What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness involves maintaining awareness of what is happening at each moment and noticing the thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that emerge within you without judgment. It is also the practice of cultivating such an attitude and awareness. Originating from Buddhist meditation practices, mindfulness was introduced to the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn and has become widely known, especially as a stress relief method (Kabat-Zinn, 2013).
Mindfulness Meditation Methods
There are many ways to do mindfulness meditation. For example, you can sit and pay attention to your breathing, or scan your body slowly from head to toe and notice what physical sensations are there, or walk slowly and pay attention to what you experience. You can also be mindful in a less structured way. For example, you take a moment to pay attention to what is happening inside you in your everyday life.
Using Mindfulness in My Counseling
I may take time for structured mindfulness meditation in counseling, but mainly I use mindfulness in a less structured way. For example, I may ask you to bring mindful awareness to your inner experience or to observe negative emotions as they arise. These interventions can help you stay in the moment instead of being stuck in negative feelings or self-talk. I also utilize mindfulness in conjunction with Process Work or EMDR techniques.
The Benefits of Using Mindfulness in Counseling
Calming Your feelings
When you are depressed or anxious, you can become so caught up in your feelings that you overidentify with them, which further amplifies the negative emotions. At such times, turning your attention inward and taking deep breaths can help you relax. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which signals to your brain that you are safe. In addition, by mindfully paying attention to negative feelings, you can cultivate a calm and nonjudgmental observer in you, which allows you to distance yourself from negative emotions and self-critical voices.
When negative feelings become too strong, you may turn to alcohol, chocolate, Netflix, or work to avoid the pain. Unfortunately, this dependence merely puts a Band-Aid on painful feelings, and it doesn’t resolve the negative emotions. On the other hand, if you become more open to and mindful of these negative feelings and acknowledge them, you can accept the pain and develop compassion for yourself (Neff & Germer, 2018).
Becoming Aware of Different Inner Experiences
Campbell (1991) argues that we meditate all the time, but it is unintentional meditation, such as constantly asking ourselves, “Where does the money come from, and where does it go?” We then lose touch with something more profound. If you become more mindful of your experience, you will become aware of unintentional meditation. Then you can choose whether to continue or let it go temporarily. (I say “temporarily” because unintentional meditation usually comes back.)
Once you pause the unintentional meditation, you become aware of experiences you were unaware of. You may notice a sense of happiness, or a desire to do something creative. Or you may notice sadness, anger, or stiffness in the body. By recognizing these experiences, you now have the choice to do something about them.
Gaining a Wider Range of Emotions
When you experience an overwhelmingly stressful event or repeatedly experience painful incidents, the brain may remember emotions as something threatening and learn to avoid feeling them. This may result in a very narrow range of emotions you can experience. Although this may bring more emotional stability to your life, you often lose touch with positive emotions such as joy and happiness. By cultivating mindfulness, you gradually learn that emotions are not scary, and you begin to experience a wider range of emotions. As a result, you will feel more alive.
Cambell, J., & Moyers, B. (1991). The power of myth. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (rev. ed.). New York, NY: Bantam Books
Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2018). The mindful self-compassion workbook: A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive. New York, NY: Guilford Press.