What Is Mindfulness?
Over the last few years, mindfulness has become more and more popular. Everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Russell Brand is doing it! Celebrity endorsements aside, mindfulness is often called a ‘third wave therapy’. This means it’s an emerging therapy with a fantastic evidence base grounded in research, a lot like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
In simple terms, mindfulness is a practice that trains the brain to focus only on the present. It induces a sense of acceptance and makes our mind more attentive towards our feelings. It’s like being a spectator and observing everything from a safe distance. No judgments, no worries about being right or wrong. In a mindful state, you’re able to live every moment to the fullest.
As a CBT therapist, I probably recommend some type of mindfulness practice to around 95% of my clients. Of that group, I would say 90% initially roll their eyes at the prospect of meditating! However, once I run through the potential benefits and share the science behind mindfulness, everybody is willing to give it a go.
Benefits of Mindfulness
While there are countless benefits of mindfulness, we’ll focus on the ones that matter the most:
– It improves your physical health. Your brain controls all the bodily functions and having a healthy mind is vital for good health.
– It Softens negative thoughts. That’s what mindfulness is all about – It’s a form of attention training for your brain so you learn to move your focus to a more positive way of thinking.
– Mindset training – A regular practice has been proven to improve memory and concentration and improve psychological resilience.
– It reduces stress and anxiety. If you include 10 to 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation in your daily routine, you’ll be able to lower your anxiety levels.
How Does Mindfulness Work with CBT?
When you embark on the therapy journey, you enter a period of reflection, introspection, self-awareness, growth and development. However, people often come to therapy because they’re experiencing a crisis of some sort or a period of significant distress. These two things – introspection and inner turmoil – simply don’t go together.
For CBT to work – for a person to be able to reflect, grow and develop – settling their mind must be a priority. Mindfulness aids this process, helping them reach the change and development stage sooner. A calmer body supports you having a calmer mind.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is about becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Mindfulness helps you do this by grounding you in the here and now. It moves you from ‘doing mode’ to ‘being mode’ so you’re no longer operating on automatic pilot. This increased awareness means you have more control over your thoughts and how your life plays out. Having a calmer mind also improves concentration, productivity and memory, ensuring you’re in a good place to get the most out of your CBT sessions.
Although it takes practice, meditating is really quite simple. In fact, it only takes the following four steps:
1. Close your eyes and listen to the rhythm of your breathing – you will feel your mind drifting away.
2. Pay attention to little things you are feeling in this state – such as the sound of your surroundings.
3. Keep reminding yourself that whatever you are thinking is your perspective. Don’t judge your thoughts.
4. Focus on your body sensations and keep breathing deeply – your body will start feeling lighter.
If you find any of this difficult, you’re more likely to end up benefiting from a mindfulness practice once you’ve got the hang of it. Try not to give up after the first go.
Here are some mindfulness resources I’ve used and regularly recommend to my clients. Many offer free meditations that are great for beginners.
– An Introduction to Mindfulness.
– All It Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes by Andy Puddicombe
– Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World
– Headspace – Meditation Made Simple
– Calm – Meditation Techniques for Sleep and Stress Reduction