Mindfulness is a mental state, characterized by concentrated awareness of one's thoughts, actions or motivations. Mindfulness plays a central role in the teaching of the Buddha where it is affirmed that "correct" or "right" mindfulness (Pali:samma-sati; Sanskrit samyak-smrti) is an essential factor in the path to enlightenment and liberation. It is the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path, the sadhana of which is held in the tradition to engender insight and wisdom (Sanskrit: prajna). Its techniques are increasingly being employed in Western psychology to help alleviate a variety of conditions.
Effects: When Mindful Awareness Goes to Your Head -
People who meditate regularly appear to undergo changes in parts of the brain that handle perception and attentiveness, a new study suggests.
The study sample is small, and it is unclear what the changes may mean, but researchers said that when they compared M.R.I. scans of people who meditated with those of people who did not, they found more gray matter in the frontal cortexes of those who meditate.
"We presume it's a good thing, but we don't know for sure," said the lead author of the study, Sara W. Lazar, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. The study appears in the current issue of NeuroReport.
While early studies have found evidence that people who meditate extensively, like Buddhist monks, experience long-lasting changes in their brains, the researchers here were interested in what effect, if any, more moderate amounts of meditation have.
For this study, they looked at 20 people who practiced a form of meditation known as mindful awareness, which does not involve the repetition of a mantra. Five of the volunteers taught meditation or yoga, but the rest held traditional jobs and reported meditating on average once a day for 40 minutes. All had taken part in at least one weeklong mediation retreat at some point.
These volunteers, the researchers found, had thicker tissue in the parts of the brain involved in attention and sensory processing than the other volunteers did. The difference was especially notable in older volunteers, suggesting that meditation may help reduce the cortical thinning that comes with age, the researchers said.
The study could not establish that the differences were attributable to meditation, but Dr. Lazar noted that other studies had found structural changes in jugglers' brain, presumably caused by the demands of their craft. She said the researchers believed other forms of meditation and even yoga might produce the same results.
-- By ERIC NAGOURNEY, Published: November 22, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/22/health/22effe.html
Examples from contemplative and daily life
Buddhists hold that over 2500 years ago, Buddha provided guidance on establishing mindfulness. Right mindfulness (often termed Right meditation) involves bringing one's awareness into the present moment (from the past, the future, or some disconnected train of thought). By residing more frequently in the present moment, practitioners begin to see both inner and outer aspects of reality. Internally, one sees that the mind is continually chattering with commentary or judgement. By noticing that the mind is continually making commentary, one has the ability to carefully observe those thoughts, seeing them for what they are without aversion or judgment. Those practicing mindfulness realize that "thoughts are just thoughts." One is free to release a thought ("let it go") when one realizes that the thought may not be concrete reality or absolute truth. Thus, one is free to observe life without getting caught in the commentary. Many "voices" or messages may speak to one within the "vocal" (discursive) mind. It is important to be aware that the messages one hears during "thinking" may not be accurate or helpful, but rather may be translations of, or departures from truth.
As one more closely observes inner reality, one finds that happiness is not exclusively a quality brought about by a change in outer circumstances, but rather by realizing happiness often starts with loosening and releasing attachment to thoughts, predispositions, and "scripts"; thereby releasing "automatic" reactions toward pleasant and unpleasant situations or feelings.
However, mindfulness does not have to be constrained to a formal meditation session. Mindfulness is an activity that can be done at any time; it does not require sitting, or even focusing on the breath, but rather is done by bringing the mind to focus on what is happening in the present moment, while simply noticing the mind's usual "commentary". One can be mindful of the sensations in one's feet while walking, of the sound of the wind in the trees, or the feeling of soapy water while doing dishes. One can also be mindful of the mind's commentary: "I wish I didn't have to walk any further, I like the sound of the leaves rustling, I wish washing dishes weren't so boring and the soap weren't drying out my skin", etc. Once we have noticed the mind's running commentary, we have the freedom to cease identification with those judgments/perceptions: "washing dishes: boring" may become "The warm water is in unison with the detergent and is currently washing away the plate's grime, the sun is shining through the window and casting an ever greater shadow on the dish's white ceramics." In this example, one may see that washing does not have to be judged "boring"; washing dishes is only a process of coordinating dishes with soap and water. Any activity done mindfully is a form of meditation, and mindfulness is possible practically all the time.
Continuous mindfulness practice
In addition to various forms of meditation based around specific sessions, there are mindfulness training exercises that develop awareness throughout the day using designated environmental cues. The aim is to make mindfulness essentially continuous. Examples of such cues are the hourly chimes of clocks, red lights at traffic junctions and crossing the threshold of doors. The mindfulness itself can take the form of nothing more than focusing on three successive breaths. This approach is particularly helpful when it is difficult to establish a regular meditation practice.
'Mindful awareness' can help reduce stress and pain:
Pay attention to the present moment to help ease anxiety, improve short-term memory,
and take control of suffering.
We've all had moments when we didn't worry about the future or fret about the past, but just appreciated where we were and what we were doing. Maybe it was at a child's birthday party or in the glow of a golden sunset.
Unfortunately, we don't experience those times often enough, according to Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.
But if we can learn to be more mindful of the present moment, we can reduce stress, better cope with pain, and maybe even improve our memory. Embracing mindfulness can help older adults feeling overwhelmed by medical conditions, family relationships, and other concerns.
