An Introduction to Mindfulness

Original Editor - Merinda Rodseth based on the course by Shrey Vazir

Top Contributors - Merinda Rodseth, Tarina van der Stockt, Kim Jackson and Jess Bell  

Origin of Mindfulness[edit | edit source]

Mindfulness originated from ancient eastern and Buddhist philosophy and dates back around 2500 years. [2][3][4] The concept of mindfulness was introduced to the western world by Jon Kabat-Zinn.[5] Kabat-Zinn first encountered mindfulness through practising with Zen Buddhist meditation teachers Philip Kapleau and Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn Haengwon. He had further extensive training with teachers from various Buddhist traditions, as well as Soto and Rinzai Zen traditions, Chögyam Trungpa’s “Meditation in Action", Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, and the yogic traditions.[5][6] Kabat-Zinn secularised historical Buddhist mindfulness principles by untangling them from the cultural, religious, and ideological factors associated with Buddhism and orienting them to the “Western mind” and culture, leading to the development of the first formalised mindfulness-based intervention (MBI), called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[2][4][5][7]

Definition of Mindfulness[edit | edit source]

Mindfulness can be defined as:

  • “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” [2]
  • “Intentionally directing attention to present moment experiences with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance” [7]
  • “Mindful awareness is fundamentally a way of being - a way of inhabiting our bodies, our minds, our moment-to-moment experience… it is a way of relating to all experience - positive, negative, and neutral - in an open, receptive simply knows and accepts what is here now” [8]

Bishop et al[9] suggested mindfulness comprise of two components, the first being self-regulation of attention in order to maintain it on the present experience, allowing recognition of mental events in the present moment; and the second adopting an orientation of curiosity, openness and acceptance to one’s experiences in the present moment.

Simply put, mindfulness is the ability to know what is going on in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it.[10]


Mindfulness Practice[edit | edit source]

Mindful awareness can be fostered through both “formal” and “informal” mindfulness practice.[12][13]

Formal Mindfulness Practice

Involves a more formally structured, traditional mindfulness practice - when a practitioner intentionally sets aside time to perform mindfulness practices such as sitting meditation, breathing, body scan, mindful movement and visualization.[12][13] It often involves placing yourself in a specific body position for a period of time to specifically practise moment-to-moment non-judgemental awareness and understand more about your mind.[13][14]

Informal Mindfulness Practice

Involves incorporating mindfulness into day-to-day life and everyday routines by creating mindful moments and bringing mindful awareness to everyday activities such as walking, dishwashing, housekeeping, eating and talking to others.[12][15] It is essentially “turning off the autopilot mode of living” and training your attention to return to the present moment with whichever activity you are busy with, in order to do it in a more focused and attentive way.[10][16] Informal mindfulness practice allows every aspect of your day to become part of your meditation practice in order to become more open-heartedly present in the moment while being less reactive and judgemental in the ongoing activities of daily life. [13][14]

Key Elements of Mindfulness Practice[edit | edit source]

Mindfulness has been proposed to exhibit a multidimensional nature and various researchers have described multiple facets associated with the concept of mindfulness.[17][18] Some of the elements proposed to be associated with mindfulness are described in Table 1.

Author(s) Proposed elements of mindfulness
Jon Kabat Zinn[19]
  • Non-judging
  • Patience
  • Beginner’s mind
  • Trust
  • Non-striving
  • Acceptance
  • Letting go
Bishop et al [9]
  • Self-regulation of attention
  • An orientation of curiosity, openness and acceptance to experiences
Germer et al [16]
  • Awareness
  • Present-centredness
  • Acceptance
Shapiro & Carlson [8]
  • Intention
  • Attention
  • Attitude
Baer et al [17]
  • Observing
  • Describing
  • Acting with awareness
  • Nonjudging
  • Nonreactivity

Table 1. Elements of Mindfulness. Adapted from Wolkin. [18]

Following the exploration of the facets of mindfulness by Baer et al,[17] three key elements of mindfulness can be derived:[10]

  1. Observing - just noticing, watching, open monitoring (beginner’s mind)[8] - letting everything come to you and just noticing, for example observing breath.[10] Observing involves noticing or attending to our internal and external experiences”.[20] Observing with an attitude of a “beginner’s mind” allows us to see everything as if for the first time, without our own thoughts and beliefs about what we “know” preventing us from seeing things as they really are.[19]
  2. Labelling - simply mentally noting, naming and describing what you are experiencing without phrasing it in a positive or negative way - for example sensations of breath, sounds around you, thoughts or what you just did or need to do, emotions, pain.[10][20]
  3. Non-judgement - non-reactance and ultimate acceptance. “Taking a non-evaluative stance towards thoughts and feelings (non-judgement), allowing them to come and go without getting caught up in or carried away by them (non-reactivity)”.[20] Non-judgement involves an awareness of the constant judging and reacting we have to our inner and outer experiences based on what we think its value is to us - bad, good or neutral. Mindfulness involves stepping back when we recognise these judgements in our minds and intentionally suspending judgment, taking a stance of impartiality and deciding to not react.[19]

