SCIENCE AND PSYCHOTHERAPISTS SAY “BRING IT ON” TO MINDFULNESS!
Mindfulness is quickly becoming one of the hottest trends and not just in LA, New York, and the mountaintops of Tibet. Indeed contemplative practices are being embraced by millions around the globe, across all cultures, and are often at the heart of many religious traditions. But thanks to behavioral science, there is growing interest in its potential mental health benefits. In fact, studies are now suggesting that mindfulness is a valuable treatment option for an assortment of mental disorders.
Although there is yet to be a universal definition of mindfulness, most experts agree it includes: a healthy amount of nonjudgmental self-awareness, a heaping of self-acceptance and a concentrated focus on staying present in the here and now. Perhaps the most widely accepted operational definition comes from John Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at U-Mass, and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine. Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
A few key components in the mindfulness philosophy zero in on a specific style of meditation which involves the observation of one’s breathing, and paying strategic attention to one’s inner experiences, such as thoughts, emotions or behavioral inclinations. Other critical elements include; the refraining from judgment and the avoiding or pushing away of unpleasant thoughts, images, or feelings. In other words, while meditating mindfully, one learns to monitor her thoughts and feelings as they come and go. When the mind wanders back into the past (Did I leave my iphone charger at home?) or forward into the future (Pick up toilet paper on way home), she is encouraged to give labels to her mental content. For example, a future thought: “Order sushi before 6pm to get early bird deal” – would be labeled “planning” or a past thought “Wow, I acted like such an idiot in the meeting today” would be labeled “judgment”.
It is commonly thought, among a wide variety of therapists with an assortment of theoretical perspectives, that mind wandering run amok and can often increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression. By training a person to recognize and curtail one’s natural, automatic thoughts and tendencies during mindful meditation, i.e. not scratching, shifting around, or engaging in anxiety provoking rumination, (the official term for mind wandering) one is actually enhancing his capacity to focus his attention on productive goals, important values, and aspirations. It can also help the client to learn to not let the darker elements of life distract, detract or derail these goals and values.
Scientists have discovered that a regular practice of mindfulness can actually lead to a shift in what they call “reperceiving” which in turn can lead to healthier changes in behavior. They claim that this perceptual shift allows meditators to stand back and witness their own thoughts and experiences instead of being engulfed in them. This theory holds that by paying attention to the present moment instead of letting the brain react automatically and run wild with passing thoughts and emotions, the brain can literally re-wire itself.So, when flooded with a rogue wave of anxiety, instead of engaging in automatic behavioral patterns like drinking a 5th of vodka, eating a bag of caramel kettle corn, or yelling at the rude lady at the bank, the mindful meditator can take a step back, notice that an emotional state has risen and then just let it pass right on by. No food, no vodka, no drugs, no drama!
In the past 15 years, mental health professionals have added mindfulness to their tool kit for treating a number of psychiatrics disorders including anxiety, depression, personality disorders and even treating symptoms of schizophrenia. Many more people are drawn to psychotherapists that incorporate mindfulness into their practice and scientists have tapped into its most important why’s; People want a proactive way to tackle psychological or emotional issues, they are looking for ways to be more engaged and present…and genuinely want to show up for life rather than just phone or text it in. In this way, when mindfulness is mixed in the clinical process, it can allow clients to embrace and conquer distress and to create more psychological freedom. What better reason to give this modality some serious consideration?