How to Improve Your Health with Mindfulness Meditation.

As described in previous blog posts, mindfulness meditation has swiftly gained popularity as a self-care strategy for improving psychological health. It’s not only a hot media topic, but also an exploding area of new research. However, many people are confused about the definition of mindfulness and the different types of mindfulness meditation. In this post, Dr. Marina Khusid, a family medicine physician and chief of Integrative Medicine with the Deployment Health Clinical Center, outlines some important distinctions between common mindfulness meditation techniques.

People think time travel is impossible, but we actually do it all the time.

I drift into the past when I rehearse a conversation I had early this morning, or into the future when I plan my work day. There’s nothing wrong with this unless you get trapped, reliving a sad or traumatic event from the past, or obsessing about something in the future that might not happen. You can learn to stay in the present and stop the cycle of negative thoughts and worry through the practice of mindfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of clinical applications of mindfulness in the West, describes it as “the ability to maintain moment by moment, open, acceptant, non-judgmental awareness.”

When staying in the moment becomes a habit, we can relax, breathe, enjoy the experience, efficiently complete each task, and ultimately reduce psychological and emotional stress. You’ve experienced mindfulness if you’ve had a rare and fleeting moment of calmness and clarity when returning to work after a restful two-week vacation. Some say that training ourselves to observe our feelings, thoughts and reactions with openness and curiosity helps generate self-acceptance and self-love, and fosters more fulfilling relationships.

So can we achieve this state of mindfulness on a daily basis? The answer is yes. We can develop and deepen our capacity for mindfulness through practice of a special technique called mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation originated from different Buddhist monastic traditions, for example, Zen, Vipassana and Shambhala meditations. The guidelines for each differ slightly on details such as posture, but all involve sitting still and observing the breath. When thoughts inevitably arise, the meditator acknowledges them without judgment, and then brings attention back to the sensation of air going in and out of the body, in a natural and relaxed way. This only takes 15 to 20 minutes a day, yet over time it trains the brain in the art of staying in the present.

In addition to such traditional techniques, which can be practiced at home or at community meditation centers, there are several group mindfulness-based therapeutic techniques developed for clinical environments. These techniques are proven effective in treating mental health challenges such as depression or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Each combines group training in mindfulness techniques with daily practice tailored to a specific clinical condition, and various forms of follow-up. Ask your mental health counselor whether one of the techniques might work for you.

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR was originally developed to help individuals manage chronic pain and psychological concerns related to chronic illness. Groups usually meet two hours once a week for eight weeks, followed by a one-day retreat. MBSR instruction emphasizes a curious, kind and non-judging attitude on the present moment, including difficult or unpleasant experiences like chronic pain.

During each class, participants receive instruction in mindfulness meditation, ask questions and practice newly learned skills. They learn to focus and maintain attention on the breath and develop flexibility of attention (that is, to let go of ruminative cycles of thought and return attention to the breath). Two additional exercises are the body scan, in which attention is systematically directed to each part of the body, and gentle yoga. Homework assignments include daily meditation or yoga for 45 minutes per day, and paying mindful attention to experiences in daily life. During the day-long, mostly silent retreat, participants practice mindfulness exercises more intensively.

Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
MBCT is a group program integrating cognitive behavioral techniques(link is external) and mindfulness meditation. It was initially developed to prevent relapses of depression. The program teaches individuals to become more aware of negative emotions and thoughts and to view them as mental “events” rather than accurate reflections of self or reality. Adopting this mode of neutral, non-judgmental observation empowers patients to recognize and disengage from counter-productive, ruminative thought patterns that may trigger habitual negative emotions. Increasing awareness of these patterns provides the meditator with freedom to choose an emotional response, instead of feeling negative and overwhelmed, a pattern characteristic of depression.

MBCT instructors lead participants in eight weekly two-hour group training sessions. Daily homework consists of awareness exercises directed at increasing moment-by-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings. Participants also practice integrating awareness skills into daily life. Specific strategies to prevent depression relapses are also explored. Most MBCT programs also offer up to four monthly follow-up meetings, thus extending guided support for this therapeutic intervention for up to six months.

Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)
Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) was designed to treat substance use disorder. It integrates mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavior skills to help meditators avoid relapses into substance misuse. An effective combination of these two strategies teaches non-judgmental, open and acceptant observation of cravings as a mental event, decoupling the negative thoughts and emotions that are associated with cravings. The meditator learns to choose a reaction instead of reflexively turning to an addictive substance. Like the other therapeutic program, MBRP is usually delivered by an instructor in eight weekly two-hour group training sessions with daily homework exercises.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, please give mindfulness meditation a try. It’s helped many people. See how taking up this practice can help you too.

How Mindfulness Literally Rewires Your Brain for Present Moment Awareness (and How You Can Practice It).

How Mindfulness Literally Rewires Your Brain for Present Moment Awareness (and How You Can Practice It)

The three words that guide any mindfulness practice: present moment awareness. It’s that simple, but also difficult. Our brain can be so powerful and useful, but it can also be so easily distractable. If you’re like most people, whenever you try present moment awareness, the mind inevitably wanders off. A worry, a thought, a memory…just like this, the ‘now’ is gone.

How to Practice Mindfulness.

 Become Aware of where you are and what you’re doing.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Becoming more aware of where you are and what you’re doing, without becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you. Try to be aware of what you’re doing and where you are, without becoming overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.

Mindfulness is a natural quality that we all have. It’s available to us in every moment if we take the time to appreciate it. When we practice mindfulness we’re practicing the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions.

Some things to consider before practicing mindfulness:

  1. You don’t need to buy anything. You can practice anywhere, there’s no need to go out and buy a special cushion or bench—all you need is to devote a little time and space to accessing your mindfulness skills every day.
  2. There’s no way to quiet your mind. That’s not the goal here. There’s no bliss state or otherworldly communion. All you’re trying to do is pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. Sounds easy, right?
  3. Your mind will wander. As you practice paying attention to what’s going on in your body and mind at the present moment, you’ll find that many thoughts arise. Your mind might drift to something that happened yesterday, meander to your to-do list—your mind will try to be anywhere but where you are. But the wandering mind isn’t something to fear, it’s part of human nature and it provides the magic moment for the essential piece of mindfulness practice—the piece that researchers jason-lee-getting-started-green-sittingbelieve leads to healthier, more agile brains: the moment when you recognize that your mind has wandered. Because if you can notice that your mind has wandered, then you can consciously bring it back to the present moment. The more you do this, the more likely you are to be able to do it again and again. And that beats walking around on autopilot any day (ie: getting to your destination without remembering the drive, finding yourself with your hand in the bottom of a chip bag you only meant to snack a little from, etc.).
  4. Your judgy brain will try to take over. The second part of the puzzle is the “without judgment” part. We’re all guilty of listening to the critic in our heads a little more than we should. (That critic has saved us from disaster quite a few times.) But, when we practice investigating our judgments and diffusing them, we can learn to choose how we look at things and react to them. When you practice mindfulness, try not to judge yourself for whatever thoughts pop up. Notice judgments arise, make a mental note of them (some people label them “thinking”), and let them pass, recognizing the sensations they might leave in your body, and letting those pass as well.
  5. It’s all about returning your attention again and again the present moment. It seems like our minds are wired to get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the breath. We use the sensation of the breath as an anchor to the present moment. And every time we return to the breath, we reinforce our ability to do it again. Call it a bicep curl for your brain.

While mindfulness might seem simple, it’s not necessarily all that easy. The real work is to make time every day to just keep doing it. Here’s a short practice to get you started:

How to Practice Mindfulness

  1. Take a seat. Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
  2. Set a time limit. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as 5 or 10 minutes.
  3. Notice your body. You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, you can sit loosely cross-legged, in lotus posture, you can kneel—all are fine. Just make sure you are stable and in a position you can stay in for a while.
  4. Feel your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes out and as it goes in.
  5. Notice when your mind has wandered. Inevitably, your attention will leave the sensations of the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing this—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—simply return your attention to the breath.
  6. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Just come back.

That’s it! That’s the practice. You go away, you come back, and you try to do it as kindly as possible.