"'Mindful awareness,' in simplest terms, is the art of paying attention," Winston says. "It's bringing our minds into the present, instead of being lost in thoughts of the past and future, which is what we do most of the time. That causes a lot of anxiety."
Understanding mindfulness. The origins of mindful awareness, or mindfulness, date back centuries, particularly to ancient Buddhist meditation practices. But Winston says more scientific methods are taught at UCLA and other academic institutions.
One goal of mindful awareness is to better understand your behavior and reactions so that you can respond to challenges in a positive way. By observing your thoughts and feelings as they happen, you can begin training yourself to act upon positive, helpful ones--"I need to exercise more"--while not acting upon negative or harmful ones--"He makes me so mad I could scream!" One goal is to be aware of your mind enough to allow yourself to act with intention, rather than responding to thoughts and feelings automatically, Winston says.
In addition, by paying more attention to the present moment, you don't get caught up in some of the painful thoughts that can cause anxiety. So instead of worrying about a medical test, you savor the beautiful weather and the company of a loved one.
"It gives us a tool for dealing with stress," Winston says. "It also helps with depression and anxiety. It impacts blood pressure and the executive functioning of the brain."
Meditation's effects on the brain were demonstrated in a 2005 study that showed meditation can actually thicken the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that controls attention, sensory perception, and other functions, which was encouraging because our "gray matter" tends to thin as we age.
What we can learn. The questions Winston often gets from seniors have to do with pain management and memory.
We are not sure whether or not mindfulness will assist with long-term memory. However, Winston says there may be short-term memory gains; research to substantiate that theory is ongoing. Winston suggests that our actions and behaviors--large and small--are reinforced in our minds the more attuned we are at each moment of the day.
"It makes sense that when you set your keys down, you're more likely to remember where because you were paying more attention at that moment," Winston says.
Mindfulness training to cope with pain is actually how the discipline began in 1979, when University of Massachusetts psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn was asked to assist patients dealing with chronic pain. One approach is to shift your attention from a narrow focus on the physical pain to a wider focus on your entire existence--your family, hobbies, spirituality, etc. A wide-angle view can help minimize the presence of pain in your life. Likewise, breaking down pain into a collection of sensations (tingling, tightness, aching, etc.), can make each feeling easier to bear than one overwhelming sense of pain.
In the May 2007 issue of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, mindfulness-based therapy was shown to be effective in helping bone marrow transplant patients at Indiana University.
How to start. UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center's Web site (www.marc.ucla.edu) has a number of meditations and suggestions for starting to understand the mindfulness concept. But Winston says a very basic meditation is at the root of this teaching.
"Close your eyes, relax, and be aware of your breathing--feeling it in your abdomen or your nostrils," she says. "As your mind wanders, as ours tend to do, gently bring your mind back to your breathing and focus on that. It all builds from there."
WHAT YOU CAN DO
* Practice focusing on the immediate moment--how you're breathing and what you're doing. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the present.
* Look for mindful awareness workshops at nearby colleges and mental health agencies.
* Turn negative situations into positive ones by savoring the present moment. Instead of feeling frustrated in traffic, enjoy the ride and listen to music.
- Mindfulness in the West -
Although mindfulness has its origins in Buddhism and Yoga, it is also advocated in the West by teachers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, who have jointly been attributed with playing a significant role in bringing the practice to a new audience. Mindfulness is also attracting increasing interest among western clinical psychologists and psychiatrists as a means of dealing with stress, anxiety, and depressive mood states.
Therapeutic applications of mindfulness
Recent research points to a useful therapeutic role for mindfulness in a number of medical and psychiatric conditions, notably chronic pain and stress. Mindfulness is also useful in the treatment and prevention of depression and substance abuse. Recent research suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can be used to prevent suicidal behavior from recurring in cases of severe mental illness (Journ. Clin. Psych. 62/2 2006).
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. MBSR is a form of complementary medicine offered in over 200 U.S. hospitals and is currently the focus of a number of research studies funded by The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Kabat-Zinn also wrote a book about mindfulness called Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Mindfulness Meditation has been clinically shown to be effective for the management of stress, anxiety and panic, chronic pain, depression, obsessive thinking, strong emotional reactivity, and a wide array of medical and mental health related conditions.
MARC Center at UCLA was created to bring to a mental health research institution the ancient art of mindful awareness. They offer regular classes and seminars as well as conduct research related to Mindfulness and its practical use as a treatment for ADHD and to enhance general well-being.
The Insight Center  was founded in West Los Angeles, California to provide evidence-based training to the general public, psychotherapists and nurses in basic and advanced practices of mindfulness meditation and mindfulness psychotherapy. The Center offers consultations and trainings accredited by the American Psychological Association and the California Board of Behavioral Sciences as a Continuing Education Provider.
Mindfulness is a core exercise used in dialectical behavior therapy, a psychosocial treatment Marsha M. Linehan developed for treating people with Borderline personality disorder.
Mindfulness is also used in some other newer psychotherapeutic methods, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy.
Since the beginnings of Gestalt therapy in the early 1940s mindfulness has been an essential part of the theory and practice of Gestalt therapy, although within the frame of Gestalt therapy theory it appears as "awareness".
 Mindfulness - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness
 Examples from contemplative and daily life - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness
 Belvoir Media Group, LLC, 'Mindful awareness' help reduce stress and pain; http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-33431907_ITM
 ERIC NAGOURNEY, Effects: When Mindful Awareness Goes to Your Head; http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/22/health/22effe.html