Updated: Jan 10, 2019
Even though the practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years, in the last few years, mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword. And yet, many of the folks I’ve worked with have never been introduced to mindfulness.
What Is Mindfulness?
People define mindfulness in different ways and I don’t think there’s a “correct” definition of what mindfulness is. That said, what I normally teach to clients is that mindfulness is a PROCESS of awareness of the present moment.
It’s being aware of your experience without judging it or trying to change it.
It’s doing ONE thing at a time, in the present moment, with your FULL attention, and with ACCEPTANCE.
If we had to boil it down to 4 steps, it would be:
What Mindfulness Isn’t
The purpose of mindfulness practices isn’t to change or stop negative feelings, having a “blank” mind, or not have any negative thoughts at all. Rather, the purpose of mindfulness is to be acutely aware of all of the experiences that may be coming up in that moment, without doing anything to try to change those typically uncomfortable or unwanted experiences.
Mindfulness practices are also not the same as relaxation exercises. It actually takes a lot of effort to be fully present, noticing what’s happening, and letting go of the struggle with painful thoughts, emotions, sensations, and urges. However, many people do report that they feel much more relaxed after practicing mindfulness. In fact, many people (including me) might fall asleep during a mindfulness practice.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
As I previously mentioned, many people report feeling relaxed after doing a mindfulness practice, and usually will do a practice before bedtime. This has helped many people who have difficulties falling asleep (usually due to all the racing thoughts or pent up energy).
Mindfulness can also help when you’re overwhelmed by painful or unwanted thoughts, memories, sensations, and urges. It’s a normal human response to try to push away or avoid these painful experiences, which may lead to unhelpful or unhealthy behaviors (e.g., drugs or alcohol). On the flip side, some people may get caught up in the painful stuff...it’s ALL they can think about. When either scenario happens, you get caught up in the struggle and can leave you feeling exhausted...too exhausted to engage in life.
With a mindfulness practice, however, you gain the ability to observe and describe the painful stuff, without getting caught up in it- it creates some distance between you and the stuff. You also get a chance to choose how to react to the stuff, without reacting impulsively as you normally might have. Mindfulness gives you more of a sense of control in your choices and behaviors- you get to choose how you respond, what you do, when things come up.
Mindfulness allows you to be more present and engaged in your life. When you are caught up in the worries about the future, or pain of the past, you cannot be simultaneously present in your life. Maybe you’ve missed out on some moments you wish you could remember. Perhaps you’re watching a movie and completely miss the story because your mind is elsewhere. When you’re being mindful- your attention is directed to ONE thing in this moment- you won’t miss out on what’s important to you.
Have you done any mindfulness? How has mindfulness helped you? Any difficulties that come up around mindfulness for you? I’d love to hear from you.
Hi, I’m Dr. Ivy and I help professionals who are questioning if their alcohol/drug use is a problem, or want to reduce or stop their alcohol/drug use. I also help people who have grown up in chaotic environments, or experienced traumatic events, and have difficulties with finding safety and trust in the world and with other people.