Getting back to basics, whether it’s clearing our busy minds or eating fresh vegetables straight from the farm, helps us reconnect with ourselves and the natural world. And one of the most popular “new” tools for cultivating this sense of connectedness is the ancient Buddhist technique known as mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is the new organic,” says Kripalu Yoga teacher and faculty member Randal Williams.
The Buddha defined mindfulness as calm awareness of the body, mind, and feelings, and encouraged his students to practice it in day-to-day life. Today, mindfulness has become almost interchangeable with meditation, which has also become a fashionable tool for improving our minds, as The New York Times explains in a recent article. More and more Americans are enamored of the practice as research reveals its benefits, including improving test scores, memory, and the ability to focus.
But the question remains: Is mindfulness as it’s being taught in today’s corporate workplace—as a “tool to achieve results”—what the Buddha really intended? Do mindfulness training programs, like those at Google, provide a watered-down version of the teachings, or, on the bright side, make an otherwise inaccessible ancient practice available to millions of new followers?
Kripalu faculty member Jonathan Foust says it doesn’t matter where mindfulness and its cousin, meditation, are taught or how much detail is given—it still works. “I’ve had the good fortune to teach meditation in a variety of situations, ranging from classical meditation retreats to six-week trainings at the World Bank to classes for stressed-out high-school students,” he says. “The results are fantastic.”
Randal agrees. What he likes about mindfulness is its accessibility, and the way that teachers like Jon Kabat-Zinn have divorced the practice from religion. Instead, it can be seen and used as a technology of the mind independent of one’s belief system. It’s for anyone who wants to calm and manage the mind, disrupting its habits and the tired grooves it tends to fall into. The true test of a mindfulness practice—whether it’s time spent on the meditation cushion or simply bringing awareness into every aspect of your life—is whether it gives you more energy, passion, focus, and equanimity.