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What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness and optimal health go hand in hand because mindfulness is a stress management technique that has been shown to improve emotion regulation and ameliorate a variety of medical conditions (Marchand, 2012). Read on to discover the skills associated with mindfulness, the benefits of mindfulness, and two ways you can cultivate mindfulness.

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What is Mindfulness?

Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

Dr. Zindel Segal summarized the nature of mindfulness by stating, “In mindfulness practice, the focus of a person’s attention is opened to admit whatever enters experience, while at the same time, a stance of kindly curiosity allows the person to investigate whatever appears, without falling prey to automatic judgments or reactivity.”

What Skills are Associated with Mindfulness?

The five facet mindfulness assessment by Baer and colleagues identifies five skills associated with mindfulness: observing, describing, acting with awareness, nonreactivity to inner experience, and accepting/allowing without judgement. I’ve listed each facet below along with a few sample items to help flesh out the associated behaviors.

Observing: Sample items from the measure include:

  • “I notice changes in my body, such as whether my breathing slows down or speeds up.”
  • “I notice how foods and drinks affect my thoughts, bodily sensations, and emotions.”
  • “I pay attention to sensations, such as the wind in my hair or sun on my face.”

Describing: Sample items from the measure include:

  • “I can easily put my beliefs, opinions, and expectations into words.”
  • “I’m good at thinking of words to express my perceptions, such as how things taste, smell, or sound.”
  • “Even when I’m feeling terribly upset, I can find a way to put it into words.”

Acting with awareness: Sample items from the measure include:

  • “When I’m doing something, I’m only focused on what I’m doing, nothing else.”
  • “When I do things, my mind wanders off and I’m easily distracted.” (opposite)
  • “I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing because I’m daydreaming, worrying, or otherwise distracted.” (opposite)

Nonreactivity to inner experience: Sample items from the measure include:

  • “I perceive my feelings and emotions without having to react to them.”
  • “I watch my feelings without getting lost in them.”
  • “Usually when I have distressing thoughts or images, I ‘step back’ and am aware of the thought or image without getting taken over by it.”

Accepting/allowing without judgment: Sample items from the measure include:

  • “I tend to evaluate whether my perceptions are right or wrong.” (opposite)
  • “I tend to make judgments about how worthwhile or worthless my experiences are.” (opposite)
  • “I tell myself that I shouldn’t be thinking the way I’m thinking.” (opposite)

Note, accepting/allowing without judgement means refraining from applying evaluative labels such as good/bad, right/wrong, or worthwhile/worthless and allowing reality to be as it is without attempts to avoid, escape, or change it. Nonjudging is not equated with passivity or resignation. Rather, it is believed to encourage more adaptive responding to problematic situations by preventing automatic, impulsive, or maladaptive behaviors.

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health, mindfulness can induce a state of relaxation, which is associated with a variety of benefits, including:

  • Lowered anxiety levels
  • Increased clarity in thinking and perception
  • Higher brain functioning
  • Increased immune function
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Experience of being calm and internally still
  • Increased awareness
  • Increased attention and focus
  • Experience of feeling connected

Other effective relaxation techniques include:

  • Guided Imagery: For this technique, people are taught to focus on pleasant images to replace negative or stressful feelings. Guided imagery may be self-directed or led by a practitioner or a recording.
  • Deep Breathing or Breathing Exercises: This technique involves focusing on taking slow, deep, even breaths.
  • Autogenic Training: In autogenic training, you learn to concentrate on the physical sensations of warmth, heaviness, and relaxation in different parts of your body.
  • Progressive Relaxation: This technique, also called Jacobson relaxation or progressive muscle relaxation, involves tightening and relaxing various muscle groups. Progressive relaxation is often combined with guided imagery and breathing exercises.
  • Self-Hypnosis: In self-hypnosis programs, people are taught to produce the relaxation response when prompted by a phrase or nonverbal cue (called a “suggestion”).
  • Biofeedback-Assisted Relaxation: Biofeedback techniques measure body functions and give you information about them so that you can learn to control them. Biofeedback-assisted relaxation uses electronic devices to teach you to produce changes in your body that are associated with relaxation, such as reduced muscle tension.

How Can You Cultivate Mindfulness?

There are many roads to mindful living. I’ve listed two below.

First, you can engage in everyday activities such as eating, walking, or conversation with the intention of being mindful. As suggested by the five facets of mindfulness, this entails slowing down, paying attention, suspending judgment, and fully engaging in whatever experience is happening in the present moment.

Second, meditation is another method through which you can learn to live mindfully. There are many categories of meditative practice, of which mindfulness meditation is but one. Mindful meditations include mindful breathing, guided imagery, or a body scan. Books, courses, YouTube videos, and apps abound that can enhance your mindfulness mediation practice.

Download: 10 Mindful Mediation Exercises

Hire an Integrative Wellness Coach to Accelerate Your Wellness Journey

Leslie Bosch, PhD - Integrative Wellness CoachIf you’d like help managing your stress more mindfully, give me a call or send me an email. I’ll work with you to clarify your vision and plan for a successful outcome. Along the way, I’ll be there to encourage your efforts, to celebrate your progress, and to troubleshoot your breakdowns. Read testimonials from satisfied clients.

Be well and enjoy!

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Disclaimer: The information provided through this Website is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. If stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness, please consult with a suitable health professional.

References:

  • Baer, R.A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13, 27-45.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (2018). The healing power of mindfulness: A new way of being. New York, NY: Hachette Books.
  • Marchand, W. R. (2010). Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 18(4), 233-252. doi: 10.1097/01.pra.0000416014.53215.86
  • Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. New York: Guilford.

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