Mindfully circulating through these three steps is what will bring about the benefits of mindfulness - calmness, stillness, resilience. Each time your mind wanders to a thought or emotion while you are meditating, gently guide your attention back to these three steps - to just breathing, noticing your breath, labelling and accepting it without judgement.[10]

Additional Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Shrey Vazir, An Introduction to Mindfulness in Stress and Pain Management Course, 2021, Physioplus
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Kabat‐Zinn J. Mindfulness‐based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clinical psychology: Science and practice. 2003 Jun;10(2):144-56. DOI:10.1093/clipsy/bpg016
  3. Zenner C, Herrnleben-Kurz S, Walach H. Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in psychology. 2014 Jun 30;5:603. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00603
  4. 4.0 4.1 Anālayo B. Adding historical depth to definitions of mindfulness. Current opinion in psychology. 2019 Aug 1;28:11-4. DOI:10.1016/j.copsyc.2018.09.013
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Bernstein A, Vago D, Barnhofer T. Understanding mindfulness, one moment at a time: an introduction to the special issue. Current opinion in psychology. 2019 Aug 1;28:vi-x. DOI:10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.08.001
  6. Sun J. Mindfulness in context: A historical discourse analysis. Contemporary Buddhism. 2014 Jul 3;15(2):394-415.DOI:10.1080/14639947.2014.978088
  7. 7.0 7.1 Dunning, D.L., Griffiths, K., Kuyken, W., Crane, C., Foulkes, L., Parker, J. and Dalgleish, T., 2019. Research Review: The effects of mindfulness‐based interventions on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents–a meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 60(3), pp.244-258. DOI:10.1111/jcpp.12980
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Shapiro SL, Carlson LE. The art and science of mindfulness: Integrating mindfulness into psychology and the helping professions. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2017.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bishop SR, Lau M, Shapiro S, Carlson L, Anderson ND, Carmody J, Segal ZV, Abbey S, Speca M, Velting D, Devins G. Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical psychology: Science and practice. 2004 Sep;11(3):230-41.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Shrey Vazir. An Introduction to Mindfulness. Physioplus Course. 2021
  11. Smiling Mind. What is mindfulness? Published 7 Nov 2018. Available from: [last accessed 24 Mar 2021]
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Birtwell K, Williams K, van Marwijk H, Armitage CJ, Sheffield D. An exploration of formal and informal mindfulness practice and associations with wellbeing. Mindfulness. 2019 Jan 1;10(1):89-99. DOI: 0.1007/s12671-018-0951-y
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Alidina S. Mindfulness for dummies. 3rd ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons; 2020 Feb 5.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Gardner-Nix J, Costin-Hall L. The mindfulness solution to pain: Step-by-step techniques for chronic pain management. New Harbinger Publications; 2009.
  15. Hanley AW, Warner AR, Dehili VM, Canto AI, Garland EL. Washing dishes to wash the dishes: brief instruction in an informal mindfulness practice. Mindfulness. 2015 Oct;6(5):1095-103. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0360-9
  16. 16.0 16.1 Germer CK, Siegel RD, Fulton RR. Mindfulness and psychotherapy. New York: The Guilford Press; 2005.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Baer RA, Smith GT, Hopkins J, Krietemeyer J, Toney L. Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment. 2006 Mar;13(1):27-45. DOI: 10.1177/1073191105283504
  18. 18.0 18.1 Wolkin JR. Cultivating multiple aspects of attention through mindfulness meditation accounts for psychological well-being through decreased rumination. Psychology research and behavior management. 2015;8:171. DOI:10.2147/PRBM.S31458
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Kabat-Zinn J. Full catastrophe living, revised edition: how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. New York: Bantam Books; 2013.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Iani L, Lauriola M, Chiesa A, Cafaro V. Associations between mindfulness and emotion regulation: The key role of describing and nonreactivity. Mindfulness. 2019 Feb;10(2):366-75. DOI:10.1007/s12671-018-0981-5
  21. Minds Unlimited. Jon Kabat-Zinn Mindfulness 9 Attitudes – non judging. Published 26 June 2013. Available from: [last accessed 22 Mar 2021]
  22. Minds Unlimited. Jon Kabat-Zinn Mindfulness 9 Attitudes – acceptance. Published 12 Sept 2013. Available from: [last accessed 22 Mar 2021]