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Mindfulness 101

The blog that will give you all the background you need to get started with mindfulness. #mindfulness

 

Welcome to your mini course on mindfulness basics: where it came from, how it’s taught, and how you can implement it into your life.


First off, what is mindfulness? It can be most simply defined as awareness of the present moment, non-judgmentally. It is a skill that needs to be practiced just like anything else, but this skill can bring you some pretty important things. Would you like to focus better, sleep better, cope with chronic pain, and have better relationships with those you love and yourself? Keep on reading.



Mindfulness has its roots in Eastern Buddhist teachings, but was made secular and accessible to our Western world by a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s. He removed the Buddhist connection and left us with the raw healing power of the human experience (1). Kabat-Zinn has published many works that can help anyone on their mindfulness journey; learning more about the science behind mindfulness is definitely worth a Google.


Since Kabat-Zinn broke mindfulness ground, we have seen this word flood the therapeutic world and many other fields–not to forget retail stores and social media, as well. It is certainly a buzzword right now, but I am here to tell you it is worth the hype. In our field, mindfulness can be found in prominent approaches such as Dialectical Behavior therapy (DBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive therapy (MBCT), and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR).


In DBT, Marsha Linehan breaks mindfulness down even further into more manageable pieces or steps (2):


1. Observe: Simply notice what’s happening. Notice thoughts, emotional feelings, physical sensations, and anything else that is happening. Simply become aware and pay attention.


2. Describe: Put words on what you have observed. Observe and Describe often happen simultaneously.


3. Participate: Fully participate in an experience. Often, when we start to practice mindfulness, we become distracted or engaged in another activity. Rather, if we fully participate, we understand the full experience and how it might be helpful for us. Therefore, if you’re watching your favorite show on TV as a form of self-care, watch that show with your full attention. If you’re practicing a mindfulness meditation, be fully present and participate in said experience.


4. Non-Judgmental Stance: Reduce judgments. This one is challenging, because we naturally judge things as “good” or “bad.” This skill, rather, helps us reduce judgments and focus on the facts.


5. One-Mindful: Do one thing at a time. As a culture of multitaskers, this one is hard! However, it’s important to practice. If you are watching TV, then only watch TV. Don’t simultaneously play a game on your phone or scroll through Twitter. If you are eating dinner, then only eat dinner.


​6. Effectiveness: Do what works. If something isn’t working for you, or if something is making you feel worse, then try something else. It is OK to move on from something if it doesn’t serve you.


If these steps make sense to you, a DBT approach to therapy might be a good fit! Another approach is MBCT. Cognitive therapy in general deals with cognitions or thoughts and how we can change our thoughts to better serve us. In MBCT, mindfulness is integrated into this thought-based approach, acknowledging that thoughts are part of the human experience. We do not need to judge them or even identify with them if we don’t want to (3). This can be a game changer.


The last approach I’ll talk about in this blog is a new philosophical-esque wave that is absolutely making waves (excuse the… pun?). My favorite figure in this movement is Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, philosopher, New York Times best-selling author, host of the Making Sense podcast, and creator of the Waking Up app (4). Sam takes mindfulness practice a step further, teaching mindfulness as a skill, yes, but more so as a way of being. At any point during the day, you can choose to be mindful, bringing awareness and a nonjudgmental stance to any situation or interaction.



To wrap this puppy up, how do we practice this skill? Meditation may seem like a daunting task. I mean, are we really supposed to sit cross legged with our eyes closed and hum? Well, you can do that, for sure, but I recommend starting small: before bed, just focus on your breathing. Guided meditations that can be found on YouTube, such as a mindfulness body scan, are great for calming the brain and body down before sleep. Step one is almost always using your breath to tap into awareness. Another amazing way to cultivate mindfulness is intentional movement, such as yoga or tai chi.


Practicing mindfulness in any capacity is a worthwhile effort. While it may be difficult at first, remember it’s a skill that takes dedicated practice and simply carving five to ten minutes of your day can make all the difference.


Stay tuned for more specific mindfulness content from your fellow human,

Allison


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