Mindfulness can be a challenge to define. In its most basic form, mindfulness is the quality of being conscious or aware of something. In the context of well-being, mindfulness is used as a therapeutic technique that focuses on the purposeful process of bringing a person’s attention to one’s experiences in the present moment and in a non-judgmental way.  Mindfulness can be cultivated to enhance well-being through a variety of different practices.

Research into mindfulness has established the numerous positive effects these practices have on mental and physical well-being and there is ample evidence to show wide application in a variety of contexts. In addition there are multiple, diverse ways in which to practice mindfulness–from spending time with nature to listening to or performing music.

While many people choose to make an avocation of some of their mindfulness activities, if you are busy, you don’t necessarily have to invest a lot time in formal mindfulness practices. A few simple, common exercises include taking stock of your senses wherever you find yourself in the moment, writing down your thoughts freehand (using pen and paper) for 10 minutes, and meditation.


Returning to your senses is one of the simplest and long-practiced strategies for promoting mindfulness. For centuries, Buddhist monks have incorporated the practice of sensory meditation: taking time to attend to the smells, sounds, touch and sights of the natural world around them in order to clear and focus the inner world of the mind. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson argues “attention is a building block for everything else.”

In the Western world, people can cultivate these skills through sensory awareness mindfulness training, which helps people achieve a better work/life equilibrium by balancing cognitive and emotional brain activities. Routine connection with one’s senses and focusing non-judgmentally on the “here and now” experience of life is key to developing and using these skills effectively.

Try a simple exercise in sensory awareness: focus your attention on a single source of sensory input for 30 seconds. Shut your eyes and concentrate on experiencing only the scents in your immediate environment. Then allow yourself to reintegrate the remaining senses one by one as you return to your surroundings.


Another technique many use to cultivate mindfulness is to engage in “free writing,” the act of writing out your thoughts by hand for 10-15 minutes to clear the mind. Evidence suggests that there are therapeutic benefits to writing that have the potential to enhance contemplative thinking, mindful awareness, and learning. Variants of writing for mindfulness include writing meditation and keeping a writing journal.

People from as diverse backgrounds as authors Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) posit that the act of devoting attention to a single task such as writing, playing a musical instrument, or fixing a motorcycle permits us to lose ourselves momentarily in both a physical and cognitive act. Writing has the additional benefit of rendering what lies in our mind onto paper, helping us expunge whatever emotions and thoughts may be clogging or preoccupying our brains.


Meditation is a set of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater control, thereby fostering general mental well-being and development.

Meditation, practiced for hundreds of years by many different religious and cultural traditions, can help people calm or manage distracting thoughts by training them to inhabit their body and mind in the present moment.

As with sensory awareness, there are many types of meditation practice that have been cultivated across the world. No one method has been found to be more effective than another, but there is evidence that integrating meditation into one’s routine can help people manage stress, anxiety, and depression. While there is evidence meditation can be a valuable tool for many people, it is not a practice that works for everyone. 




Sensory Awareness


Writing for Mindfulness



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  • Leahy, Robert L. Beat the Blues Before they Beat You: How to Overcome Depression. Carlsbad, California: Hay House, 2010.
  • Walsh, Roger and Shauna L. Shapiro. “The Meeting of Meditative Disciplines and Western Psychology: A Mutually Enriching Dialogue.” American Psychologist 61 (2006): 227–239.
  • Williams, Jason M.G., J.D. Teasdale, Z. Segal, and John Kabat-Zinn. The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. New York: Guilford Press, 2007.