/nondistraction (e.g., breaking or spilling things because of carelessness, not paying attention, or thinking of something else);
  • describing/labeling with words (e.g., easily putting beliefs, opinions, and expectations into words);
  • nonjudgmental of experience (e.g., criticizing oneself for having irrational or appropriate emotions).

Almost every culture and religion have practices that encourage and help people to develop awareness of the present moment or mindfulness including meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi, and qui quong.  These practices share the common intent to consciously focus awareness in a very specific way.  Siegel writes:  “Direct experience in the present moment has been described as a fundamental part of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Taoist teaching.”  Mindfulness is not associated with any one religious orientation nor does it conflict with any.

Research has shown mindfulness to significantly improve a wide range of conditions from borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders.  It has shown to be helpful in the prevention of relapse with chronic depression and substance abuse.  I know that it has sure changed my life dramatically for the better as it helped me recover from depression and a serious brain injury resulting from a suicide attempt.  It can your change your life for the better too!

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    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Be mindful about mindfulness! 🙂 That’s the idea. Thanks, Tony!

  1. Very nice article
    Any recommendations on how to practice mindfulness ? I mean how to train the brain to be always mindful

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I can recommend some books. That is how I learned. It is a lifestyle and continual practice every day.

      Mindsight and The Mindful Brain – Daniel J. Siegal

      Buddha’s Brain and Just One Thing – Rick Hanson

      • Barbara Castlow Reply

        Very insightful suggestions on books! All are excellent. The addition of more may lead to other, as well-equipped suggestions. Bravo!

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  3. I’d like to share this as a word document siting your name. I’m asking permission to do so.

    Thank you,


    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sure, Kelly. As you indicated, please credit me as the author and povide my blog address. Thank you.

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  35. MrSportPsych Reply

    “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” said 19th Century physicist Lord Kelvin:

    Inna Khazan, PhD Clinical Psychologist Instructor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School wrote this excellent book: “The Clinical Handbook of Biofeedback: A Step-by-Step
    Guide for Training and Practice with Mindfulness”
    A practical guide to the clinical use of biofeedback, integrating powerful mindfulness techniques.
    * A definitive desk reference for the use of peripheral biofeedback techniques in psychotherapeutic settings, backed by a wealth of clinical research
    * Introduces mindfulness and acceptance techniques and shows how these methods can be incorporated into biofeedback practice
    * Step-by-step instructions provide everything a clinician needs to integrate biofeedback and mindfulness including protocols, exemplar logs for tracking symptoms, and sample scripts for mindfulness exercises
    * Includes scientifically robust treatment protocols for a range of common problems including headaches, hypertension and chronic pain

    H. James Harrington said: “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”.

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  44. So what is mindfulness meditation anyway?

    It’s rest.

    Here’s why. When you think of only one thing at a time, whether it is walking on the beach and thinking of seagulls, focusing on a doorknob or a nonsense word, or just thinking of ‘nothing’, your postural muscles relax, and this is accompanied by the release of endogenous opioids, which provides a natural high. This is why relaxation feels good. Indeed, all relaxation procedures have at their core thinking of singular and non-conflicting thoughts.

    Does this mean that teaching and practicing meditation is worthless? Quite the contrary. It just means that rest is meditation and meditation is rest, or in other words, you can’t rest unless you are in some way meditating!

    Conclusion: There is no unique meditative state apart from rest, and the postulation of such a state does not further but impedes the universal acceptance of meditative and mindfulness procedures as the primary source for relaxation and happiness.

    A short argument for this is here:

    And a longer one is here:

    • Interesting thoughts. I tend to agree. I think people can get way too complicated about meditation. It is whatever you need it to be. Thanks for sharing.

      • thank you for your comment, and let me restate my whole hearted acceptance and endorsement of meditative practice. Only thing it needs right now is a simple explanation.

        Here is an analogy.

        Some people take aspirin because is is a mysterious cure for a headache.

        but everyone takes aspirin because it is the only cure for a headache, and that is because we can explain in simple language what aspirin does.

        same thing with meditation. the reason why it is not universally accepted is that for too many people it is more akin to magical rather than scientific thinking.

        what meditation teachers especially need to realize is that there is a much greater market for doctors rather than witch doctors, and to adopt a simple explanation for meditation only validates their practice and their reputation.

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