Mindfulness has gotten a lot of buzz lately for all its benefits, but it is a practice that has been around for a very long time. To name a few, benefits of mindfulness include increased focus and concentration, a sense of peace and calmness, less reactivity, improved memory, lower blood pressure, and greater over all well-being. Traditionally, mindfulness is rooted in spirituality. Recent advances in the neuroscience research of mindfulness have put a secular spin on the practice. Put simply, mindfulness can be defined as having an awareness of the present experience with acceptance.
I had the privilege recently of attending a training with Ron Siegel, PsyD. A lot of the information that follows comes from that training. To learn more about Ron Siegel, visit his website at www.mindfulness-solution.com.
Mindfulness is really more of an attitude toward experience, rather than a fixed state of mind. A lot of media depicts a vision of a person in blissful meditation, but the truth is, we can be mindful even when our brains are wracked with chaos. Developing a regular practice of mindfulness benefits us by:
- Increasing our capacity to be with discomfort. When integrated into psychotherapy, mindfulness differs from other therapies (which focus on diminishing the pain to make it easier) by building resilience and strengthening our ability to tolerate more.
- Mindfulness practices help us to step out of the thought stream. We don’t get hooked on the thoughts the same way. Emotions are experienced in the body for only approximately 90 seconds when not reinforced with a thought. So by working to stay present with the body and the emotion, we may be less likely to dive into thought and extend the emotional experience. Thus, mindfulness increases affect tolerance.
- By practicing mindfulness, we can train our minds to focus on the positive qualities of ourselves, each other, and our experiences, rather than the negative. Most of us spend a lot of time concerned with how we compare to others. We can shift focus toward life as it unfolds and away from how everything relates to us personally.
- Increases compassion. Just like a muscle that needs to be flexed and exercised regularly to grow stronger, compassion is a skill that can be cultivated through regular mindfulness practice.
As we progress through a regular mindfulness practice, we will move through three levels of practice skills:
1. Concentration (aka focused attention)- choosing an object of awareness (like the breath, or the physical sensations of the body, noticing the sensations present in nature) and redirect attention back to this object every time the mind wanders – which it will do quite normally!
2. Mindfulness (aka open monitoring)- Once we develop degree of concentration, we begin to open awareness up to whatever arises and follow it. If we get caught in a chain of thoughts, we can go back to concentration.
3. Acceptance- At this stage, we strive to be present with our experience and not reject it.
Siegel warns that, like any powerful tool, mindfulness can bring some things into awareness too soon or at the wrong time, which can destabilize us. This is partly why it can be very beneficial to work with a therapist who can aide in processing what arises in a safe environment. If you would like to discuss these concepts at greater length, if you’d like to join a mindfulness group, or if you’re ready to begin your own journey, hit me up. I’d love to hear from you!