Meditation used to be a ritual associated largely with the serene setting of the yoga studio. But in recent years, a wide range of people—from Marines and office workers to even a member of Congress—have embraced a modern take on the practice called “mindfulness,” a Buddhism-inspired mental technique that encourages participants to focus on “being in the present” in hopes of leading a less stressful and more productive life.
Another sign of the movement’s journey into the mainstream: the arrival of Mindful, a new bimonthly magazine aimed at encouraging the mindfulness movement and helping average Americans apply its teachings to their own lives.
To the unfamiliar, the concept of trying to find time to “be mindful” can sound as stressful as trying to find balance in a world fueled by text messaging, endless email and a 24-hour news cycle.
But the magazine’s creators are hoping to demystify the concept of mindfulness, which they equate to learning how to ride a bike—something that’s intuitive, but is helped by simple practice.
“Mindfulness is an inherent human ability that we all have, a basic human ability to fully (be) attentive to where we are and what we are doing at any given moment and also, out of that, (to be) more caring,” says Barry Boyce, Mindful’s editor in chief. “From our point of view, mindfulness is not an add-on to your life. It’s something you already have and can cultivate it further.”
The magazine, published by the Foundation for a Mindful Society, includes articles that wouldn’t be out of place in other general interest magazines—including advice columns, profiles, travel pieces and recipes. But the stories in its April 2013 premiere issue, hitting newsstands this week, all include an element of the theory of mindfulness—whether its imploring readers to focus on the taste and crunch of food or how someone is being mindful in their jobs and personal lives.
James Gimian, Mindful’s publisher, says “being mindful” is something that most people are already doing but describe it in different terms.
“In sports, they talk about ‘being in the zone.’ If you are in the caregiver community of nurses, doctors and therapists, they talk about ‘presence’ or ‘empathy’ or ‘attention.’ Businesspeople might call it ‘flow’ or ‘innovation,’” Gimian said. “Being fully present with whatever is occurring in your life is already an existing experience that people have, and what we are doing with the magazine is having people share stories about that.”
Mindful magazine comes as the mindfulness movement seems to be growing in popularity. “Being mindful” has been embraced by leading corporations, including Target, Google, Facebook and General Mills, which have offered training to its workers on how to use the techniques at work. Last month, the U.S. Marine Corps launched a pilot program integrating mindfulness into its teaching curriculum for soldiers—a program that could ultimately be added to training if the results are positive.
And along with that popularity presumably has come profits—for everyone from authors who have written books about mindfulness to people who have organized retreats and teaching sessions on how to apply the techniques to your life.
Mindful magazine’s founders say they are hopeful their publication will promote the movement’s expansion, but they also acknowledged an “entrepreneurial” element to their decision to launch the magazine, hoping that it will grow and become profitable despite a stagnant publishing industry that has suffered layoffs and seen older titles like Newsweek close their doors.
Gimian acknowledged that he had heard concerns from supporters of the movement, especially in Silicon Valley, that the magazine should be focusing on digital content rather than a print product. But he downplayed it with language befitting someone who has been a longtime practitioner of mindfulness.
“Because we come from this community of leaders in the mindfulness movement, because we have been present where the larger community is adopting it, we have the conviction that a print magazine is still the only way to sustain a business model that is viable,” Gimian said.
Mindful’s founders argued the publication could be successful as a “niche” title, likening it to Runner’s World and Men’s Health—and said it could be especially popular in a world where people are trying to find ways to help their bodies and minds navigate an increasingly demanding world where, as Boyce put it, “the deadline is always now.”
Boyce said a growing number of people are suffering from what he described as “constant partial attention,” where people are unable to focus because their minds are overwhelmed with too many other things.
“It’s almost what Yoda said to Luke Skywalker: ‘You’re never where you are. You’re always someplace else,'” Boyce said. “I think that’s having an effect on people. We are built to be able to operate in certain ways, and when you try to speed it up too much and put too many demands, people look for a way out.”