According to the UC Berkleley Greater Good Science Center, mindfulness, "means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens."
Although the concept of mindfulness originates within Buddhism, the more secular usage of the term entered into the US in the late 1970s with the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn at UMass.
Basically, mindfulness is a way of slowing your body and mind down by becoming aware of the present moment. Breathe in and out slowly. Notice your senses. What do you see, smell, or hear in the present moment?
Mindfulness, including specific practices like mindfulness meditation, is a popular ways to cope with racing thoughts, anxiety, and stress. When you are feeling sad about something in the past or anxious about the future, take a moment to focus on the present moment.
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It is normal for your mind to wander when trying to meditate or focus on the present moment. In instances like this, you might find a so-called "anchor" helpful to ground your thoughts. What is an anchor in mindfulness meditation? An anchor could be counting your breaths in and out, or it could be as simple as focusing on a ray of sunlight streaming into your dorm room, or the beautiful colors of a maple leaf in the fall.
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As late Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in his book, Peace is Every Step, "We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We only need to be awake, alive in the present moment."
So the next time you are stressed out, try to walk slowly, focusing on each step. What does your body feel? How do your feel feel as they touch the earth?
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Again, do not worry if your mind wanders when you try to focus on the present. Practice non-judgement of your thoughts and mind. You are human and deserve compassion. Being compassionate and non-judgemental towards yourself is called "self-compassion." If you find yourself being too judgemental of yourself, you may find Dr. Kristen Neff's book useful: Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
Sometimes it can be helpful to take a walk in nature in order to stay in the present. Observing nature, whether it be trees, flowers, animals, birds, or the weather, can help us stay present and mindful.
Monterey, CA by Lance Anderson on Unsplash
Rodney Yee, yoga teacher affiliated with Gaiam, here offers a morning meditation:
Below is a mindful breathing exercise video.
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