What's Up With Mindfulness
Updated: Feb 13, 2019
Learn a little bit about my mindful journey and what makes this practice so healing and helpful!
I discovered meditation about 10 years ago through an ex-boyfriend. His father was a yogic meditator and extremely passionate about his commitment to his favorite guru with frequent travels to ashrams in India. I was intrigued as my ex swore by this practice and how it had changed his life. His practice was INTENSE and very structured. It appeared to involve sitting for long periods of time and engaging in various dynamic breathing techniques. I honestly found it all a little strange as it just seemed so “out there”. Nevertheless, I aimlessly started to play around with my own random version of a sitting meditation off and on for a year, but nothing ever stuck.
A few years ago, I was looking for a way to reduce stress and discovered Headspace - a mindfulness meditation app. Headspace was founded by a former Buddhist monk, Andy Puddicombe. He has a really cool Ted Talk that totally inspired me to take a second go at meditation (you can check it out here).
When I discovered mindfulness meditation wasn’t complicated or strange, but rather quite simple, I was hooked! I have been practicing mindfulness on an almost daily basis for two years. The practice is not easy but the rewards are worth the effort. I have a daily sitting practice, have attended some group meditations and attended a one day silent retreat. My next big adventure will be attending a week long silent retreat! I became so excited by the practice that I started to learn as much as possible about mindfulness, so I could share it effectively with my clients.
What is Meditation?
Mindfulness and meditation have become more mainstream but that doesn’t make the terms any less confusing. The concepts are nuanced and there are different definitions for the terms but in their most simplified form both refer to calming the chaotic mind. Meditation is an umbrella term and has been around since ancient times with it’s origin in spirituality and religion. There are many different types of meditation including: Buddhist, Vipassana, Metta, Hindu, Transcendental, Yogic, Chinese, Qigong, Christian/Prayer, and Mindfulness.
How is Mindfulness Different?
Mindfulness was introduced in the modern age by Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. One of his students, Jon Kabat-Zinn, would become famous for popularizing mindfulness in the United States through his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program - a stress reduction tool and health-based approach to treating chronic pain. His efforts jump started the trend of utilizing mindfulness as a tool for emotional wellbeing. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally”. Dr. Amy Saltzman, a leading mindfulness teacher for children, defines mindfulness as “paying attention with kindness and curiosity”.
Think you got it now? To make things a little more confusing, mindfulness is actually two different things. Mindfulness is both a general awareness and a meditation practice; it can be practiced both informally and formally. Informal mindfulness simply means that you are intentionally paying attention to whatever is arising in the moment. Informal practices include: eating, brushing your teeth, driving, washing the dishes, noticing nature, showering, listening, and parenting. How often are you truly “in the moment” while you are completing these tasks? For most of us, not that often. The formal practice of mindfulness is meditation. Formal practice can include: sitting meditation, walking meditation, body scans, awareness of breath, yoga and sensory-guided meditation.
Mindfulness is a way of living that is in every one of us. All humans have natural moments of awareness in our daily lives. Practicing mindfulness both informally and formally can help us learn the necessary skills for achieving overall health and wellbeing. The science behind mindfulness meditation is an ever-growing field. There has been clinically-validated research behind the effectiveness of mindfulness as well as a wealth of ongoing research exploring this old practice. The data looks promising and is suggesting that mindfulness has many benefits including: reduced stress, increased focus, less emotional reactivity, relationship satisfaction, enhanced insight, better quality of life, enhanced ability to deal with pain, improved academic performance, and increased resilience.
Mindfulness is strength training for the brain. No time like the present to get your mind in shape. Read more on our website about our mindfulness services and let us know if you’d like some help getting started!
About the Author
Stephanie Longtain, MS, LCSW is a therapist and co-founder of Human State of Mind Counseling in Houston, Texas. Stephanie’s specialties include: mindfulness-based therapy and DBT; as well as working with tweens, teens and twenty-something’s. If you are interested in working with Stephanie, visit www.hsmcounseling.com.