18 Jul 2019

What Is Mindfulness?

By uci_admin

Mindfulness has become a buzzword in the wellness industry, leading many to wonder what it actually is, what the benefits are and how to develop a mindfulness practice. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

What does this look like in action? How might one go about shifting from a distracted, hurried, multitasking state to one of being truly present? Below, Jessica Drew de Paz, our director of mindfulness services, shares snippets of her morning routine, contrasting life with and without mindfulness:

My morning without mindfulness: 

The alarm rings, and my family rushes about as we prepare for the day. I take a quick shower, all the while thinking about my morning meeting. Afterward, I inhale a granola bar, but barely taste it. My son is moving slowly, and I scold him for making us late, then immediately feel remorse for my tone. I drop him off at school, then head to work. As I park, it dawns on me that I have no recollection of the journey because I have been lost in thought.

The same morning with mindfulness: 

The alarm rings. I stay in bed for a few moments, noticing the morning light, listening to the birds chirp, checking in with my body, and realizing I’m a bit hungry. I savor a banana, and pack a granola bar to enjoy later. In the shower, I realize that my mind has drifted to an upcoming staff meeting, but I prefer to experience my shower. I shift my attention to the warm water washing over me and to the smell of lavender shampoo. My son is moving slowly, and I sense irritation in my chest. I calm myself by noticing a couple of my breaths, then kindly encourage him to pick up the pace. While driving, I listen to him share about his class project, all the while being attuned to the traffic. I arrive to work safely, ready to take in the next moment.

When I practice mindfulness (as opposed to mindlessness) I notice an enormous improvement in my mind, my body, my attitude, my relationships and each moment of my life.

Benefits of Mindfulness

For thousands of years, people have expressed that mindfulness practices have a myriad of emotional and physical benefits. Today, four decades of research validate these claims.

Numerous studies have demonstrated significant reductions in stress, anxiety and depression, as well as reductions in chronic pain, headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Mindfulness has also been shown to boost the immune response and to be a useful tool in recovery from addictions.

Neuroscience research highlights how a mindfulness practice can enhance brain regions responsible for attention, executive function, as well as regions modulating the amygdala— the part of the brain that identifies threats and triggers emotional reactions. During stressful situations, people often react quickly without thinking,  leaving them with feelings of regret. In contrast, with mindfulness, people typically see situations more clearly and respond more thoughtfully.

Mindfulness Courses at the Samueli Institute

A wonderful way to learn the foundations of a mindfulness practice is to take a course on the matter. The Samueli Institute offers a variety of classes:

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes teach formal meditations, such as focusing on the breath, body scan, gentle yoga and mindful walking, as well as informal applications to daily life.

Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) classes pair mindfulness of emotions (acknowledging our difficult thoughts and feelings with a spirit of openness and curiosity) with self-compassion (responding with kindness, sympathy and understanding so that we soothe and comfort ourselves).

Mindful Parenting workshops offer a supportive environment where parents learn how to remain calm during stressful moments, set limits with confidence, consistency and compassion, use their bond with their child to inspire positive behavior and make space for imperfection and repair.

For a full list of our current offerings, please visit our mindfulness page.