What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is translated from the Pali word sati and means “to remember.” Mindfulness includes a series of techniques designed to help individuals achieve a mental state that focuses on one’s awareness of themselves and their surroundings. Mindfulness can be defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Often we are stuck thinking about the past or future and forget to bring our awareness to the present moment. It is important to clarify that mindfulness is not the absence of thought. Research tells us that trying to stop thoughts is not effective and tends to backfire. Instead, we can use mindfulness techniques to give us more ways of handling the thoughts we do have. For many people, mindfulness practice is preferable over silent meditation. I have had many clients report that unguided meditations result in an increase in their amount of worry or depressive thoughts.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is typically very guided and focuses on teaching specific techniques to reduce stress. Some of the most popular techniques include learning to do a body scan, noting thoughts and bringing awareness to daily sensory experiences, such as eating. One of the first techniques often taught in MBSR is called a body scan. A body scan is used to improve one’s awareness of physical sensations and can be helpful for processing uncomfortable emotions.
Noting is a technique used to acknowledge a thought without reacting to it. When we experience distressing thoughts and emotions, our tendency is push them away. Unfortunately, this only makes us think about those thoughts more. Noting, as well as several other techniques, can help depressive, angry, and anxious thoughts. MBSR takes practice, but it is a cheap, easy, and low-risk activity for reducing negative thoughts and feelings.
There is a large body of research demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness. For example, individuals who participated in a MBSR program reported less life stress compared to a control group. Several studies have looked at the effect of mindfulness on chronic illnesses, such as fibromyalgia and cancer. Results show an improvement in psychological functioning, including decreased anxiety and depressive symptoms, and a decrease in physical health symptoms. Researchers claim that mindfulness improves emotional regulation and responses to stressful situations. In a sample of couples, researchers found that individuals with higher mindfulness reported more positive perceptions of their partner and relationship following a conflict discussion.
Although most of the research has been done with adults, studies are starting to explore mindfulness practice in children. Mindfulness curriculums for children have been found to reduce children’s level of cortisol (a hormone related to stress), improve their cognitive control, reduce their symptoms of depression, and improve their social skills (greater peer acceptance, empathy, and perspective-taking).
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, consider signing up for one of our MBSR classes. They are drop-in based and we have specific classes for adults and children. If you would like more information, please call us at 612-470-4099.