by Ann Brand
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is present-moment awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the researcher responsible for bringing mindfulness practice into Western medicine, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness practice is now part of many disciplines including health care, education, mental health, and business.
Mindfulness practice is a mental training. Using the power of our brain’s plasticity, we can shape our brains in positive ways. The more frequently we practice, the stronger the attention muscles in our brain become. The more we practice paying attention in this particular way, both through formal practice and mindfulness in everyday life, the better able we are to be present.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness practice has many benefits. Because of advances in neuroscience, scientists are able to see how mindfulness practices work to change our brain and lead to benefits in physical health, stress reduction, attention, learning and memory, positive emotions, empathy, emotion regulation, and interpersonal relationships. Mindfulness practice can help us manage our stress and bring calm, clarity, and peace into our daily lives.
Why is the changing of seasons a good time to focus on mindfulness? Any time of year is a wonderful time to cultivate our capacity to be mindful. That said, spring offers us the waking up of nature from the quiet sleep of winter. Nature is always in the present moment, and we can use the warm air on our skin, the singing of the birds, and the budding of the trees as anchors to the present moment. This supports us in the practice of being present and showing up to our life as it unfolds instead of the story in our head we are telling about our life.
Nature can be a helpful support to our mindfulness practice in the spring. Here are five things we can use to help us rest in the present moment:
Feel the warm spring sun on your skin.
Savor the taste of spring harvest from the garden.
Breathe in the smells of spring—snow melting, damp earth, spring flowers.
Listen to the sounds of spring-migrating birds, water flowing, kids playing outside.
Open up our awareness as we walk outside, noticing when we get caught up in our thoughts and bringing our attention back to the sensations in our body as we walk.
Mindfulness practice helps us see that no matter how many times we are distracted from the present moment, we can begin again, just like nature starts over each spring in Wisconsin.
Ann Brand, PhD, is a mindfulness meditation teacher and lecturer at UW–Stout in the School of Education. She teaches mindfulness classes in Eau Claire at The Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.