All about Mindfulness

Mindfulness has several different definitions, but in essence it involves experiencing the present instant, being fully aware of the moment that exists now, and accepting it as it is. Mindfulness is a concept that emerged from the eastern philosophies and is used extensively in Zen meditation, as well as in Pranayama. The effectiveness of this concept in psychotherapy has been recognised and has resulted in the evolution of different forms of therapy that use mindfulness as a technique.

What exactly is it?

Mindfulness is one of the eight constituents of the noble eightfold path taught by Siddharth Gautam, who founded Buddhism over 2500 years ago. Cultivating mindfulness is an important part of Yog, wherein an individual must aim to live fully in the present moment, without judging the past or speculating on the future, but accepting the moment that exists. The use of mindfulness in psychotherapy was first seen in 1979, when Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn started the Mindfulness based Stress Reduction programme for the chronically ill.

Today, mindfulness is an accepted practice in psychotherapy and there has been a huge increase in the number of published research in the field of mindfulness based psychotherapy. Mindfulness is known to be an effective practice in the treatment of depression and anxiety, stress reduction, elevation of positive mood and a positive outlook towards life.

Which therapy integrates mindfulness?

There are a number of therapy programmes based specifically on mindfulness. Let us briefly consider some of forms of psychotherapy that use mindfulness as a core technique.

Morita Therapy: This form of psychotherapy was developed by the Japanese psychiatrist Dr. Shoma Morita. Mindfulness is cultivated by knowing what one can control, as well as the limitations on one’s personal freedom. This form of psychotherapy places much importance on actions, and focuses on accepting the present moment without intellectualising it.

Gestalt Therapy: Gestalt therapy is influenced by the philosophy of existentialism and the concept of mindfulness in that it focuses on an individual’s experience in the present moment, and places emphasis on individual responsibility on how they live in the present moment.

Adaptation Practice: Dr. Clive Sherlock, a British psychiatrist who was also trained in Zen practice, developed adaptation practice based on the principles of Zen meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness. AP is used extensively in the treatment of depression, anxiety, anger management and stress, among other emotional problems.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy extensively used for the treatment of several mental disorders including phobias. MBCT is a combination of CBT and mindfulness practice and meditation and is used to treat a number of mental illnesses – especially long term treatment for Major Depressive Disorder.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – originally known as comprehensive distancing, this psychotherapy uses the tools of Zen meditation and the practice of mindfulness in combination with behavioural change strategies. Acceptance and mindfulness are used in different ways in tandem with action oriented behaviour change strategies to increase psychological flexibility and openness.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): this psychotherapy or psychosocial treatment strategy was developed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder. DBT uses the tenets of mindfulness and non judgemental acceptance as its core exercises.

Hakomi: Hakomi is a somatic psychotherapy, which uses body-centred techniques in combination with mindfulness and non violence.

Conclusion

Mindfulness is a quality that one can cultivate, and is beneficial for everyone. It is not a form of treatment, but rather a way to view and live life. When you’re mindful, you are giving your full attention to the present moment. Instead of being caught up in your own thoughts, and your emotional response to your thoughts and circumstances, you distance yourself from the present, and view it with a non judgement attitude. As opposed to being a victim of life, you learn to live life fully in each moment of time.

Psychotherapy that incorporates the principles of mindfulness can be useful to people facing a variety of issues and circumstances. It can help relieve anxiety, reduce stress, improve the quality of your personal relationships and bring about a more positive outlook towards life.

Images on Creative Commons license courtesy of Relaxingmusic, Jim Epler, fechi fajardo

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