Emotional Health

Mindfulness

What is mindfulness?

"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally." (Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founding Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.)

When we focus our minds on the present moment, we are aware of our thoughts, feelings and actions, without attaching judgment to them. It can help us to embrace reality and the present moment, instead of jumping to the past or to the future. There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, including meditation, and it is associated with many benefits.

What are the health benefits of mindfulness?

Studies with college students suggest that the practice of mindfulness leads to decreases in stress and anxiety, improvements in concentration and attention, and increases in self-awareness and overall emotional well-being. Willoughby Britton and Eric Loucks, professors at Brown University, have studied the effects of mindfulness meditation on Brown students and have found that meditation has several physical health and mental health benefits.

Mindfulness is often used as one aspect of treatment for a range of issues, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, binge eating disorder, chronic pain and cancer.

What are some ways to practice mindfulness?

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, including meditation, yoga and tai-chi. You can also practice mindfulness as part of your daily routine:

  • Walking: Be aware of the sensations of walking, like the quality of the pavement under your feet and how your body feels. Notice when your mind wanders and, without judgment, come back to awareness of walking.

  • Taking a shower: Notice how the water feels on your body and the movements of your body as you shower. This can be a good time to focus on your breath as well.

  • Brushing your teeth: Pay attention to all of the sensations, tastes and movements involved. Since we begin and end the day with this task, it can also be an opportunity to give yourself compassion or lovingkindness.

  • Click here for a 3-minute lovingkindness meditation

What is the best way to start meditating?

There are a range of ways to meditate, from very brief amounts of time to week-long retreats. It doesn't have to be complicated or "perfect." Simply try what is best for you.

Here are some simple steps that you can use as a guide:

  • If you can, find a quiet space to use regularly. This can be very challenging in college! You can try the library; or if the noise in your residence hall isn't too loud, you can practice meditation that focuses on becoming aware of the sounds around you. For example, you can pay attention to the number of sounds, the quality of them, and how they come and go.

  • Sit or stand in a comfortable posture, erect but relaxed.

  • Take a moment to notice body sensations: tightness, tension, etc. There's nothing you have to do about them; just notice them.

  • Establish an intention for the meditation, for example, to be aware of body sensations, to give yourself compassion or lovingkindess, or to notice that thoughts come and go.

  • Use guided meditations to help yourself remain focused. See the links below for meditations on the web and phone apps you can download.

  • Once you have practice with guided meditations, you can meditate on your own, noticing what works best for you.

  • It's important to start slowly: try 5 to 10 minutes a day and gradually increase to a maximum of 45 minutes a day.

Click here for more guided meditation instruction.

Are there any reasons not to meditate? Are there any signs I should stop meditating?

Keep in mind that meditation is never a substitute for psychological or medical care. If you feel upset, overwhelmed or agitated while meditating, it's important to stop. Brown students can get confidential counseling at Counseling and Psychological Services, 401.863-3976. 

Is mindfulness or mindfulness meditation a religious practice?

Although the concept of mindfulness emerged from Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism and Taoism, thousands of years ago, research has found that mindfulness can be considered a quality of human consciousness which can be measured and studied empirically. Mindfulness meditation practices have been formalized in programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) as well as other programs. It can be considered a beneficial psychological or stress-reducing practice, regardless of your religious beliefs.

If you are concerned that the practice of mindfulness might contradict your religious beliefs, you can talk to someone in your religious community or contact the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life. 

Related Links

Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA
This site has several brief meditations you can download or listen to on the web.

Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown
Brown’s Contemplative Studies Initiative sponsors lectures and events, and affiliated faculty can provide advice on students’ academic and personal study of mindfulness and other contemplative practices.  This site includes upcoming events, class listings and videos of recent guest lecturers.

Brown Meditation Community
This site was developed by Brown students and includes information on how to meditate, links and resources.

Brown Yoga and Mindfulness (YAM) 
The Yoga and Mindfulness Group is a student-run yoga group at Brown.

Counseling and Psychological Services 401.863-3476
Psychological Services provides confidential appointments, referrals, and crisis counseling. Located on the fifth floor of J. Walter Wilson.

Health Services 401.863-3953
Health Services provides a range of confidential services including general health care, STI testing and emergency medical care. You can request a medical provider by gender or you can request a specific provider by name. We are located at 13 Brown Street on the corner of Brown and Charlesfield Streets, across from Keeney Quad.

Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life
The Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life offers programs and resources, including contemplative practices that are based in faith traditions.

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