The Importance of Mindfulness in Therapy
It is likely you’ve heard the buzzword “mindfulness” thrown around somewhere- but what is it really and is it worth trying? The most widely accepted definition of mindfulness is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally*.” Ok, let’s break that down!
Mindfulness is an intentional action that helps our mind slow down and receive the sensory information around us. When we are practicing mindfulness, aka- focused and aware of ourselves and our surroundings, we are more likely to act intentionally rather than react unconsciously. Mindfulness is also an exercise in acceptance- noticing what happens and choosing not to judge whatever is happening.
Here is a simple example. While making your morning coffee, pay close attention to everything you are doing and the different senses it activates. Focus on the sound of water as you pour it into the machine. Slowly take in the colors of your favorite mug as you reach for it. Can you notice the aroma as it fills the room, or is your mind stressing about if the kids are dressed or that presentation at work later? It is normal and natural for the mind to wander- simply direct your attention back to the present moment. Now, pause and savor the taste of that first, hot sip of coffee. This activity can be done with almost any daily task you have and takes nearly no extra time at all. It only takes a reminder to focus!
It is inevitable that your mind is going to wander throughout the day, but every time you catch this habit and choose to bring your attention to the present moment it is like a bicep curl for the brain.
Without mindfulness, we can find ourselves swept away by a situation without ever really being present with the moment at hand. Just a few examples include:
* Rushing through a task in a careless or clumsy manner
* Driving home from work and having no memory of how you got there
* Mindlessly snacking until you’re beyond the point of full
* Forgetting someone’s name moments after meeting them
While some of these examples are minor and happen to everyone at some point, they are ways that we subtly disengage with life. That disengagement is what perpetuates our suffering and leaves us victim to the whim of every fleeting thought or story we tell ourselves.
By practicing mindfulness you are strengthening your capacity to notice, focus and redirect as needed.
The deceivingly simple practice of mindfulness can be useful in conjunction with psychotherapy as well. It is helpful to practice becoming mindful of your thoughts, physical sensations, and habit patterns while working with a trained therapist. We all have blind spots and places where we can use a little help! Mindfulness is one of the ways we can learn to help ourselves when we aren’t with a trusted professional. Clinical studies have also shown that mindfulness practices can bolster acceptance, compassion, and empathy- both for self and others**.
What Mindfulness Is:
- A simple practice you can integrate into your life, nearly anytime and anywhere
- A way to broaden your awareness and help regulate your nervous system
- A tool to “savor” the present moment
What Mindfulness Isn’t:
- While nearly every world religion promotes some sort of contemplative practice, mindfulness in and of itself is not a religious practice
- An overnight solution or quick fix for conditions that require immediate attention
- A goal to “empty your mind” or have no thoughts
If you are curious to learn more about mindfulness, check out the short video below on mindful breathing!
Hi, my name is Paige. I’m a counseling intern at Alpine Lakes Counseling Center in Arvada, Colorado and I would like to teach you a quick breathing exercise to help incorporate mindfulness into your daily practice.
Now, this is just one example of what mindfulness can look like, but what’s most important is that mindfulness is something that you can incorporate into your daily life. If it’s not something you’re going to practice it’s not going to work.
This little breathing exercise can be done almost anytime anywhere. You can do if for a few minutes in your car before going to work or even in line at the grocery store. What we are going to do is called a four-part breath or box breathing. What this is going to look like is an equal length inhale, hold the breath, equal exhale, hold the breath, begin again. Equal length, inhale, hold, exhale, hold. We are going to start practicing this for 4 seconds for each side of the square.
It will look like this. Begin by exhaling all the way out, now, inhale for 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4, exhale 1-2-3-4, and hold 1-2-3-4. Begin again. In 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4, breathe out 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4. Go ahead and breathe naturally here.
You’ve just completed two rounds of box breathing! You can do this for as long as you like. Try starting with four rounds, and maybe working up to three minutes if that is something that works for you.
Mindfulness is a moment we take out of our day to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings. By taking just one conscious, aware breath in and out, you have already begun the simple practice of meditating!
* Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (1994). Wherever you go there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. Hyperion.
** Germer, Christopher, K., et al. (2013). Mindfulness and psychotherapy. The Guilford Press.