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.
Mindfulness has become a buzzword.
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. Best regards, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong (pronounced "chee gung") to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. Today, I'm the director of Flowing Zen, an international organization with students in 48 counties. I've been teaching qigong since 2005, I've served on the board for the National Qigong Association, and I’ve helped thousands of people to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. If you're ready to get started with qigong, there's no better way than my best selling book, which comes with free videos and meditations. The sooner you read my book, the sooner you can start healing! Click here to see my book on Amazon.
Michael Murphy says
I think this is a beautiful description of what mindfulness is AND what its origins are. It is such a buzz word these days that it has almost lost its meaning altogether. You did such a good job here of demystifying it AND helping people see what it truly is. One other point: I agree wholeheartedly with you that sitting meditation is very hard and that many folks are not “ready” for it.
Thanks you for this wonderful and very useful blog entry !
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Thanks for the kind words, Michael! Glad you enjoyed it.
David Young says
I read this article from Time magazine while I was at a clinic awaiting on my step father to see an intern, anyway, I chuckled at this article too. the author learn a practice and form of “Mindfulness” from a Zen instructor. .I can’t remember too much more of the details (As I mostly skimmed through it when the Author got to the part of the Zen instructor she is learning from) apart from the fact that “Mindfulness” is becoming more of a fad for dealing with the mental stresses of life, and many Meditation Instructors are cashing in on the idea -Based off of their own practices- Good or Bad? Who knows. . . . . . As Venerable Robin Courtin put it in one of her talks. “There is nothing special about Mindfulness, Thieves need Mindfulness, You need Mindfulness to bake a cake. There is nothing holy about Mindfulness.” I truly hope that many people are not getting the wrong idea’s about the practice of Mindfulness.
A great article Sifu, Thank you for posting it.
Saleh bitar says
Madfulness is a modernTechnik to practice the presence of the mind in our daily life, we can threfore figur this expression out into different meanings, the use of the brain does not mean to think, to think is not the whole process what we do in finding or distiguishing things from each other, thinking of every thing and of the time we are living. A clear example is to watch your self while eating an apple, you think of the apple, of eating, which changes happen through this process of eating, but these information, are actually registered in the brain, that is why we do not think of them, and instead of that what we need is to rest the brain from such thougt. the brain is nawaday full of notes and information. The rotinical proceedures are eating us daily, and we are suffering a lot from being an information recordering machine which records and also warn us from the not allowed places and limits. If you try to live in state of mindfulness, is actually the most comfortable way of being alive, active and sharing.
I have tried to be mindful for some time (2-3 years) not regularly. Sometimes I manage to some degree. I noticed that later on I am more focused and have much more clear mind. However sometimes I have other results 1 – some memories come to me which are like not from this life. Perhaps they are forgotten movies or dreams or maybe some past lifes? When I try to focus on it it vanishes. Actually notoriously dreams come back to me even from many years ago and I feel like I remember all my dreams (though I do not know if it is baceuse mindfulness). Another thing is that sometimes I feel like my mind gets filled with “light”. Is that safe?
Thank you for the article.
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Hi Marek. The Zen approach to mindfulness is to simply be present. Be here and now, no matter what you are doing. In the moment. Not thinking about memories, and not worrying about whether there is any “light” filling your mind.
Thank you. Memories just appear. I will just let them be if they come.
By the way. One of your latest posts (with something like you will be somewhere else later) much helped me stay in present.
I am an MBSR teacher and I appreciated your article. In the MBSR training, the roots of mindfulness are taught and respected. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s own meditation practice led him to develop this more secular approach so it is accessible to more people. As Mindfulness has become more popular, the path required to become a teacher has become deeper. Embodiment of the practice is seen as primary. There is a concern that if we are not careful, people who do not really practice and understand mindfulness will begin teaching. There are many misunderstandings and pitfalls to practice.
I came to your site because I am also a counselor and have begun practicing the 8 brocades from a Chris Pei DVD. I know of no teachers here but plan to come to a workshop to learn more. Even with my limited practice, I see benefits and this has become part of my morning routine. I love to practice outside in nature. Then I have my tea before sitting meditation. I also practice after work. I notice that even this 15 minute practice often changes my mood in a positive way and helps my sitting meditation.
I don’t have depression myself but thought that it might help as I could see mood changes in myself and this is how I found your site. Do you know of solid research on Qi Gong and depression? It would be a great area to explore. One of the reasons mindfulness is so big now is the research. Many people in the West want to see the science.
Thanks for the nice article.
Of course it is mindfulness: one has to pay attention to hands, shoulders, spine, hips, knees, toes, how to turn, or stretch. And memorize the technique… it is the healthiest kind of mindfulness, it does not let us get lost in doubts, and futile question…
Is daily practice of mindfulness without a master’s guidance safe?
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Depends what you’re doing. If you’re doing something like this, then sure:
Celia Kozlowski says
Brilliant! I found my way to your website as I was trying to understand what Qi gong and Tai Chi are, in a theoretical way, for a thesis I’m doing on mindfulness. You really understand mindfulness! What’s more, you’ve inspired me to learn more about Qi gong and Tai Chi (in that order) in an embodied (rather in a theoretical) way just for myself. Thanks!
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Great! Sounds like an interesting thesis!
This article may also be helpful: https://flowingzen.com/17793/what-if-you-could-meditate-without-all-that-sitting-around/