Of all the buzzwords circulating today, mindfulness may be the buzzy-est one yet. Most people know bits and pieces about it, but fewer of us live it – nor do we really know how.
For my Short & Snappy interview today, I'm thrilled to feature one of the foremost teachers of mindfulness in the U.S. Author Diana Winston is the Director of Education at the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
MARC offers classes on mindfulness to the general public, as well as medical and mental health professionals, and supports scientific research into the benefits of mindfulness.
Let's get mindful!
CSM: How do you define mindfulness?
DW: I define mindfulness as paying attention to our present moment experiences with openness, curiosity and a willingness to be with what is. With mindfulness we can live not lost in the past, or obsessing about the future, but in the present with more ease and balance.
CSM: What's the relationship between meditation and mindfulness?
DW: There are dozens of types of meditations (chanting, prayer, TM, etc.), which are kinds of inner investigation. Mindfulness is one type of meditation. A daily mindfulness meditation practice cultivates our capacity to be mindful. Mindfulness is also a quality of attention you can have at any moment in your life.
CSM: How might meditation actually change our brain and our thought patterns?
DW: The science of neuroplasticity tells us the brain's neural synapses and pathways can be altered as an effect of environmental, behavioral, and neural changes. So if you practice daily mindfulness to improve your attention or regulate emotions, for example, these skills will develop over time.
CSM: What role has Buddhism played in your own mindfulness practice?
DW: My mindfulness practice began within a Buddhist context, first in India and later in Thailand and Myanmar. However, I later saw that the practice of mindfulness could be beneficial to people of all backgrounds and could be taught without the religious and cultural trappings.
CSM: Any tips for parents who wish to warm their children up to mindfulness now?
DW: Be careful about trying to impose anything on kids! I’ve taught my daughter a basic breath meditation—with a teddy bear on her belly. We take a mindful breath before eating. Most important: practice it yourself and embody it. Put your phone down and show up for your child!
Diana Winston has been the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) since 2006. She is the co-author (with Susan Smalley, Ph.D.) of Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness , the author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens , and creator of the CD, "Mindful Meditations” (2008). Her meditations are also available as free downloads on MARC's website. She has been teaching mindfulness nationally and internationally since 1993 and has brought mindful awareness into schools, hospitals, businesses, and nonprofits, as well as to leaders, educators, and health professionals in the US and Asia. Her work has been mentioned in the New York Times, Newsweek, O Magazine, Women’s Health Magazine, CBS and ABC News, and the LA Times, among others. She has been called by the LA Times: “one of the nation’s leading mindfulness teachers.”
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