If you’ve been paying attention lately — if you’ve been mindful — then you’ve noticed a sudden increase in media attention about something called mindfulness meditation.
Celebrities — from Oprah, to Steve Mcqueen, to LinkIn’s Jeff Weiner — are talking about it. Time Magazine recently released a cover story titled “The Mindful Revolution.” Huffington Post is calling 2014 the “year of living mindfully”.
Mindfulness is the latest craze sweeping across America. (I love my country. Where else in the world could something like mindfulness become a nationwide craze?)
I wholeheartedly support this craze. Planet Earth certainly needs more mindfulness.
Here are 5 things that you should know about mindfulness.
1. Mindfulness Meditation is Not New
“Sifu, when are you going to teach us some of this new mindfulness meditation stuff?” a student asked me.
This happened shortly after Time Magazine released its special issue on mindfulness.
I actually chuckled out loud in response.
Let me explain.
Mindfulness is an ancient concept that traces back to the Buddha, who lived roughly 2500 years ago. Just because the media is becoming more mindful of a particular term doesn’t mean that it’s new.
This doesn’t mean that when people talk about mindfulness they are talking about Buddhism. In fact, the word is popular precisely because of a guy who wanted to promote “Buddhist meditation without the Buddhism.”
That guy is Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist who studied at MIT. In 1979, he created something called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (or MBSR for short).
MBSR has become a movement of sorts, and it has made its way into hospitals, universities, and living rooms all across America. There have even been a few scientific studies done on MBSR, which is where some of the recent buzz comes from.
But MBSR does not own the term “mindfulness” any more than Protestants own the term “prayer”. In other words, you can practice mindfulness meditation without learning or practicing MBSR.
2. Mindfulness Isn’t Just Sitting Meditation
When people think of meditation, they usually think of sitting meditation. But did you know that you can practice mindfulness meditation while walking, or cooking, or gardening?
This idea of meditating while in motion is also ancient, and it’s especially important in the Zen tradition.
The Zen tradition began in China roughly 1000 years after the Buddha died in India. In many ways, Zen was an ancient mindfulness revolution.
At the time, Buddhism had strayed from its mindfulness roots. It had become heavily ritualized, with Buddhist monks spending too muchtime chanting, reading sutras, and generally being rather unmindful.
The Zen tradition changed all this by emphasizing mindfulness. And not just sitting meditation, but also moving meditation.
In fact, in the Zen tradition, everything, from washing your bowl to sword fighting, is meditation.
In a nutshell, Zen is all about staying mindful, staying completely in the present moment, whether you are washing your bowl, or practicing martial arts.
3. Qigong is Mindfulness Meditation
Did you know that the patriarch of Zen Meditation was also the patriarch of Shaolin Qigong? Yep. Same guy.
Don’t be ashamed if you didn’t know this historical fact. Many people who practice Zen meditation don’t even know it.
Bodhidharma was that guy. Imagine an enlightened drill sergeant, and you’re on the right track. (If you’d like to learn more about Bodhidharma, then please read my article entitled The Man Who Made Shaolin.)
Bodhidharma revolutionized Buddhism in China by emphasizing mindfulness. And one of the forms of mindfulness meditation that he taught to the monks at the Shaolin Temple was Qigong.
In fact, it’s likely that he taught them Lifting The Sky, the very first Qigong exercise that I teach to beginners.
Historically then, qigong was a form of mindfulness meditation. The #1 mistake in qigong, tai chi, and meditation is that students aren’t mindful. (If you’d like to read an article I wrote on that subject, then please click here.)
So anyone practicing qigong can rest easy. When you hear Oprah or Dr. Oz talking about the importance of practicing mindfulness meditation, you can pat yourself on the back (assuming that you did your qigong today!)
4. Tai Chi is Mindfulness Meditation
What about tai chi? Is that also mindfulness meditation?
Historically, tai chi is a form of kung fu that traces its roots back to the Shaolin Temple in China. However, the development of tai chi was more heavily influenced by Taoism than by Buddhism. Thus, the Tai Chi tradition probably wouldn’t use the term mindfulness.
But it’s just a word. The question that’s important to us in the 21st century is this: Does practicing tai chi develop mindfulness?
In my experience, the answer is a resounding YES! In fact, I find Tai Chi to be one of the most effective forms of mindfulness meditation.
Sitting meditation is an advanced technique. It’s also hard. Many people aren’t ready for it. (My article entitled Why Sitting Meditation Isn’t For You explains this in more detail.)
The flowing movements of Tai Chi are a wonderful way to slip into mindfulness. There’s a tai chi phrase that sums this up:
Seek the stillness in the movement.
The flowing movement of tai chi is actually wonderful for creating internal stillness. In other words, the movement can help to quiet the mind.
5. Mindfulness Is Our Future
Although the term mindfulness traces back to an ancient Indian word (sati in ancient Pali; smṛti in ancient Sanskrit), the concept does not belong to India. Nor does it belong to China.
It does not belong to the East.
One might argue that mindfulness is now more widely embraced in the West. Even if that’s true, mindfulness does not belong to the West.
Mindfulness belongs to humanity. It is the future of our species. For too long, humanity has been lost in thought. Our Monkey Minds have run amok. In order to evolve to the next level, we need mindfulness.
I believe that we will have no choice but to embrace mindfulness. Humanity is on a trajectory that it cannot sustain, and much of this is due to a lack of mindfulness.
For example, it is a lack of mindfulness that leads us to destroy the rain forests that provide the oxygen that we breathe.
Mindfulness is in the news right now largely because of the health benefits that it conveys. And that’s important. Certainly, it’s a huge part of my own mission with my teaching.
But mindfulness is about more than just health. Mindfulness is also about living a richer, more meaningful life:
- When we are mindful, we don’t just gulp down our food and swallow it; we savor it, not just for the taste, but for the nourishment that it provides.
- When we are mindful, we don’t just interrupt a friend while they’re talking; we listen, deeply, not just to the words, but to their underlying message.
- When we are mindful, we don’t just rush from place to place; we walk mindfully, aware of our surroundings, the sky, the ground beneath us.
Practicing mindfulness during your Qigong, Tai Chi, or Meditation practice is wonderful. It is an important step, and one that much of humanity has not yet taken. But it is only the first step.
Things are changing. If you have read this far, then it’s likely that you are part of that change. Congratulations. You are a member of the mindfulness revolution. Now go wash your bowl. Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.