Last week Mental Health Matters pondered if Mindfulness was the antidote, or the ‘medicine’ you could take to counteract the poison, if you will, of multi-tasking, which research shows tends to do more to hurt us in the long term than it does to help us in the short term. It’s probably helpful to start by visiting just the basics of mindfulness.
It is hard to start any discussion of mindfulness, no matter how basic, without mentioning the modern father of secular mindfulness and the widely accepted definition he created for it. In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered an eight-week mindfulness-based-stress-reduction (MBSR) course at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, to help patients with chronic pain. In a 2017 interview with The Guardian newspaper, he explained how he, and others, in designing the program, used the important things Buddhist monks had learned about meditation, the reduction of stress and the ability to regulate emotions, the overall well-being, and left out the teachings of Buddhism. By 2015, almost 80% of medical schools in the U.S. offered some sort of mindfulness-based training. The MBSR training, now available across the country and globe, focuses on meditation, developing acute attention and emotional regulation which results in drastic reductions in anxiety, worry and depression and which keep one solely focused on ‘the Now’. In addition, an increasing number of studies actually demonstrate how meditation affects the brain and has helped to reduce blood pressure, anxiety, depression, insomnia and help people deal more effectively with chronic pain and to improve overall well-being.
So what is it exactly? The widely-accepted definition of mindfulness is simply “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. We can use mindfulness at any point during our day, anywhere, during any task during our day. We can use it anytime we are breathing… and we are always breathing. This has an effect of regulating our brain’s emotional state and calming it down, no matter what is going on around us. We focus on our breaths… in and out. That is where the present moment is. We observe our breathing, in spite of what may be going on around us. We notice the rhythm of our breaths in the present moment. We notice when our mind wanders away from the breath, to other thoughts besides that moment when we feel air going in and out of our lungs, and then we simply pull our attention back to the present moment. We do this over and over, returning to our breathing, as many times as we like. When I teach mindfulness to groups and individuals, I like to call it the “Texas Three Step”, a mindful dance we do inside ourselves that keeps us focused on the Now.
There are various types of mindfulness meditations and techniques one can implement. A brief internet search can introduce you to some of them but there are some key concepts that are important no matter which exercise of mindfulness you try. First, realize that it is hard to actually ‘do it wrong’. Your own experience will be the best teacher as you build on your own awareness through practicing techniques. Second, be patient and be kind to yourself as you learn. Continue to practice over and over because it takes time to train yourself to focus only on the Now and only on your breathing. Third, Practice Acceptance. Observe your experience, positive or negative and let it be, as it is, without judging or trying to change it. You may not feel a perfect experience every time you practice mindfulness, it takes time and acceptance of each experience.
Bill Mory is licensed therapist in private practice, in Texoma, who is an active member of the local behavioral health network and a provider of workplace training on Mindfulness, Emotional Brain Training and other topics. Learn more at www.morytherapy.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.