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Home / Yoga / Meditation / Mindfulness (Vipassana)

Mindfulness (Vipassana)

In mantra and breath meditation, you focus on a word or your breath and try to empty your mind of everything else. This mental clearing is what most people mean when they refer to meditation.

But there's another kind of meditation, a practice Buddhists call vipassana or sometimes called mindfulness, or insight meditation. It is the art of becoming deeply aware of the present instant. Mindfulness means fully experiencing what happens in the here and now. It is the art of focusing our minds on what's happening in and around us at this very moment. Mindfulness helps you turn down all the noise in your head- the guilt, anger, doubts, and uncertainties that upset us moment to moment. It is a technique that encourages you to stop and smell the roses.

The key is not so much what you focus on but how you do it. What is more important is the quality of the awareness you bring to each moment. That awareness should be meditative in the sense of being a silent witness, accepting and nonjudgmental. It, however, does not imply resignation to abuse or injustice. It teaches acknowledgment of the moment-to-moment reality and prepares those who use the technique to respond to that reality less impulsively and more effectively.

There are two kinds of mindful meditation - formal and informal. Yoga is a good example of the formal type. In a yoga class, participants focus intently on their breathing and the postures, moving slowly from one position to the next, exquisitely aware of their feelings during the process. Practitioners are taught to concentrate on their breathing and its passage through the body as they dismiss any distracting thoughts. Though it sounds simple, mindfulness takes practice, and the longer you practice, the easier the process becomes. Breathing is the vehicle of transition from our conventional, anxiety-ridden, goal-oriented experience of stressful living into a natural state of functional calm and tranquility. Tai chi offers a similar dimension of mindfulness. Informal mindfulness involves turning the headlong rush of daily living into a collection of discrete moments of experience, each savored fully. For example, Dr. Kabat-Zinn hands each of his students a single raisin and asks them to eat it. Ordinarily people would simply pop the raisin in their mouths, chew a few times and swallow, largely unconsciously. But mindful, meditative raisin eating is much different. It begins with looking intently at the raisin, considering its shape, weight, color and texture. Next comes placing the raisin in the mouth, focusing on how it feels on the tongue as the mouth welcomes it with salivation. Then the mindful raisin-eater chews the raisin slowly and thoroughly, focusing on its taste and texture. Finally, swallowing the raisin involves following it all the way down to the stomach.

Once you commit to a mindfulness trigger-such as hanging up the phone, sipping a cup of tea or eating fruit snacks, starting the car or petting your dog-it's not difficult to work a dozen mindful moments into each day.