04. April 2019
“Mindfulness means to be attentive in a special way: […] in the present moment and without judgments. This kind of attention nourishes a higher consciousness, clarity and acceptance of the present moment.”
The term mindfulness is used frequently and in a wide variety of contexts these days. Almost everyone has come into contact with this term by now. Living in the moment – that’s what many guidebooks say. But only very few people know exactly what this means and how mindfulness can help. Mindfulness describes a mental state that people can achieve through appropriate exercises. In these exercises, such as perception or meditation training, attention is focused on the present moment.
The focus is on the present. To return to the quote at the beginning of the article: An open and accepting attitude emerges in which no experience is avoided (Bouvet et al., 2015). So it is about the present moment, the here and now. Not about the future and not about the past.
But how exactly is this state to be achieved? How do we get into the now? The attention to the present arises through the conscious perception of breathing, sounds, body sensations and body movements. The desired acceptance is promoted by the value-free observation of these experiences. This is especially important for feelings and thoughts that may arise during mindfulness exercises. They are only observed and not evaluated.
This does not suit our mind at all at first, because it contradicts its old habit and is therefore quite difficult for it. This is because we directly pigeonhole our experiences in our mind and thereby give them meaning:
The rating robot in your head has a suitable description for everything. Partly, of course, this is useful, but often it is also burdensome and obscures the view of the essential.
Body and mind should find together again.
The mind is directed to the here and now, exactly where the body is (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). This may sound esoteric, but this state and the exercises leading to it have proven to be valuable psychotherapeutic techniques and have a health-promoting effect. Originally, the concept of mindfulness comes from Buddhist meditation techniques.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine, detached mindfulness from its spiritual context to make it useful for therapeutic purposes. He formulated psychotherapeutic techniques that form the core of mindfulness-based intervention programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, also known as MBSR and MBCT.
Mindfulness can help mentally stressed individuals in a variety of ways: It can improve overall well-being and coping with stress and illness. It teaches the ability to let thoughts and feelings flow without judging them. Often we take our thoughts at face value and attach a lot of importance to them, but in the end they are only an incidental product of our mind.
These incidental thoughts often have a negative or even destructive character (e.g. self-deprecating thoughts). Certain states of mind, such as automatic action or pure functioning during stressful times, can exacerbate these thoughts and bring negative consequences to well-being. Jon Kabat-Zinn, for example, refers to restlessness, psychologically induced pain, or tension. Mindfulness can reduce these emotionally and cognitively stressful states (Brown & Ryan, 2003).
Stop the mind carousel
Many patients with mental health impairments suffer from constant thought circling or rumination. The fact that one’s mind is constantly active, getting caught in endless loops and thus interfering with sleep or relaxation, is a familiar phenomenon for many people. In the case of many mental illnesses, however, this tendency is clearly intensified. On one hand, there is a cluster of thoughts that are negative and self-destructive, and on the other hand, those affected find it difficult to detach themselves from these contents. Continuous brooding and a real compulsion to brood can develop and make life extremely difficult (Ramel et al., 2004).
Studies have shown that learning mindfulness leads to an improvement in well-being, a decrease in psychological symptoms, and a reduction in the frequency of negative emotions even in healthy individuals (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Raes, Griffith, Van der Gucht & Williams, 2014; Shapiro, Schwartz & Bonner, 1998). However, significant improvements in symptomatology have also been achieved with mindfulness practice in patients in psychosomatic or psychiatric institutions (Baer, 2003; Bohlmeijer, Prenger, Taal & Cuijpers, 2010; Fjorback, Arendt, Ornbol, Fink & Wallach, 2011).
In general, three elementary forms of meditation exist in the field of mindfulness:
Body scan is a meditation practice while lying down, in which attention systematically moves once through the whole body (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). In sitting meditation, course participants learn to adopt a calm and accepting inner posture in an upright sitting posture. Concentration is alternately directed to the breath, arising feelings, and arising thoughts (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). Walking meditation aims to transfer elements of mindfulness into everyday life.
Here, attention is to be focused on the actual action of walking (ibid., 2013). Another component of mindfulness is formed by physical exercises derived from yoga (Bishop, 2002). The training is not aimed at fundamental changes in thoughts and feelings, but rather at our relationship to them. In particular, painful relationships to existing anxiety or depressive thought content are gradually released (Bouvet et al., 2015).
Principles such as awareness, acceptance, distancing from present thoughts, and attention to the present moment are emphasized (Bouvet et al., 2015). Step by step, one learns to distance oneself from negative and unhelpful thoughts and feelings, to let them go and to focus on the present moment.
In principle, anyone can benefit from mindfulness practices, regardless of age, gender, medical condition religious orientation, or spirituality. As studies show, the effectiveness of mindfulness-based programs is independent of these factors (Greeson et al., 2015). The techniques are detached from religion and spirituality and can change our relationship with negative thoughts and feelings (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). The thoughts are not to be avoided, but one can learn to separate and detach from them. In addition, an inner attitude of non-judgmental perception and acceptance is learned (Bouvet et al., 2015)
In this way, symptoms of stress, inner turmoil, and distressing rumination can be reduced. Overall, then, mindfulness-based intervention programs are well suited for both healthy individuals who want to learn mindfulness-based coping with negative feelings and stress and patients with mental health impairments. In addition to mindfulness, therapy methods such as meditation, yoga, qigong, and Jacobson’s progessive muscle relaxation are often offered in the field of relaxation training, so that everyone can use the method that suits them individually as a procedure.
Has their interest been piqued? Not only the Internet offers numerous possibilities to inform oneself. Also in the literature you can find many great guides on the topic of mindfulness exercises and techniques!