Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. It is achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment as a therapeutic technique.
Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them - without believing, for instance, that there’s a "right" or "wrong" way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Mindfulnes has its roots in Buddhist meditation but it is a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the American mainstream in recent years. This is in part through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which was launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Since that time, thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general and MBSR in particular, inspiring countless programs to adapt the MBSR model for schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and beyond.
When used in therapeutic practice it involves modeling and teaching methods of being present in the present moment, often with uncomfortable emotions or pain and learning to expand our ability to tolerate and be accepting of these sensations. For many people, this is a profound change from a day-to-day pattern where distressful emotions, thoughts, or physical pain are avoided or suppressed.