It used to be done mainly at spiritual retreats and in yoga centers, but now mindfulness meditation is practiced in offices, schools, prisons and even the U.S. military.
Although it’s been around for decades, the mindfulness movement is being called a revolution. Advocates say it reduces anxiety, and it can have spiritual benefits.
A visit to the dentist’s office can cause nervousness and anxiety. But being a dentist is no picnic either, said Dr. Alona Bauer.
“There’s definitely stress. You work in a small environment and it’s very exact. It’s very precise. Plus you’re managing the patient. So there’s great stress right there,” said Bauer.
So Bauer practices mindfulness meditation at a Yoga center in downtown Washington.
Hugh Byrne has been teaching mindfulness since 2000. He said it’s about focusing on the present.
“Some forms of meditation are about clearing the mind of thoughts. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing away thoughts. It’s just about being aware of them,” said Byrne.
Americans work more and have less time off than people in most other countries. And even outside the workplace, technology and multi-tasking make it increasingly impossible to disconnect.
But shutting off like this is becoming so popular that Time Magazine recently declared a “Mindful Revolution.”
Critics say mindful meditation is a fad that strips an ancient Buddhist tradition of its moral content.
Byrne prefers to see mindfulness as “a broad doorway for people to come in. People who might say, 'I’m not really interested in Buddhism or Eastern spirituality. But I do want less stress. I do want less anxiety.”
Surveys show that young Americans increasingly consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Byrne said mindfulness is for them.
“Nobody’s proselytizing. Nobody’s saying, ‘You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to believe this.’ It’s really being offered in this very openhanded way. If this doesn’t work for you, great! There may be many other things that do work for you,” he said.
After half an hour it’s over. Bauer said it helped sort the muddle in her head.
“It was just chatter, you know, chatter, chatter. Energy, very jittery energy, inside my body, tension and now I feel like almost I’m speaking slower my body’s more relaxed my heartbeat is slower," she said.
Bauer grew up without a religious upbringing in the former Soviet Union. Now she says she just might give Buddhism a try.