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7 Ways to Define Mindfulness

With all of the ways that the word mindfulness is being used, it can be difficult to understand what it means. Here's a quick guide to its most common uses.

Do you know what mindfulness really means? If you’re not 100% sure you’re not alone.

Competing definitions of mindfulness can lead to a great deal of confusion. Just like the word yoga describes many different traditions, styles and practices, mindfulness is similarly diverse. When definitions are treated interchangeably, we run the risk of either overestimating or underestimating what mindfulness is and what it means. Here's a guide to the 7 most common uses.

1. State: In its purest form, mindfulness refers to a state of being in the present moment and aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, actions, experience and surroundings.

2. Trait: A trait of mindfulness involves having an attentive, open and reflective disposition, an ability to be observant of one’s moment-to-moment experience, and a commitment to treat oneself and others with kindness and compassion .

3. Practice: There are a great many consistent, regular, and thoughtful activities to cultivate the quality of mindfulness. An intention to be in the present moment, and to observe one’s thoughts, feelings and reactions is at the heart of any practice.

4. Way of being: At its essence, mindfulness is a way of being in relationship to self and others that fosters awareness, compassion and kindness. It’s opposite would be mindless – thoughtless, unaware, and unkind.

5. Research outcome: Scientists attempt to list specific thoughts, feelings and behaviors that describe the act of being mindful in order to test whether certain practices or interventions cultivate mindfulness, positively affect the mind, body and brain, and increase health and wellbeing. To date, researchers do not agree on a unified definition of mindfulness.

6. Culture: Mindful cultures, like those within organizations, businesses, schools and other places where people build community, refer to systems where participants make a conscious effort to attend to what is going on in the present moment, and aspire to make thoughtful, conscious decisions that foster kindness and collective wellbeing.

7. Form of training: Lastly, mindfulness instruction is often used as a ubiquitous term to describe formal training in practices such as meditation, self-compassion, loving kindness, yoga, Tai Chi, spiritual study, devotional worship and more. It does not need to be specific to a tradition, religion, orientation or practice.

In light of the many uses of the word mindfulness, it is important that we are clear about its definitions and meanings. In that way we can avoid potential confusion, particularly when discussing its benefits and challenges.


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