Mindfulness: Understanding Its Non-Religious Nature and Its Spirituality

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Mindfulness is no longer just the latest trend. It’s quickly becoming the norm. Mindfulness is not only part of Yoga practice (and similar meditative arts), but also part of corporate workspaces, classrooms, and the private home. 

There is no denying that mindfulness has phenomenal benefits physically, emotionally, and cognitively – I can vouch for that. It is also fast becoming a way of life for those with religious and non-religious mindsets. That said, it makes sense to wonder: is mindfulness actually a religion?

Mindfulness is not a religion, although it does originate from religious roots. Mindfulness has roots in various belief systems such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Stoicism, and Taoism. While mindfulness is not a religion itself, it can form part of religious and meditative practices. 

As mindfulness is not a religious practice as such, many religous people believe it is more suitable to practice for health benefits, instead of Yoga and the likes. 

It is difficult to understand exactly what mindfulness is, when it forms part of traditional practices that are both religious and non-religious. What exactly is it? If you find yourself pondering this often, rest assured that millions of others have probably wondered the very same thing. 

I practice mindfulness on a daily basis (in a non-religious way) and truly derive noticeable benefits from it. Mindfulness doesn’t belong to any religious group or idea, and that personally makes me quite comfortable. It is based on breathing, clearing the mind, and paying attention on purpose – and no religion can own that particular concept or those particular actions/practices.

If you would like to find out more about what mindfulness actually is, how it is classified (unofficially), and how you can make use of it, read on.

If Mindfulness is Not a Religion, What is it? 

It is easy for me to say that mindfulness is not a religion, but then what is it? There are various ways that mindfulness can be defined and described. For me, mindfulness is the art (or practice) of being 100% present in every current moment. This means that it is the practice of recognizing personal thoughts, physical feelings, and the environment around you, without judgment and without trying to manipulate it in any way. 

When I am being mindful, I am able to fully engage in the current moment, which has been great for deepening my connections, strengthening my relationships, and helping me to remain calm as well as collected even in the face of adversity.

Observing current situations without judgment allows us to accept things for what they are, show kindness to ourselves and others, and learn that our feelings are sometimes just our preferences brought to light, and not actually a reality or truth. This type of mindset can help you to work through just about any situation in life while remaining calm, in control, and emotionally stable. Mindfulness is great for controlling stress, anxiety, and, in certain cases, hypertension. 

Can It Be Part of a Religion?

Mindfulness may not be a spiritual practice, but you can make it one if you see fit. The general idea is that mindfulness is neither religious nor non-religious. Instead, it is what you make it. If you want to glean religious benefits from it, why not? Go for it! If you prefer to practice it for the mental and health benefits without any spirituality attached (the no-strings mindfulness approach – that’s what I call it), go for it!

Where Does Mindfulness Originate From? | From East to West

Here is where I am probably going to confuse you. Mindfulness is not a religion, but it originates from Buddhist beliefs and practices. In fact, it made its way to the United States by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who based his mindfulness therapy on a Buddhist meditation, which is called Vipassana. Some say that it was actually while meditating that his idea to adapt the Buddhist practice came to him. 

It was in 1979 that Dr. Kabat-Zinn used the Buddhist concept to create a stress reduction and relaxation program (MBSR), which is widely considered the concept of mindfulness today. 

When you practice mindfulness (you know, the process you have read all about on the internet), you aren’t practicing the Buddhist meditation method that inspired the concept. You are practicing Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s adapted concept. This only goes to further prove that while mindfulness is based on a Buddhist meditational concept, it is not in itself an actual religion or spiritual practice. If you have been worried about that – don’t be. 

What Is Mindfulness in Action? | See mindfulness in the Following Actions/Practices

For some people, mindfulness is more complex than it is for others. If you are lucky enough to be mindful naturally, you are onto a good thing. For most people, it takes effort and practice. Mindfulness is not something that you apply to certain areas of your life. You should try to practice it consistently so that it becomes second nature and not just something you do from time to time. When I first started practicing mindfulness, I was quite surprised to find that I only seem to be present in the current moment and activity for a few seconds at a time. 

Below are a few ways in which you can see mindfulness in action – from these points, you will be able to see just how little mindfulness has to do with religion or spirituality.

Intentional practice or spur of the moment

You can practice mindfulness as a way to relax and unwind at the end of a busy day, or you can practice it on demand when confronted with a stressful situation. It can be about arranging a quiet space, dressing in comfortable clothing, and putting extra effort into relaxing and calming the mind. It can be as simple as stepping out of a meeting, taking a few deep breaths and calming the mind. 

How you use mindfulness is up to you. If you want to make mindfulness religious, you could practice it while praying or carrying out a religious practice that fits in with your specific beliefs. 

Being fully engaged in a hobby or task

Being mindful is being completely engrossed and present in a task, project, or moment. Perhaps you have experienced this before. Mindfulness can be seen in action if you watch someone fully engrossed in their favorite hobby. Instead of panicking over external things, they are focusing on precisely what they are doing and putting other worries out of their minds. 

Calm responses instead of reactions in tough situations

Mindfulness can be seen in action when someone is confronted with a difficult situation. Most people not practicing mindfulness might react quickly in anger or lash out. Mindfulness requires a different method. Instead of reacting in a negative way, take a few deep breaths, recognizes your feelings, and respond compassionately and kindly while being careful to keep your judgments out of it.

Intentionally recognizing and changing negative thought patterns

Mindfulness is also in action when you are able to catch yourself in the middle of a negative thought pattern and revert to thinking positively instead. You know those times where you start thinking badly about yourself or someone else? 

You might find yourself thinking “I am so fat and I will never lose weight”. Mindfulness might correct that thought pattern by noting the negative thought pattern and reverting to positive with something like “I am feeling fat, but with a bit of work on my diet and exercise, I can reach my goal weight”. It is about rejecting the negative stories you have made up in your head about yourself, others, and society – and rather focusing on only believing what is truthful. 

Being intentional, compassionate, and empathetic can become a way of life for you, without you having to practice any religious ceremonies or traditions. You don’t need to have a belief in a religious system at all if you want to practice mindfulness and benefit from it. 

Are Mindfulness and Meditation the Same?

You might find yourself wondering if mindfulness and meditation are the same things. The simple answer is that they are two different practices. Meditation is more closely linked to religion that mindfulness. While the two practices may look similar in action, they are actually quite different in terms of objective and outcome.

Meditation is a method of bringing the mind to an awareness of nothing. It is about clearing the mind and reaching a sense of centeredness and calm. On the other hand, mindfulness is about making yourself aware of the here and now (something) by purposefully paying attention to it.

What is Mindfulness to You; Religious Act or Not?

Let mindfulness be to you what you need it to be. While you won’t be saying “Namaste” or praying while you practice it (unless you want to), it can be just as spiritual or not as you want it to be. The next time someone asks you if mindfulness is a religion or not, you get to decide the answer. What is it to you?

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He covers topics like spirituality, philosophy, finance, sports, games, and food. JC earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business with a Marketing Concentration at Mercyhurst University. He is a certified USPTA professional who teaches tennis in the New York City Metropolitan area. He has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.