What is Mindfulness?

What is Mindfulness?Individuals pursuing a career in the therapeutic community will come into contact with many concepts drawn from the diverse array of human traditions, such as mindfulness. While it has gained significant traction in acceptance-based therapies, understanding its full meaning and the traditional origins of the practice can help to integrate it into a practice paradigm based on any behavioral or cognitive approach. The article below defines and examines the origins of this practice to that end.

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Ancient Philosophical Roots

The tradition of Buddhism is considered to be the ultimate origin of the practice of mindfulness. While technically a religious perspective and activity, the absence of deity within the philosophy provides flexibility of application for its basic tenets, irrespective of the practitioner’s personal beliefs. It is that flexibility that also lends itself to use within therapeutic circles. But what is entailed? How does one practice mindfulness and what are the potential benefits of its inclusion in a treatment approach?

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Ultimately, mindfulness requires an individual to focus their attention on the present, to relinquish obsessive attention to the past or worries about the future. Since behavioral patterns are not set in stone, this philosophy can assist individuals in letting go of negative behaviors and replacing them with positive or beneficial actions, thought trends, or more radical perceptual shifts. According to Greater Good, a website hosted by Berkeley University, its introduction to western, secular practice is primarily credited to Jon Kabbat-Zinn and his stress-reducing Mindfulness-Based techniques.

Modern Therapeutic Use

In addition to Kabbat-Zinn’s approach, mindfulness is often used in cognitive therapies, especially those based on acceptance and sourcing change within an individual. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is one such approach. In particular, those who suffer from recurring episodes of depression in extreme depressive disorders have benefited. But it’s helpful for many types of psychological challenges.

Generally, MBCT and other approaches that utilize the eastern concept involve a program of guided sessions that can last eight weeks or more. These sessions teach clients basic meditation practices, which can be used daily in privacy. The private practice of meditation can also include breathing exercises and other homework designed to help patients develop their focus.

The Psychological Advantage of Mindfulness

The practice requires individuals to pay attention to their thoughts and feelings as they arise without judging them. Judgment is often the beginning of any cycle of depression or anxiety, so learning how to avoid this behavior can prove immensely helpful. Once thoughts are witnessed rather than judged, a different process of acceptance can begin. Meditation and awareness are useful for individuals who experience depressive or anxiety-based disorders because they fundamentally change the relationship with sadness or a created value system.

This allows an individual to understand their emotional state rather than unsuccessfully avoiding or denying it. It can also be used anywhere at any time, which makes it a valuable tool in the therapy tool kit. If a person recovering from a depressive episode experiences sudden sadness, rather than pushing away the emotion and making it stronger, they can pause and assess the feeling with a brief mindfulness exercise.

Benefits For Kids

Mindfulness is not just for adults. It has been successfully adapted for use by children. Kids today experience significant levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Those conditions, besides their more obvious emotional consequences, often lead to a lack of concentration and impaired coping skills. Mindfulness has been found to help children reduce their anxiety and regulate emotions in general. In addition, it improves children’s resilience to stressful situations and increases impulse control. Further, it has a positive cognitive impact, improving attention and executive functioning skills.

Adolescents may benefit the most from mindfulness. Teenagers are constantly bombarded with criticism and pressure and many internalize it to an unhealthy degree. Adolescents frequently ruminate about their faults and their self-image plummets as a result. Mindfulness assists teens in regulating their hormone-influenced emotions. It teaches them to separate themselves from their negative thoughts and gives them space to decompress from the day’s drama.

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Numerous schools have integrated mindfulness into their curriculum. Teachers find that students who practice mindfulness regularly exhibit an improvement in both behavior and academic performance. It even works with difficult populations, such as those kids struggling with ADHD and autism. Maybe the most important part of learning mindfulness is how it provides children with lifelong tools. They develop self-awareness and good coping skills that they can take with them into adulthood.

The Everyday Practice of Mindfulness

When you think of practicing mindfulness, you probably picture sitting in the lotus position in a quiet room with relaxing music playing in the background. Although that is a perfectly acceptable way to perform mindfulness, not everyone can find time for peace and quiet in their everyday lives. The good news is that you can practice mindfulness during almost any regular daily activity.

In fact, introducing mindfulness to activities such as walking and eating can be highly beneficial. For example, being mindful when eating allows you to be present during meals and appreciate what you are eating. Instead of rushing through a meal without thinking you can use it as a time to check in with your body and decrease stress. Paying attention to what you are consuming, as well as how fast you are eating, has the added benefit of helping you control your food intake and can aid in digestion and weight loss. 

How To Get Started With Mindfulness

Although you can take classes with a professional, there are many avenues to learn mindfulness. The internet is filled with audio and video mindfulness instruction, some more reliable than others. A good place to start is a book or app dedicated to learning mindfulness. Calm and Headspace are two popular apps that offer guided mindfulness meditations for almost every situation and skill level. Please keep in mind that mindfulness takes work. It is not something you can pick up without consistent practice. However, in this stressful world, the benefits appear to be worth it.

While its applications span the divide between modern therapies and eastern philosophy, the concept of mindfulness is highly accessible to anyone. Because it involves stilling a culturally-reinforced system of valuation and a deep awareness of breath, mindfulness serves as both a therapeutic tool and a practice used by society at large.

ABA Programs Guide Staff

Updated April 2020

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