What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a special form of attentional focusing (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). The term can refer to (1) a mental process, (2) an individual characteristic, and (3) a context of practice. Ongoing mindfulness training in an adequate context may build up the individual capacity of being mindful. For this reason, all three connotations of mindfulness constitute different point of views to one phenomenon.

Nyanaponika (2000) explains mindfulness as a clear obversving of that which takes place in a present moment experience without evaluating this experience.


What is mindfulness good for?

A growing body of research suggests that mindfulness training exhibits relevant health benefits (both psychologically and physiologically). The list of “problems” for which mindfulness has shown to be helpful include: anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, trauma, and personality disorders, amongst others.

It seems that mindfulness training is also beneficial that do not have a “psychiatric diagnose” – it also helps “normal” people. For instance, mindfulness training is widely used for reducing stress and for learning how to deal with disturbing emotions or uncomfortable thoughts.


How does mindfulness exhibits its beneficial effects?

The specific mechanisms which yield the beneficial effects of mindfulness training have not yet unravelled. It seems that mindfulness – by its ability to build up attention directed to the present moment – is able to allow a stance of acceptance. This acceptance, in turn, buffers the maladaptive effects of distress (Kohls, Sauer & Walach, 2009).

It is a major concern of this research project to shed light on how mindfulness actually works. Knowing the pathways of how mindfulness works, it may be possible to design therapies that help even better to reduce “negative” experiences.



How is mindfulness being measured?

Questionnaires are most widely used to find out how mindful someone actually is. People are asked to answer to what degree they agree with statements such as „I am in contact with my experiences – here and now“.


I guess mindfulness builds on Buddhist traditions. Right?

Most authors do refer to Buddhist psychology as the base of the theoretical underpinnings. However, there are also similarities of mindfulness in western philosophy (e.g., Phenomenology). Jon Kabat-Zinn dedicated his work to developing a mindfulness-based technique which is free from cultural or religious confoundations. On this base, most mindfulness techniques are secular in that they do not refer to Buddhist or other traditions.



What should I read in order to learn more?

There is a huge and growing body of relevant literature. “Beginners” may refer to he following volumes:


  • Brown, K. W. & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and its Role in Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.


  • Germer, C. K., Siegel, R. D. & Fulton, P. R. (2005). (Eds). Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.


  • Hart, W. (1987). The Art of Living - Vipassana Meditation. Igatpuri: VRI.


  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living. Wisdom Publications. Delta.


  • Nhat Hanh, T. (1999). The miracle of mindfulness. Beacon Press.