Mindfulness is the practice of living in the present moment and experiencing things without judgment. It is part of the Noble Eightfold Path that Buddhists practice to work towards enlightenment and an integral part of hatha yoga practice. Mindfulness has both a mental and a physical component and emphasizes a mind-body connection. In addition to its spiritual associations, mindfulness can be a worthwhile practice for those who wish to reduce stress, manage pain, or cultivate personal awareness.
Mindfulness is the focus of much meditation practice, during which a person may sit still or engage in specific activities such as hatha yoga or walking. Quietness and focus on the breath are commonly used to aid in meditation, but the practitioner may recite a mantra as well. A person cultivates mindfulness during meditation by quieting thoughts about the past or future and noticing what is going on in the body. The mind naturally wanders, but a person cultivating mindfulness takes note of this wandering and then brings the mind back to the present and to his or her breath or mantra.
Mindfulness can be practiced in everyday life as well, during nearly any activity. One can work towards being non-judgmental by noticing prejudices or associations in one's own thinking and making an effort to strip them away. Negative or positive feelings about external things can be recognized as coming from oneself, rather than having any inherent connection to the external thing in question. Over time, mindfulness can help a person develop the ability to be calm or happy at will, since happiness is recognized as coming from inside oneself.
Taking even a few minutes out of each day to practice mindfulness can be a great stress reducer. Any time one is forced to be still in the course of the daily routine can be an opportunity to reflect on one's thoughts and to take note of one's body and of the sounds, smells, and so on in the external world. Practitioners of mindfulness believe that, over time, such thinking will become second nature, freeing the person from the confinement of judgmental thought patterns he or she may have built up over the years.