What is Mindfulness?

As humans, we often get 'stuck' in our thinking minds - getting lost in thoughts about what we need to do, what we haven't done and should have done, worrying about the future, ruminating over the past, judging ourselves and others, wishing things were different, wishing things would stay the same. Our minds continually analyse, categorise and judge; they tell us what is right and what wrong, good or bad, desirable or undesirable....

In this way our minds have allowed us to develop as a species. Our thinking minds have allowed us to develop great ideas and create marvellous inventions.

Sometimes though, our thinking minds can cause bother. By continuously analysing and judging, categorising and worrying, it can seem like we get no peace. Our minds can be especially critical of us and of others, and sometimes the thoughts that our minds produce are not particularly kind or helpful. Mindfulness is a way of responding to our minds and our experiences in a different way.

Mindfulness simply means being in the present moment with awareness, openness, and acceptance. When we are practising mindfulness we are engaged fully in what we are doing rather than ‘getting lost’ in thoughts. We are allowing feelings and thoughts to be as they are, letting them come and go rather than trying to push them away or make them stay.

A Brief Background on Mindfulness & Psychology

The practice of mindfulness derives from Buddhist traditions and practices, however over the past twenty years it has been increasingly utilised by psychologists to treat a wide range of issues. There are a range of empirically supported psychological therapies that have incorporated mindfulness based interventions.

Mindfulness was first clinically developed as the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program (Kabat-Zinn, 1982). The MBSR program was an 8 week intervention to treat people suffering from chronic pain. The program was extremely successful, and subsequent research has further supported the efficacy of MBSR in reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and pain.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed following the success of the MBSR program (Segal, Williams & Teasdale, 2002). Although similar to MBSR, MBCT focussed more on thoughts and thinking patterns. MBCT was developed for people suffering depression, and research has been found to be very effective, particularly in preventing relapse of depression.

Mindfulness based therapies are increasingly common treatment approaches in modern psychology, and have demonstrated efficacy in treating a wide range of issues including eating disorders, weight and body image difficulties, anxiety, stress, depression, postnatal depression, trauma, phobias and relationships.

How do mindfulness skills help?

Mindfulness can help us to:

  • Remain present and aware in the face of changing and at times difficult circumstances
  • Observe relatively non-reactively our own processes of thinking and feeling
  • Approach unfamiliar experiences with curiosity and compassion as opposed to fear or defensiveness
  • Use approach-based coping methods (e.g. examining and exploring what is causing discomfort rather than habitually avoiding it without getting caught in rumination and preoccupation)
  • Mindfulness involves being connected with our present experience as best we can, noticing the stories our minds often give us and choosing whether to buy into them or not. It involves being with each moment without pushing it away or wishing it would stay longer. Mindfulness is flexible and adaptive and loving and kind. When practising mindfulness even the most difficult of experiences can be met with compassion and curiosity, enabling us to allow them to come and go much more freely. This allows us to feel more calm and connected to ourselves and to others.

How do I Learn Mindfulness Skills?

Mindfulness can be developed in two ways:

1) Developing formal meditation practice

Meditation involves awareness of our experience on a moment by moment basis, typically with a focus on placing the attention on the breath or/and the body; or on an outside focus, such as sound. Mindfulness meditation is not about 'stopping thinking' - when thoughts show up during meditation (and they always do), the aim is to notice the thoughts and bring yourself back to the object of focus (breath, sound etc). In this way we are training our minds to be present, steady, and aware. Treat Yourself Well Sydney psychologists and clinical psychologists can help you to learn how to meditate and build your skills of being in the present.

2) Using mindfulness in everyday life

Mindfulness is a skill which works well when it is practised outside of formal 'meditation time'. We can practice mindfulness in our daily life in many ways, for example:

  • Stopping for a minute and noticing what is in our present awareness (thoughts, bodily sensations, feelings, what can we see in this moment, smell in this moment, taste in this moment, hear in this moment?)
  • Slowing down and noticing the process of what we are doing rather than focussing on the outcome. So, instead of washing the dishes and getting lost in thoughts about what you need to do next - get involved with the process of washing the dishes - noticing the scent of the washing up liquid, the feel of the water on your hands, the sight of the transforming dishes from dirty to clean....with mindfulness we can make even the most tiresome chores more pleasurable and much more of an experience!
  • Checking in with our breath and body at any time during the day. Asking ourselves, 'what is going on for me in this moment?'
  • Noticing things you touch- the feel of the bed linen on your skin, the fabric of your clothing....

Treat Yourself Well Sydney psychologists and clinical psychologists use and teach mindfulness skills and techniques. If you are interested in learning more about how mindfulness skills can help you, call us for an appointment on (02) 9555 4810, or send an email to essentials@self.net.au

 
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Psychology for a Healthy Mind and Body


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