The term, "mindfulness" seems to be everywhere - it's touted as the new yoga, the answer to stress, or the alternative to prescription drugs. But beyond the buzz, do you understand the concepts of "mindfulness"? With this article taken from a Kanas State Extension Fact Sheet, the authors aim to provide a definition of mindfulness, share some of the benefits of practicing mindfulness, provide samples of simple exercises, and provide resources to explore.

Mindfulness Has Many Definitions

• Living in the present moment/awareness of the present moment - paying close attention to thoughts, physical sensations, and our surroundings.

• Observing personal experiences of mindfulness, being completely focused on a project - reading a book, doing a hobby, or playing a sport. This heightened awareness is mindfulness.

• Taking a few deep breaths - becoming fully aware of the present moment.

• Having nonjudgmental awareness in which each thought, feeling, and sensation is acknowledged and accepted in their present state. This steady and non-reactive attention usually differs from the way people normally operate in the world.

• Paying attention, precisely, to the present moment without judgment.

A common concern of people relates to a misperception that "mindfulness" ties to particular religions. Remember, meditation has its origin dating back thousands of years and may be included in religious practice. At the same time, "mindfulness" sits comfortably in secular circles. Does mindfulness have to be a spiritual practice? Certainly not. The fact that many traditions - religious and secular, spiritual and philosophical - come back to these fundamental practices of compassion and awareness suggests that mindfulness remains part of the human experience.

Seven Principles of Mindfulness

Seven principles serve as the basis for mindfulness. Each can help you act skillfully and not emotionally in stress situations:

• Non-judging: Be a neutral observer to each experience.

• Patience: Allow each experience to emerge at its own pace.

• Beginner's mind: Avoid bringing in what you know to the current moment and try experiencing it as if it is the first time.

• Trust: Believe in your intuition and your ability to see things in a new way.

• Non-striving: Avoid the need for winning or losing or striving for a purpose - it is about "being" and "non-doing."

• Acceptance: See things as they are in the present moment.

• Letting go: Take the time to detach from your usual feelings and thoughts.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness should not be considered a "cure-all." However, science suggest that practicing mindfulness creates changes in brain function as well as changes in the body's response to stress. The practice of mindfulness may have an important impact on physical and emotional health.

Mindfulness helps to improve work-life balance. When we look at the dominant cultural patterns of the United States, we find that we value dominating nature, being goal-bound, controlling the future, being involved in constant activity and action with no time to "sit and talk," being autonomous, and being individualists. With that as a dominant cultural pattern, when do we have time to be mindful?

Other benefits that come from a regular meditation practice include:

• Increased ability to relax.

• Improved concentration.

• Increased energy and enthusiasm for life.

• Increased creativity.

• Increased self-awareness.

• Improved self-esteem.

• Improved work/school performance