“Mindfulness, is that the same as meditation? It sounds boring, but I have heard a lot of people talking about it lately.”
“I keep meaning to start doing mindfulness, but I’m so busy with what’s next on my to-do list. Who has the time.”
I have been recently hearing a lot of comments like these in the therapy suite, on social media, and even while venturing through my day to day life. While there are many different ways one can conceptualize mindfulness, there are common themes across all mindfulness models that may help clear things up for Wellness Wednesday’s readers.
Mindfulness can be considered both the philosophy and the practice of being actively in the present moment. In our daily lives, we often find that we pivot between thoughts about regrets or actions of the past and worries about the future. These may be major concerns, or even mild distractions, that pop into our minds and prevent us from being fully present in the here and now.
In a therapeutic context, mindfulness aims to help people integrate the concept of mindfulness into treatment (e.g., Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction [MBSR] or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy [MBCT]). Meditation is one way that many people choose to practice being mindful, but mindfulness can be practiced in many more ways than the classic seated meditation.
Anyone can practice mindfulness by simply bringing their awareness to the moment by attending to their five senses while doing any activity (e.g., walking outside, showering, or eating). Anyone who drives regularly will recognize that we can go through life in a mildly effective way while on autopilot. In those moments we go completely into our head instead of focusing on the road. We may generally arrive on the other end of that journey in a relatively safe manner, but that is certainly not always the case and what may we have missed along the way?
Being mindful is about taking in what you are doing more fully, rather than thinking about something else. Clearly, we do need to plan ahead and cannot always be 100% present, but how often is that past and future thinking not particularly helpful in the moment? Indeed, trying to be more present in our daily life can be a realistic goal to strive for and will benefit us all in some way.
The reason mindfulness mediation has become almost synonymous with the concept of mindfulness is because meditation provides us a specific opportunity to practice being mindful by focusing on the breath as an anchor to that present moment. No matter where you are or what is happening, the breath is something that is present and can be focused on.
However, meditation is like going to the gym. You cannot expect to go to two workout classes and see results. It needs to be a regular practice in your weekly routine and the more opportunities you provide to practice mindfulness the better.
The benefits of mindfulness have been well documented in research and the media. This includes improvements in emotion regulation, impulse control, attention, compassion, stress reduction and pain management. Mindfulness is also something that holds little risk and is healthy to learn for children, adolescents and adults.
One big component of mindfulness and the practice of meditation is learning to tolerate discomfort. Sitting in the same position without distraction focussing on your breath is uncomfortable, kind of just like life. If we can build a tolerance for discomfort, and an ability to disengage from it, we can start to build resiliency for those tougher moments ahead.
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Image: Meditation by Sebastien Wiertz. See side panel for further copyright information.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.
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