The rush of attention that mindfulness has received may earn it the label of “passing fad.” But the facts suggest that the label, not the practice, may be what’s temporary. Mindfulness is usually referred to in relation to mindfulness meditation and mindfulness based therapy, but its philosophical origins lie in centuries-old Buddhist teachings and practice. When you think of meditation, what do you think of? Most imagine trying to clear their minds of thoughts: every thought that arises, you push it away and strive for openness, emptiness, quiet, and clarity. Mindfulness is the flip side of that coin. Emphasizing awareness, mindfulness creates a heightened state of mind not by transcending the immediate, but fully connecting with it.
“The heart of mindfulness is the cultivation of attention to ‘things as they are,’ with an attitude of non-judging awareness,” writes Renee Burgard, LCSW. What does this look like in practice? Mindfulness meditation emphasize the awareness of breathing and physical sensations paired with the recognition—but not judgment—of thoughts that arise. As Burgard explains, these principals were “secularized, modernized and brought into the health care mainstream” by Jon Kaba-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in the late 1970s. Since then, mindfulness has also been incorporated into psychotherapy. Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combines principles of mindfulness with elements of cognitive behavioral therapy to help people become more aware of the relationships between their thoughts, feelings and actions.
What sets mindfulness apart from other trends, writes Chris Woolston for the Los Angeles Times, is that science has already borne out the benefits that mindfulness can provide, and there are more studies on the way. The practice is especially helpful in reducing anxiety and improving mood, plus mindfulness and antidepressants share an equal success rate for preventing depressive relapse. In fact, mindfulness has proven so effective at altering how we relate to our own thoughts that in some cases it’s created (positive) measurable changes in MRI scans of the brain. Between the solid evidence of academic trials and the anecdotal evidence from therapists and their patients, mindfulness is certainly here to stay.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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