Adding mindfulness into the mix of cognitive and behavioral approaches has gained wide acceptance and popularity over the past decade. When appropriate, I incorporate a variety of mindfulness techniques into my work with clients.
what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness and curiosity. There’s also a spirit of non-judgment to this process. I know this may sound abstract at this point. Don’t worry. It’s not as “woo woo” as it might sound, and I’ll break it down into easy steps when we work together.
One benefit of mindfulness is that it’s a helpful way of disconnecting from the onslaught of negativity from your inner critic by reconnecting with the world around you. Although our minds will always tend to draw us into worries and what-ifs, it’s possible to train yourself to come back to Earth when you find yourself getting sucked into a ruminative spiral.
How to Practice Mindfulness at Home
Here’s one of the simplest ways to start: focus on your breath.
Notice the rhythm and sensation of your breathing. If you’re like 99.9% of people, your mind will stray. You’ll start thinking about your to-do list, wondering if you’re doing this right, thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch… All of that is completely normal and does not mean you’re not doing it properly.
When you notice that your mind has strayed, gently bring your focus back to the breath. The key is gentle. You don’t say, “I’m so bad at this.” Just think, “Oh, there goes my mind wandering. That’s OK. I’ll just return my attention to the breath.”
After a few minutes of practice, you’ll likely find that you’re a little calmer and less distracted.
You do not have to believe anything in particular to practice mindfulness. Although many religions have contemplative practices (e.g. meditation, centering prayers), the versions you’ll learn here are secular.
Mindfulness is not something exotic, mysterious, or reserved for a special few. You don’t have to sit cross-legged and you don’t have to burn incense (unless you want to).
Mindfulness may or may not involve formal meditation. Some people develop a regular meditation practice once they get a taste of mindfulness, but this is not necessary.
Mindfulness is not a cure-all. As mindfulness has entered the mainstream culture, the implication has been that it’s so powerful that it can cure everything from depression to chronic pain. While it can help with many conditions, it’s generally not a stand-alone treatment.
By directing your attention in a certain way, mindfulness will help you develop greater calm at your core, making it more likely you’ll tackle even your toughest challenges. A strong mindfulness muscle, built through regular practice, is an important tool to have in your mental health toolkit.