Mindfulness is a powerful technique for taming our restless minds. A definition of mindfulness that I like and teach my patients and students is “awareness of the present moment with acceptance.” No matter what is happening and what is going through your mind, when you notice and accept it you are being mindful. Even when you are having a negative thought, such as “I hate being stuck in traffic” or “I don’t like what is happening right now”, noticing the thought, the resistance to whatever is happening, and moving towards accepting that that is what you are thinking and feeling in the moment is a practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness strengthens our power of observation of ourselves and our life experiences. Instead of being full absorbed in every thought and emotion, mindfulness involves having a bit of distance, and an ability to observe our minds. In practicing mindfulness we treat our thoughts and emotions as clouds that pass through the sky. They come and they go. We have all kinds of thoughts every day; and thoughts are just thoughts. They are not facts, and thinking the same thing many times does not make it any more true. It is still just a thought. Being mindful involves watching the constant flow of thoughts, feelings, and sensations and our reactions to them.
You can sharpen your mindfulness skills by embarking on a program of formal mindfulness practice: setting aside some time each day to notice your thoughts and responses. Or you can add informal mindfulness practice to your day by taking moments to check in with yourself. In these moments you can bring attention to your experience in the moment and how you are reacting to it. This can be as short as a few seconds and still be a very effective practice.
The research evidence on the benefits of mindfulness is accumulating quite rapidly. Mindfulness has been incorporated into mainstream psychotherapies, such as dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT) and mindfulness based cognitive behavioral therapy. Neuroimaging research is allowing us to learn how mindfulness changes the structure and function of the brain. A number of studies, see the links below, show that mindfulness can lead to an increase in the cortical thickness – you can make your brain bigger by practicing mindfulness!
If you decide to embark on a more formal mindfulness practice, New York City is a hub for mindfulness training. Below is a list of of some New York City specific and other web-based mindfulness resources.
Research on Mindfulness:
Read about the psychological benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness Centers in New York City
Shambhala Meditation Center of New York
Offers a daily public meditation, a core curriculum of Buddhist and Shambhala teachings, and advanced training in contemplative practices. Also offers a weekly open house.
118 West 22nd Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY
Cost: Membership ranges from $20/month up. Suggested donation of $10.
The Interdependence Project
Weekly guided introduction to meditation every Sunday afternoon. Other classes and workshops offered, as well as volunteer programs, retreats, and services such as Workplace Meditation Training.
302 Bowery (use middle buzzer)
New York, NY
Cost: Membership levels at $20/month, $40/month, $80/month, $150/month.
Tibet House U.S.
Offers programs such as “Introduction to Meditation” and “Mind Training: Art of Stress Resilience and Social-Transformation”.
22 West 15th Street
New York, NY
Cost: Visiting is free. Many events are open-house. Some events have a registration fee.
Taoist Arts Center
Offers classes in Taoist meditation, as well as Wu Style Tai Chi, Chi Kung, and Push Hands. Private instruction also available. Occasionally offers an Open House.
342 East 9th Street
New York, NY
Cost: $20; $90 for eight sessions
An open, Buddhist community in the Theravadan tradition. Classes consist of Dharma talks and guided meditation. Teacher Josh Korda offers one-on-one mentoring.
Lila Wellness Center
302 Bowery #2 (3rd Floor)
New York, NY
Maha Rose Yoga
97 Green Street
(Greenpoint) Brooklyn, NY
Kadampa Meditation Center
Classes for kids. Offers retreats.
127 West 24th Street
New York, NY
Other locations in New York City, Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey.
Cost: Weekly Drop-in Classes. Membership $85/month.
Zen Center of New York City – Fire Lotus Temple
Offers retreats. Newcomers are invited to attend the beginning instruction in zazen that follows the Sunday morning service each week. *Many retreats offered on sliding scale; it is also possible to do work at the Temple in exchange for some or all of a retreat fee.*
500 State Street
Wildmind Buddhist Meditation
Offers a four-week module with instructional readings, access to a community forum, and private email coaching sessions.
Insight Meditation Center
Numerous lectures and articles, read or download transcripts and audio tracks of lessons for beginners.
Free Online Guided Meditations:
Guided Meditations from the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center
Includes 8 guided meditations ranging from 3-19 minutes.
Online Guided Meditation from The Art of Living
Offers four guided meditations based on your current mood.
Guided Meditations Online Library from The Chopra Center
16 guided meditations you can listen to on the website.
Meditation Podcast from The Chopra Center for Wellbeing (requires iTunes)
24 guided meditations.
Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn – This is a pure mindfulness introduction without mention of Buddhism or any need for spiritual belief. The book presents Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program and encourages the reader to embark on an eight week mindfulness practice program rotating sitting meditation, body scan, yoga and walking meditation.
Thoughts Without a Thinker, Mark Epstein – This is an introduction to Buddhist psychotherapy. This book does talk about the spiritual aspect of mindfulness and introduces the reader to using Buddhist concepts for psychological healing and development.
There are many other books on the topic, yet these two are a great place to start. Good luck on your journey to a more mindful life.