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Attending to Awareness with Intention: Mindfulness

Updated: Jan 14

- Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

April 30, 2022




I often hear people in public remark they are "living the dream" or "going through the motions". While we are often distracted with the hustle and bustle of day-to-day routines; feeling stuck, bored, fearful, unmotivated, or distressed, can lead us to unhealthy thoughts and outcomes.


Mindfulness is among the simplest interventions I've learned, and yet one of the hardest to see to fruition. What follows is an introduction to a practical practice of mindfulness, and why it is worth it.


An Introduction to Mindfulness


Jon Kabat Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), describes a working definition of mindfulness as: "the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment" (2003). Often referred to as "the Heart of Buddhist meditation," mindfulness has become an evidence-based practice used throughout the world.


"Mindfulness is the awareness that arises when we direct our attention on purpose toward our inner experience, toward others, and toward the environment around us" (Cameron, 2019). "But more than just focusing your mind, it's about your mindset--how you view the world. Mindfulness reinforces a mindset of being open, receptive, accepting, and compassionate." A key to mindfulness is to recognize our natural capacity to judge ourselves (or something or someone else), and to let go of that judgement, presumption, or worry, and to bring ourselves back to the present moment.


"Instead, practicing mindfulness is about learning, bit by bit how to train your attention to stay in the present instead of ruminating over the past or racing towards the future" (Cameron, 2019). With practice, mindfulness can help us shift from being on "autopilot" and distracted, to a place of awareness. Mindfulness can help someone turn worry about the past or future into being attentive and intentional about the present.


The stress response innate to all of us humans can be slowed or prevented with the use of mindfulness. "Your neurobiology is designed to react quickly--the 'fight-fight-freeze' response--rather than to respond thoughtfully, to feel stress rather than balance, and to hear your inner critic rather than positive, encouraging words of possibility" (Cameron, 2019). Mindfulness can literally help us change that constant rush of adrenaline and cortisol from the stress response.


Why Should I Consider the Practice of Mindfulness


The benefits of mindfulness practice are still being studied, but evidence is mounting. "Regions within the brainstorm were found to increase in gray matter concentration over the eight weeks" of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) a widely used training program (Holzel, Carmody, Vangel, Congleton, Yerramsetti, Gard, & Laxar, 2011). Functional neuroimaging studies are continuing to reveal ample evidence in positive effects of mindfulness on the brain.


"There is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation causes neuroplastic changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in regulation of attention, emotion and self-awareness" (Tang, Holzel, & Posner, 2015). Mindfulness literally heals the trauma center of the brain. In addition to increasing the health of the brain, mindfulness was recently shown to reduce distress.


A 2020 study by Errazuriz et al. tested the effectiveness of mindfulness for health care workers under distress. By testing cortisol levels at intervals compared to a control group, those who participated in the MBSR group "had significantly less destress and reported higher job satisfaction" than the participants in the stress management or control group.


At the very minimum, mindfulness can enhance our mood and reduce worry by training ourselves to be in the present, without focusing too far in the past, or the future. Mindfulness encourages self-compassion, and concentration more on the moment, non-judgmentally, which can also decrease anguish.


Qualities of Mindfulness


Ten qualities of Mindfulness described by Cameron (2019) include:


Awareness - "the moment-to-moment Flow of your immediate experience."

Beginner's Mind - "seeing things as iff for the first time with openness, receptivity, and curiosity." When we really see what we are looking at, it invites a sense of wonder and awe, as well as gratitude and joy.

Acceptance - "the capacity and willingness to see things as they really are."

Insight - Clarity. When we are truly in the moment, we can gain wisdom about how things work and relate.

Impermanence - realizing that nothing stays the exact same; enjoy the moment by connecting, savoring.

Equanimity - "is being aware of whatever is happening without being swept away by it--good or bad.

Interconnection - because of interactivity and relationship with one another, it is important to recognize the impact we have on each other.

Compassion - "is attending to the experience of suffering with the wish to alleviate it."

Gratitude - by directing your attention to what is good and appreciated in the moment we can learn to be more satisfied and fulfilled.

Joy - "is a deep sense of well-being infused with delight. Mindfulness helps you recognize what brings you joy and what blocks it."


Mindfulness practice includes:

  • being 100% present in the moment, non-judgmentally

  • utilizing all senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell)

  • recognizing if you get distracted and bringing yourself back


Remember to focus on no judgement. Definitely squelch that inner critic by changing your mindset to possibility.


Everyday Activities for a Healthy Mindful Life


Mindful breathing, feeling the rise and fall in the stillness of the moment, or deep breathing (a really slow inhale through your nose, and extra slow exhale through your mouth, as if you are blowing out a candle) to enhance oxygenation of the brain and slow the stress response.


Mindful stretching or relaxing can be a great way to start or end the day before you get out of the bed or when you lie down for sleep.


Mindful eating, by savoring each morsel by slowly enjoying something you eat or drink by utilizing every sense and slowing eating to an intentional, enjoyable process, which can help change emotional eating habits.


Mindful walking, by noticing all that is going on around you and fosucing on all of the sensations while you walk and your feet touching the ground. You can focus on finding things of each color to stay present.


Mindful thinking, experience your thoughts in a more accepting and non-judgemental way, focusing on letting thoughts go if they are unhealthy or unhelpful, and feeling grateful for the things you appreciate in your day.


Mindfulness - Zero Cost with Tremendous ROI


Mindfulness truly can change your life. "it is a superpower that allows you do deliberately direct the beam of your attention instead of being tossed around by racing thoughts and turbulent emotions" (Cameron, 2019). Remember, practicing mindfulness is about learning, a little bit at a time. But the changes to your life can be long-lasting, physically, and emotionally.

Wouldn't you like to experience less stress and have more joy? Add a little mindfulness to your day in a regular way, and you can too.



 

Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing teresa@steppingtowardserenity.org, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting



 

References


American Mindfulness Research Association (2020, December 17). MBSR better than stress

management for health workers. Retrieved from https://goamra.org/news/9442475


Cameron, L.J. (2019). Everyday mindfulness, finding focus, calm, and joy. National Geographic.

Washington, D.C.


Holzel, B.K, Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S.M., Gard, T., and Lazar, S.W. (2012).

Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res,

191(1): 36–43. DOI:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006 Retrieved from


Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. American

Psychological Association. DOI:10.1093/clipsy/bpg016. Retrieved from


Tang, Y-Y, Holzel, B.K., and Posner, M.I. (2015, March 18). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation.

Nature Reviews Neuroscience. DOI:10.1038/nrn3916 Retrieved from



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