Mindfulness is often considered the new golden child of therapy. In fact, it is all the rave in the mental health community as professionals simply cannot get enough of it or its practices and teachings. Even though mindfulness is a relatively new concept to psychotherapy, its roots can actually be traced back to Buddhism and ancient meditation practices; mindfulness is not a new concept or way of thinking for many cultures and religious practices. However, for many westerners, mindfulness can be considered a modern way of being; many individuals may not be aware of the true definition of mindfulness nor how to incorporate it’s practices into a daily routine. Below, we will take a look at the definition of mindfulness, what research has to say about it as well as how to incorporate some mindful practices into your daily life.
So, what exactly is mindfulness then? According to the University of California, Berkeley Greater Good Science Center, mindfulness can be defined as ‘maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment’. The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center additionally states that ‘mindfulness also involves acceptance, paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them’. According to mindfulness, there is no right or wrong way to feel or think at any given moment. Instead, individuals are encouraged to simply be. Lastly, mindfulness is extremely focused on the here and now; dwelling on the past or day dreaming about the future are not as important as staying in the present moment.
A plethora of research studies have documented the positive mental, emotional and physical benefits of mindful teachings and practices. Researchers have concluded that mindful activities, even if just practiced for a couple of weeks, have the potential to bring a variety of positive benefits ranging from physical health to social awareness. The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) lists some of the favorable side-effects of mindfulness:
● Mindfulness can help to fight obesity. Mindful eating can be viewed as a common aspect of mindfulness and can be effectively utilized to help monitor how fast food is consumed and assist in the prevention of over-eating.
● Mindfulness can help couples or general relationships. According to Berkeley GGSC ‘research suggests mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another’.
● Mindfulness is good for our bodies. One study concluded that practicing its values can boost our immune system and help fight off disease.
● Mindful activities can help us focus and increase or memory.
● People who practice mindfulness are more likely to practice compassion and altruism. Studies have demonstrated that mindful individuals are more likely to help others in need.
● Mindfulness is good for our mental well being as it helps to reduce negative emotions and stress levels. In fact, one study found mindfulness to be just as effective as antidepressants for some of its research participants.
● Mindfulness changes the actual makeup of our brains. According to The Berkeley GGSC ‘‘research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy’.
Now that we have discussed the definition of mindfulness as well as what research has to say about incorporating its practices into your daily routine, it is time to take a look at some simple and helpful ways in which mindfulness can be incorporated into your routine. The University of Berkeley Greater Good Science Center lists a few pointers to help get you started on your path to a more mindful way of being:
● Pay extra close attention to your breathing. Tune into each breath and how the oxygen feels going in and out of your lungs and body. This is especially important when you’re feeling intense emotions such as high levels of stress, anger or even sadness.
● Notice—really notice—what you’re sensing in a given moment. Sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness are all areas of life which mindful individuals give energy to and process.
● Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you. This can be a tough cookie at times however it can help to create valuable insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.
● Tune into your body’s physical sensations. Everything from the water hitting your skin in the shower to the way your body rests in your office chair. This helps to keep your mind in the present.
Until next time--take care of yourself, take care of your mind.
Amanda Burk, MA, LPC-Intern, LMFT-A
Supervised By: Tammy Fisher, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha