In our fast-paced, technology-driven culture, it’s easy to get caught up in a pattern of swirling thoughts—thinking about our never-ending to-do lists, ruminating on past events, or worrying about the future. What if there was a way to slow down…our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our anxieties…resulting in reduced stress, lower blood pressure, improved brain functioning, and reduced chronic pain? Mindfulness has been found to have all these benefits and more. It has been scientifically proven to be a key element in improving overall well-being. It sounds too good to be true! Let’s take a closer look.
Mindfulness practices have become internationally popular in the past decade, but their roots reach 2,500 years beginning in Eastern cultures by religious and spiritual institutions.These practices eventually made their way over to the Western world. The popularity here can be traced to particular people and secular institutions. One of the main people that influenced bringing mindfulness from the East to the West was Jon Kabat-Zinn back in the 1970’s. Kabat-Zinn studied meditation and mindfulness under several Buddhist teachers which gave him an Eastern foundation in mindfulness that he, in turn, integrated with Western science. He founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Oasis Institute for Mindfulness-Based Professional Education and Training where he developed his highly successful Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, an eight-week program aimed at treating patients with chronic pain. Since its conception, the effectiveness of MBSR to lower stress and enhance overall wellbeing has been – and increasingly is – supported by thousands of scientific research studies, thus continuing to prove the effectiveness and many benefits of mindfulness.
From popular press to psychotherapy literature, mindfulness is definitely a hot topic these day. But what is mindfulness? The word mindfulness originally comes from the Pali word “sati”, which means having awareness, attention, and remembering. One definition of mindfulness is “the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it with curiosity, without judgment.” It is the human ability to be fully present in the moment, aware of where we are and what we are doing. It is intentionally acknowledging and accepting our feelings, thoughts, and emotions in the present moment without becoming overwhelmed by them. Simply put, it is paying attention on purpose. Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.
Who can benefit from mindfulness? EVERYONE! It can be practiced by children, young people and adults. In addition to the many benefits mentioned previously, therapists have also turned to mindfulness meditation as an important element in the treatment of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mindfulness can be useful for people from all different walks of life and is being successfully applied not only in mental health settings but also in the workplace, schools, and criminal justice systems.
The great news is mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses! It is not something you have to conjure up. Rather, you just have to learn how to access it. While mindfulness is innate, it can be cultivated through scientifically proven techniques such as daily meditation (of varying types and durations), short pauses inserted into everyday life, and learning how to integrate meditation practice in with other activities such as yoga, movement, and sports. There are many ways of learning how to practically implement mindfulness into your daily life on your own just by searching “mindfulness techniques & practices” on the internet or utilizing an easy-to-use meditation app such as Headspace (https://www.headspace.com). Small groups are also a great way to learn mindfulness techniques and practices. If you are interested in learning more, we will be offering a six-week Mindfulness Group at Hurley Counseling beginning in late January led by our intern, LaJuan Humbert. More information coming soon!