Sometimes when I mention "mindfulness" to a client in a session, my optimistic belief in this concept can be met with skepticism. And understandably so: mindfulness has become a buzzword of sorts, with various meanings and associations circling around it. However, from my perspective and my practice, mindfulness often facilitates the therapeutic work being done; what follows is a brief overview.
What is Mindfulness?
At the heart of it, mindfulness is about cultivating non-judgmental "awareness" -- awareness of ourselves, our thoughts, and our environment. To gain this awareness, you have to be "in the moment," but you are not expected to suddenly learn how to be in the moment during every moment of your life. None of us could manage that kind of focus; the busy, distracted world we live in wouldn't allow that anyway. Our mindfulness goal, then, is to increase awareness and to bring our focus back to the moment when our mind drifts, as it naturally does, throughout the day.
What's so important about the moment?
Our society values multi-tasking. In a practice focused on the needs of women, I regularly see that women are expecting themselves to keep track of numerous things and accomplish many of them at once -- things from succeeding at work to childcare to the nurturing of relationships -- leading to high stress. Our many roles lead to multi-tasking, and while it can be useful at times, it can make it very hard to fully process the present moment when our minds are filled with competing agendas. Being mindful can help us organize competing priorities and accomplish them more efficiently and with reduced stress levels.
Invariably, when we're not focused on the moment, we miss information. When we mindlessly move through our days, we often fail to notice the good things, fail to hear what our bodies are telling us, or forget things. Mindlessness invariably raises our stress levels and reduces fulfillment. On the flip side, with the information we have from focusing on the moment, we are able to make better, more well-informed and comprehensive decisions with information that can only be gained from focus in the moment. In a therapeutic context, this is particularly valuable.
How Mindfulness is beneficial to therapy (and to life!)
Very often we seek therapy because we want relief from distressing emotional responses -- whether these are symptoms caused by trauma or anxiety, stress within reproductive health, or feelings around lack of fulfillment or self-esteem. Adopting a mindfulness approach can help reduce the emotional reactiveness that you feel, which can allow deeper and faster work towards your therapeutic goals.
Perhaps more importantly, mindfulness gives us the information we need to change the problematic thought and behavior patterns that cause and perpetuate our distress. It is very hard to make these changes without awareness. We can't make changes without understanding these patterns -- mindfulness principles are an effective way to identify and facilitate the therapy work to be done, which moves us towards healing.
Moreover, there are many research studies that stand behind the benefits of mindfulness. For example, one such study has shown that practicing mindfulness has positive effects on brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self; improvements that will help both inside and outside the therapy room.
With so much potential upside, why not try?