Mindfulness is best described as moment-by-moment awareness. There are four dimensions of mindful moments. They are (1) present centered, (2) non-judgmental, (3) non-verbal, and (4) non-conceptual.
Mindful moments always focus on the present, never the past or the future. Most thoughts are one step removed from the present moment because they focus on the past or future. Mindful moments always exist in the present space and time, a context often referred to as the “here and now.” Mindfulness revolves around being fully involved in the here and now. Mindful moments are not thinking moments where you try to figure something out or judge it. Mindful moments are non-conceptual because during them you merely note the occurrence of something and accept it for what it is. You do not judge what you are experiencing, you accept it. The talking that goes on during mindful moments is self-talk. It is non-verbal and also known as sub-vocal speech. Essentially self-talk is what you say to yourself when thinking or feeling something. When people verbalize or write down self-talk messages it adds an additional layer of interpretation and distance from them. Mindfulness is developed through informal and formal training activities.
Informal mindfulness training revolves around the application of mindful behavior into daily experience. Informal mindfulness training involves learning how to devote your full attention to every activity you are engaged in. There are two dimensions of informal mindfulness training; (1) becoming more mindful of your internal environment (thoughts, feelings, mental images), and (2) becoming more aware of your external environment (behavior and immediate physical surroundings).
Becoming more aware of your internal environment is the first step in accepting it and co-existing with it as you work towards accomplishing tasks and meeting your goals. Being more mindful of the things going on in your internal environment is different from judging or evaluating them. When you are truly mindful of your thoughts you notice them without judgment. It is as if you have stepped outside of your own mind and are looking at your thoughts as an outside observer of them. When you do this you’ll probably notice that a lot of your thoughts and feelings are not very helpful in meeting your goals and living a life based on your values. One of the keys to stress management is living our lives according to our values and standards and the goals we set based on these things. A key to doing this is understanding when our thoughts are not helpful because they are really judgments and evaluations instead of observations about the present moment.
Becoming more aware of your external environment revolves around increasing your awareness of your behavior and what’s going on in your immediate physical surroundings as you engage in this behavior.
Mindful eating is often used as a form of external mindfulness training. It focuses on your eating behavior and the context in which it occurs, your immediate physical environment. Mindful eating is often taught to people with eating disorders to help them become more mindful of their eating behavior. When you eat mindfully you sit quietly at a table slowly pick up small pieces of food with your utensils, gradually lift the food off your plate and bring it to your mouth, and take slow bites chewing thoroughly. For those engaged in the practice, they experience eating like never before. They are taught to pay attention to the presentation of the food before eating it—the color, shape, placement, aromas, etc. They begin to marvel at things like how the fingers, hands, and arms work in consort with their brain to pick the food up and bring it into the mouth, the process of chewing, the experience of tasting something anew.
Formal mindfulness training is a structured program of daily practice of mindfulness meditation sessions. These sessions are in addition to continuing informal mindfulness training through mindful eating, walking etc. Generally you would begin by meditating for a few minutes three to four times a week. After a couple of weeks of this you would increase the duration of your sessions by five minutes and repeat this until you could meditate for 20-30 minutes at a time.