What is Mindfulness
Mindfulness in therapy has many benefits, it naturally creates a state of relaxation. As our mind quietens so does the way our body functions, we will be producing more positive hormones such as dopamine and serotonin and less of the stress response chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline. In response to this our digestion will work more efficiently, our blood supply to all areas will improve so headaches and other aches and pains lessen. We become more focussed therefore improving memory and concentration. Sleep will come deeper and easier and be more refreshing amongst many other beneficial changes physically and emotionally.
Mindfulness is about being in the present moment with peace and without judgement. To be fully aware of what is happening inside of you and around you, to notice what you notice. Around you there will be sensory information coming from whatever is happening such as sounds, sights and smells etc. From within you there are both your physical and your emotional feelings and the thoughts that you are getting.
Your physical feelings can be those related to the temperature of the room, the feel of your clothes or the chair beneath you or the sensations going on inside you. The internal sensations are the breath, the beat of your heart, your digestion, the tension or comfort of the muscles or your emotions amongst others. Then there are your thoughts, it is our thoughts about a situation that create the feelings and the emotions in any given situation.
When we are in the moment we are not ruminating on the past or fearing our future. We are not judging our response or expecting anything. We are in a place of focus, acceptance and patience.
It is thought all incoming information goes through our ego that acts like a bodyguard, it is always assessing a situation for what is potentially wrong or dangerous. This unfortunately makes us negativity biased but it has served us well from the days we were cavemen and needed to be aware of dangers. This in turn makes us judgemental, critical, fearful and believe we are always right, (take a look at CBT to understand why you shouldn’t believe your thoughts!) When we are mindful the bodyguard goes off duty and we can see things from a true and rational perspective, a great side effect is we become more optimistic and positive as the ego is a real killjoy.
With Cognitive Behavioural therapy we exit these cycles by changing the thoughts, feeling or behaviours with mindfulness we aim to accept what is, therefore not feeding the cycle. It is not the first thought feeling or behaviour that is the problem but our perception and our response to those stimulus. When we can take the time to notice what we notice but not feed negativity into it by following the 7 foundations of mindfulness then the problem fades away and the cycle stops turning.
The 7 Foundations of Mindfulness
1. Non-judging: The first attitude required in mindfulness is to become an impartial witness to your own experience. This means to notice the stream of your mind that judges everything as good, bad, or neutral, but to let it come and go and just be aware of it.
2. Patience: It is to realize that things will unfold in their own time. Pressure and interference rarely helps. It means not to rush through every moment in the hope of better future ones—each present moment is your life. Accept its fullness and rich experience. The future will emerge when you’re ready.
3. Beginner’s mind: Our thinking and beliefs often get in the way of seeing things how they really are. It is an attitude of being willing to see everything as if for the first time; being open to new possibilities in each moment. Try it with everyone—loved ones, enemies, and strangers—and everything else.
4. Trust: You need to learn to trust your own feelings and intuition. Take responsibility for your own wellbeing and accept mistakes that you make along the way.
5. Non-striving: The goal of meditation is to teach you to experience, pay attention, and be yourself. Remove yourself from striving, yearning, and judging. Instead, focus on carefully seeing and accepting things as they are, moment by moment. As a result, movement toward your goals will come naturally.
6. Acceptance: The attitude of seeing things as they really are in the present is all-important to relieve any conflict and tension, and move toward positive change. Accepting yourself is a prerequisite for change. It does not mean that you should abandon your principles and values, cast away your dreams and hopes, or stop trying to free yourself from self-destructive habits and experiences. It is simply a willingness to see things clearly and without reservation. You will have a better indication of what is actually happening and what is the best course of action.
7. Letting go: It is another way for accepting things as they are, of letting things go while just observing. By letting go of the things that we cling to—desires, objects, possessions, approval, etc.—we experience what “holding” feels like and the influence it has on our mind and behaviour. The opposite, letting go, is incredibly freeing and empowering.
Cultivating the seven attitudes of mindfulness enable us to experience each moment as it really is, both the good and the bad, while accepting it as it is without judgment. Not only is our adaptive functioning and resilience increased, but we experience life fully in the present moment, without getting stuck in the redundancies of the past and future.