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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?

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 Secular 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 all 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.

What Makes It Useful

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.

While its applications span both time and the divide between western secularism and eastern philosophy, the concept 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.