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Mindfulness Matters Part 1: What is Mindfulness and Interoception?

The Open Sky Team

Since our inception, mindfulness has been a cornerstone of Open Sky’s holistic approach. Each day in the field, students take time to meditate, helping them incorporate a variety of powerful benefits into their lives. 

In fact, a recent study found that mindfulness was as effective as a standard drug for treating anxiety. Mindfulness can also help: 

  • manage stress, 
  • promote relaxation, 
  • regulate emotions, 
  • increase self-awareness and understanding, 
  • improve self-esteem and confidence, and 
  • reduce symptoms of depression. 

In this article, we examine the definition of mindfulness and the key components of the practice. By sharing the basics of mindfulness, we hope to empower you to regulate your nervous system, center yourself, and focus on the present moment. 

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is being aware of what is taking your attention, whether it be a sensation, thought, or object. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic describes it well: “Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” In other words, mindfulness is knowing what you are doing while you are doing it.  

Key Components of Mindfulness

 

Paying Attention

The first aspect of mindfulness is paying attention. Mindfulness begins with focusing on a single thing at a given time. We like to call this our spotlight of awareness. 

 

On Purpose

The next part of the definition of mindfulness is on purpose. This means taking your spotlight of awareness and directing it intentionally onto something. Once you do this, you can then direct it deeper and deeper onto your physical sensations and internal thoughts tied to whatever you are focusing on. 

 

In the Present Moment

Next up in Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness definition is in the present moment. In the field, you may hear students using lingo like “future tripping” or “past tripping.” These terms refer to being so focused on the past or the future that you are missing out on the present. This can cause spiraling thoughts, unregulated emotions, detrimental communication, and harmful behavior. Tuning into the present moment helps you experience the fullness of life and all the joy, heartache, gratitude, or disappointment it brings.  

 

Non-judgmentally

Last but not least, mindfulness is non-judgmental. It is holding yourself with compassion, especially in moments when you are tempted to be self-critical. In the beginning stages of a mindfulness practice, your thoughts will likely drift from the present moment. Try not to be hard on yourself when this happens. Simply name the thought, let it pass by, and refocus on the breath.  

Interoception

Another important yet less familiar term in the sphere of mindfulness is interoception. Interoception is your perception of your interior; it refers to the ability to detect and acknowledge sensations inside the body and understand what they are signaling to the brain. 

Have you ever had a stomachache before a difficult conversation with a loved one? Do your hands get sweaty during a big presentation at school or work? Does your chest tighten when you receive disappointing news? Does it relax when someone is kind to you? These are all signs that your body, mind, and emotions are interconnected. Interoception supports those connections, enabling the body to command the attention of the brain and increase your emotional awareness. 

Mindfulness and interoception are two skills you can develop to live a more integrated, healthy, and connected life. You can practice them by sitting down for a formal meditation practice or while simply going about your day. Whether eating lunch, driving to work, reading this article, or vacuuming the house, approach each moment in a way that attentive, purposeful, present, and non-judgmental. 

Interested in learning more about specific tools you can use for centering yourself? Stay tuned for Part 2 in our Mindfulness Matters series, where we share tangible tips and resources on how to invite more mindfulness into your life.  

August 16th, 2023

The Open Sky Team