Mindful living takes practice
In my practice I use mindfulness training as a stress-reduction method. It is often used with people whose complaints are difficult to address. These might include pain issues, sleep problems, chronic anxiety, chronic mood swings, fatigue, stress and burnout.
The training provides techniques for minimizing stress and instructs you in how to live in the here and now in a more relaxed way. The training is centered around the idea of how to focus your attention on the present moment with more concentration and without judgement. The eight sessions course explores the concept of boundaries and how to deal with them in a gentle way. The exercises covered in these sessions can be applied to many aspects of your life.
Mindfulness (attention-directed therapy) was originally developed by Dr. John Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts medical center. The word ‘mindfulness’ has been interpreted in various ways, such as: being observant, being present, being attentive and being aware of the here and now.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn designed the basic training program known as MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) which combines observation with yoga and other relaxation and consciousness awareness techniques.
Scientific studies have since shown this to be an extremely valuable method for learning to live with chronic pain, stress and complaints related to anxiety and depression. Kabat-Zinn developed specific exercises which he used to teach his patients how to live more in the moment, create more calmness and decrease stress. This gave them an alternative way to deal with illness and pain. MBSR also works well for people with physical complaints that the medical world is unable to find an explanation for. Research shows that MBSR participants experience a lasting improvement of physical and psychological symptoms.
About fifteen years ago, a new movement arose as a result of the groundbreaking work of Segal, Williams and Teasdale. This variation is officially referred to as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and proved to be so successful that it has now been embraced by the established health care system.
What holds us back from being ‘completely present in each moment’ is our built-in tendency to, at any given moment, label certain aspects of our experiences as wrong. For example, “that’s not the way it should be, it’s never good enough or it’s not what we expected or wanted”. These kinds of judgements then lead to an endless stream of thoughts of guilt, what needs to change or how things could or should be different and automatically become patterns that creep into our thinking process that cause us to not only lose contact with the present, but to also lose the freedom to choose what we want to do. As a first step in regaining our freedom, we simply need to recognize the situation we are in without immediately falling into the automatic pattern of judging things, wanting to improve them or wanting them to be different than they are.
Mindfulness gives you the opportunity, in a non-threatening and objective way, to experience things as they are at each moment without feeling the need to do something to change them. You don’t have to reach a goal other than being observant. You don’t have to strive for a specific level of relaxation. It’s not about how good you become at it, but whether you can internalize your skills. By being aware, from moment to moment, of events, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, you give yourself more possibilities from which to choose. You don’t have to continually revert to old thought patterns and routines that lead to all too familiar feelings of anger, frustration, powerlessness or anxiety.
During these sessions at the practice (and at home) you learn how to focus on the Present, on your automatic thoughts and reactions and on the moment itself. Mindful living means that every moment counts, regardless of what you may be experiencing. The Present is the only moment you have.
Mindfulness is a form of attentiveness, relaxation and concentration. It is designed for everyone, including people who have no interest whatsoever in yoga, swamis, gurus, Zen masters or attainment of the state of enlightenment. This form of meditation is completely removed from mysticism and secrecy and simply involves directing your attention in a specific way in order to decrease stress or pain. Anyone can do it!
In my practice, you can receive eight individual mindfulness sessions, which can also make up part of another form of therapy.
Some fundamental attitudes of mindfulness
- Being alert to your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions
- Being calm, an important condition for realistic perception to take place
- Concentrating: the ability to focus your attention
- Being in the moment and knowing how to return to the reality of the moment when your thoughts wander to the past or the future
- Avoiding judging immediately when experiencing events
- Being mild in your judgement of yourself
- Not defining yourself by thoughts, feelings and sensations
- Accepting of what is without being attached to what may be gratifying, but also fighting against what is not gratifying
- Being well-balanced: not letting yourself be caught up by success or disappointment from adversity
- Being open to new facts and viewpoints and willing to revise opinions and assumptions
- Being friendly and helpful to others as a basic principle