According to a 2014 article in Time magazine, mindfulness meditation is becoming popular among people who would not normally consider meditation. The goal of this blog is to de-mystify mindfulness, share its many benefits, and show you how to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life.
Mindfulness is paying full attention, on purpose, to what is happening in each present moment, on a moment-to-moment basis. In contrast, you may have encountered moments of “mindlessness”—a loss of awareness that results in a sense of living mechanically, like mindlessly going through a day at work or performing a chore at home.
Mindfully Eating a Raisin
With practice, you can train the mind to focus on what is happening in the present—instead of its normal ruminations on the past or the future. One famous exercise, introduced by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, is the mindful eating of an organic raisin, in which a raisin is touched, tasted, and eaten with full attention. The brain focuses fully on the texture, the smell, and the sweetness of the dried fruit.
Mindfulness as a daily practice becomes a technique that cultivates clarity, insight, and understanding. In the context of your health, mindfulness can help you learn to take better care of yourself by exploring and understanding the interplay of mind and body, by mobilizing your own inner resources for problem solving, growing, and healing.
Mindfulness is a way of taking charge of your life, a way of consciously working with your own stress, pain, or anxiety.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
One powerful mindfulness practice is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a technique developed by Dr. Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Mindfulness practice, also called mindfulness meditation, can alleviate a number of mental conditions.
It can lessen depression, reduce stress and anxiety, and even play a key role in the treatment of drug addiction. Stress may include work, school, family, finances, health, aging, grief, uncertainty about the future, and feeling out of control. Psychological distress may include anxiety, panic, depression, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.
The MBSR program is an eight-week workshop taught by certified trainers. It involves weekly group meetings, homework, and instruction in three formal techniques—mindfulness meditation, simple yoga postures, and body scanning. Here body scanning refers not to a CAT scan, but involves a “present moment exercise,” quietly lying on one’s back and focusing one’s attention on various regions of the body, starting with the toes and moving up slowly to the top of the head.
MBSR has been described as “a program that focuses upon the progressive acquisition of mindful awareness,” a moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness.
Mindfulness is finally entering the medical mainstream. Nearly three decades of scientific research at medical centers all over the world suggest that training in mindfulness and MBSR can positively and often profoundly affect participants’ ability to reduce psychological distress while learning to live life more fully. MBSR and similar programs are now widely applied in schools, hospitals, veterans’ centers (for post-traumatic stress disorder), and other environments.
Mindfulness is not something that you have to “get” or acquire. It is already within you—a deep internal resource available and patiently waiting to be released and used in the service of learning, growing, and healing. While mindfulness practices have been adapted from classical Buddhist meditation and yoga traditions, MBSR is not a religion. It is a scientific approach that operates in harmony with any belief system or spiritual background.
Mindfulness encourages a calm awareness of one’s body, feelings, and mind. It encourages the mind to become aware of its own stream of consciousness. If you are feeling sad and you know you are feeling sad, you have become aware of the sadness. This awareness is the first step on the journey back to joy.
Benefits of MBSR
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is highly respected within the medical community. People from all walks of life, backgrounds, and beliefs have taken MBSR. It is a complementary approach to traditional medical and psychological treatments.
Decades of published research indicate that the majority of people who complete the mindfulness-based stress reduction experience:
- An increased ability to relax,
- Greater energy and enthusiasm for life,
- Improved self-esteem,
- Reductions in pain levels and an enhanced ability to cope with pain that may not go away, and
- An ability to deal more effectively with both short- and long-term stressful situations.
What you can do for yourself, coupled with what your physician can do for you, can be far more effective than either approach on its own could do.
If you are interested in exploring the benefits of mindfulness and MBSR, options are readily available online. I recommend the free course available at palousemindfulness.com.
Note: This online MBSR training course is 100% free and is modeled on the MBSR program founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Dr. Harrison Graves, M.D., FACEP is our expert in holistic medicine, specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, or insomnia. He is heavily influenced by Ayurveda, the holistic medicine of India, and believes that many illnesses, especially those that are anxiety related, can be prevented with Ayurveda, lifestyle changes, and yoga. In his articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, Dr. Graves provides insight on alternative methods of maintaining physical and mental wellbeing. You can learn more by visiting his website, asktheholisticmd.com.