Over the years of defining mindfulness for people just being introduced to the term and the practice of meditation, I have noticed a change in my explanations. As my own understanding of mindfulness has deepened and changed me, my instructions have taken a decidedly softer and kinder portrayal of this way of being and sensing the world. I always start with the most popular definition of mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” From there, though, I find it helpful to expand on the “nonjudgmentally” part. If you aren’t judging what are you doing? My experience is that I’m allowing, I’m accepting, I’m open, and I’m loving.
Working in an academic environment, I have often felt a little nervous about talking about “love.” Perhaps it isn’t scientific enough. So, I gradually begin describing mindfulness as “affectionate attention,” a term my dear meditation teacher of many years used to use. But after I’ve developed a good rapport with a group of faculty and staff, I take the risk and tell my truth about this thing called mindfulness. To me, mindfulness has taught me about living in the present with a heart that’s fully loving — in the unconditional way that asks for nothing and wishes for all people to be at peace and be content. I always get nods of understanding. Everyone seems to have the desire of this kind of love.
Interestingly, not only is mindfulness good for your emotional heart, but it appears to be awfully good for your physical heart as well. Recent research on the effects of meditation indicates that it can dramatically improve heart health. The study was conducted by Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, and the findings are fascinating. Two hundred adults with heart disease were divided into two groups. One group were asked to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day and the other group were given health education classes in traditional risk factors, including dietary modification and exercise.
After almost a decade, guess who came out the best? The people who meditated for two 20 minute periods a day had a 66% less chance of heart attack and stroke than those that didn’t meditate. People who meditated eight times a week had a 50% less chance of a heart attack. Just think about how good your health would be if you meditated and exercised and ate healthy!
Don’t know how to get started? Click on this link and practice the ten minute awareness of breath exercise or get brave and do the 30 minute sitting meditation. See what mindfulness for the heart can do for you in all areas of your life!