By Dr. Sunny Fisher
Mindfulness is an essential component to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based treatment modality for those with difficulty regulating and experiencing unbearable, negative emotions. Mindfulness, however, is often misconstrued by many and therefore dismissed prematurely. These misconceptions require addressing to better understand what mindfulness is, and why it has become prevalent in our society in recent decades. The following are a few common misconceptions:
I already have religious beliefs that will clash with mindfulness. Mindfulness, although rooted and established in Eastern traditions, is not a religious practice. Rather, it is a personal practice of nurture and discipline, akin to eating nutritious meals, or exercising daily.
I don’t have time for mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation, which is simply the intentional self-regulation of attention from moment to moment (Edenfield & Saeed, 2012). Despite recommendations to practice mindfulness for short periods of time each day, it is a practice that can be used at any time. Mindfully approaching any task or part of your day is just as important as quietly practicing mindfulness in a structured way. You can practice mindfulness through structured meditation, breathing, or any way that you can practice being present in this moment.
I’m already happy enough. Mindfulness is not a practice utilized with intentions of becoming happier – that is, it is not the goal of making those who practice it to be happier or more joyful. This is a difficult concept to grasp, as it leads to the natural question of ‘Why practice mindfulness at all?’
The concept of mindfulness is quite a paradoxical one. There is no right or wrong way of doing mindfulness, no end-results to be had. The purpose of mindfulness is simply to be present. Derived from two latin words, meditari – to dwell upon and exercise the mind – and mederi – to heal (Edenfield & Saeed, 2012) – mindfulness is the act of accepting thoughts and feelings that arise as passing experiences, rather than accurate reflections of the self or one’s environment (Teasdale, Moore, Hayhurst, Pope, Williams, Segal, 2002). Inevitably, this practice increases one’s ability to consciously accept being present and in the moment, reducing suffering that many of us face on a daily basis.
There are two elements of practicing mindfulness: regulating your consciousness and doing it openly without judgment (Bishop et al., 2004). It separates suffering from our experience by rewiring our thoughts to shift from wanting things to be different than they are, to letting things be (i.e., not clinging to things that make us feel good or resisting inevitable feel-bad experiences). For our clients who benefit from DBT, living a mindful life means exercising their ability to end and remove their suffering. By practicing mindfulness, they no longer ruminate about the past or worry about the future – a disposition believed to be a critical part of why those with depression and anxiety suffer (Kabat-Zinn, 2003).
There are many other clinically proven benefits of mindfulness. Health benefits have been found to protect individuals from negative physiological effects in the body from daily and significant stressors (e.g., higher levels of cortisol; Daubenmier, Hayden, Chang, & Epel, 2014) and changes associated withmindfulness meditation practice were found to include increased blood flow in the body and decreased symptoms of depression as well as anxiety (Edenfield & Saeed, 2012). Those who practiced mindfulness were found to process information more efficiently than those who did not (Van Der Hurk, Giommi, Gielen, Speckens, Barenderegt, 2010).
In today’s society, it has become paramount to overall well-being and health to practice and discipline our conscious minds. That is, to purposefully train our minds so that we are in control of our thoughts and not the other way around. Unfortunately, this is a goal that will never be attained – one that we must persistently work on. To that end, we practice being mindful; we practice simply being in this moment, as this moment is never returned.
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