Mindfulness is a type of meditation that focuses on being in the here and now. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment-by-moment awareness without trying to change the experiences in any way. The attitude to be adopted while practicing mindfulness is one of openness, curiosity, acceptance and non-judgment. There are three major types of mindfulness, all of which incorporate the same basic elements just described:
Zen Meditation – a Buddhist practice with a spiritual base that focuses on awareness of
the breath to develop mindfulness
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – a non-spiritual based method of using
Buddhist mindfulness techniques in combination with yoga
techniques and pschoeducation about stress management and
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – a therapeutic approach that uses the
principles of MBSR and cognitive therapy as an adjunct treatment
for anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have numerous health benefits and benefits for over all well-being. Over 250 medical centers integrate mindfulness techniques for the treatment for various psychological disorders. Several studies have shown mindfulness based practices to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and other diseases in which stress plays a role, improve immune function, improve cognitive function (focus, attention and memory), improve sleep, reduce chronic pain and increase neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change both structurally and functionally from environmental input leading to more efficient communication among brain regions). These wide ranging results are not achieved with relaxation training.
How does mindfulness work? Mindfulness training teaches one to focus attention, keep out distractions and to monitor ongoing thoughts, feelings and sensations without engaging them. In this way, mindfulness helps regulate attention and emotion, and increases both body awareness and sense of self. Improvements in these key areas help with the mental and physiological experience of stress by reducing the tendency to ascribe judgment to them. Also, mindfulness combats worry, rumination and fear which underlie stress conditions that can impair performance.
Mindfulness requires training and practice to become effective. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a retired molecular biologist from the University of Massachusetts Medical School who developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, has several CDs and books that can be purchased for mindfulness training. There is also an excellent article in Scientific American Mind, March/April issue written by neuroscientist/psychologist Amishi P. Jha, Ph.D. entitled Being in the Now. Mindfulness instruction and an exercise is included at the end of the article. Below is a link for a video demonstration of mindfulness conducted by Dr. Jha and her colleague. Finally, your therapist at the Anxiety & Stress Center can also provide you with mindfulness instruction alone or in combination with stress reduction and cognitive therapy.
Submitted by Holly O. Houston, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist