For people with existing mindfulness practices who want to take it to the next level, there are several different options. Before exploring those, let’s take a brief and brisk walk through mindfulness.
Mindfulness, which can also be thought of as mindful awareness, is a spiritual practice that dates back thousands of years.
In the last few decades, mindfulness has become popular in the West and has increasingly been studied worldwide in a formal psychological context.
Next Steps for Mindfulness Practitioners
For people who already know mindfulness, and want to take it to the next level, there are several options to grow your mindfulness game.
One good option is attending a mindfulness retreat.
Mindfulness retreats are directed, one-day to several-day-long opportunities to deepen your understanding and intensify your mindfulness practice.
Most retreats seek out people who do not have any previous experience with mindfulness. However, they also invite people who have some familiarity with mindfulness, as well as for those who already have an existing practice.
For people who want to take an accredited course to add weight to their mindfulness practice and specifically want to treat clients in distress, there is the option of becoming a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher.
The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School offers an extensive program for training MBSR teachers. Find more information about the program here.
For people who already lead mindfulness training programs, there is Positive Psychology Mindfulness X — an all-in-one resource for mindfulness practitioners and trainers which can help someone develop a mindfulness-practice.
It has been created by a qualified psychologist and researcher Dr. Hugo Alberts.
“Mindfulness X is for anyone who wants to learn about, use or teach mindfulness in their personal or professional life. It’s popular with coaches, trainers, teachers, HR managers, organizational development specialists, consultants, and leadership specialists.”
A Brief History of Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is an ancient tradition that has origins in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism (or at least some of the traditions that later came to be called “Hinduism”), Islam, and Judaism (Trousselard et al., 2014).
The earliest mindfulness practices were generally limited to religious and spiritual institutions in the East. In the 1970s, two events helped bring mindfulness to the United States in its current context:
- The founding of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) by Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzberg (author of Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier), and
- The development of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
All four of these people were most influenced by Buddhist mindfulness (in the Theravada tradition, specifically) and Buddhists such as Thích Nhất Hạnh, but their contributions to mindfulness helped popularize it as a secular practice in the United States and the West in general.
The development of MBSR in particular ” integrated secularized mindfulness-based practices into traditional Western medical settings” (Wilson et al., 2017), which further stripped mindfulness of its religious connotations in the West.
Today, mindfulness practices are studied all around the world in the contexts of pain management, positive psychology, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, to name a few.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness has many benefits, including physical and psychological ones, for people with and without mental health or physical health issues.
Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been shown to be effective in reducing addictive behaviors, anxiety, depression, OCD, pain, and stress.
- MBIs that promote a long-term mindfulness practice are the most effective for reducing addictive behaviors (Wilson et al., 2017).
- MBIs such as MBSR and MBCT have been shown to consistently reduce anxiety and depression (Hofmann & Gomez, 2017; Key et al., 2017).
- MBCT has also been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of OCD (Key et al., 2017).
- MBIs have been shown to lead to increased quality of life and lower levels of anxiety and depression in patients with IBD (Hood & Jedel, 2017).
- MBSR has been shown to be effective in reducing stress levels and improving quality of life in patients with lung cancer (Schellekens et al., 2017).
- Mindfulness meditation has been shown to be an effective intervention for women with chronic pain, as it reduces depression symptoms and improves the quality of life (Ball et al., 2017).
- A study found that as employees became more mindful, their levels of psychological distress decreased (Grégoire & Lachance, 2015).
- A review found that practicing yoga in a school setting can reduce stress and anxiety (Nanthakumar, 2018).
- Recent research suggests that MBSR can also increase relationship satisfaction for both people in the relationship (Khaddouma et al., 2017).
Evidence-based research shows that mindfulness-based interventions lead to psychological benefits in the presence of mental illness, in the presence of physical illness, and even in the absence of illness altogether.
Mindfulness-based interventions are also attractive treatment options since they are effective both on their own and as supplements to more traditional treatments.
Ways To Practice Mindfulness
As the studies above show, there are a variety of ways to practice mindfulness. Some of these are directed by mindfulness trainers, and some of them can be self-directed.
As for self-directed ways to practice mindfulness, the one that is most likely to come to mind is mindfulness meditation.
- Mindfulness meditation is also what one likely thinks of when they hear the word “meditation”, as it involves nonjudgmentally becoming aware of one’s thoughts and circumstances to better understand them.
- Mindful breathing, when one pays attention to their breathing patterns in order to better control their breathing, is a similar practice.
- Yoga is another extremely common way to practice mindfulness, though some may not be aware of its roots in mindfulness.
- Body scan is a similar mindfulness practice, although it involves simply becoming aware of one’s body parts rather than manipulating them.
- Mindful eating is another mindfulness practice (as exemplified by the MBSR raisin exercise).
- The body scan, the raisin exercise, and still other ways to practice mindfulness are described here.
The most common directed ways to practice mindfulness are MBSR and MBCT, which are both limited-term interventions, although the lessons contained within can help participants establish long-term mindfulness practices upon completion of either of these programs.
Get this printable guide: Mindfulness In 7 Steps.
What is the MBSR raisin exercise?
The MBSR raisin exercise is a mindfulness exercise often used in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs. It is a simple yet effective way to help people learn to pay attention to the present moment and to the sensations of their bodies.
To do the MBSR raisin exercise, you will need a raisin. You can also use any other small object, such as a grain of rice or a bean.
1. First, hold the object in your hand and examine it with your eyes. Notice its shape, size, color, and texture.
2. Next, bring the object up to your nose and smell it. Notice any smells or aromas that the object gives off.
3. Now, slowly place the object in your mouth, but don’t chew it yet. Notice the sensations of the object on your tongue and on the inside of your mouth.
4. Begin to chew the object slowly and mindfully, paying attention to the sensations of each chew. Notice the texture and flavor of the object.
5. When you are finished chewing, swallow the object and notice how it feels as it goes down your throat.
The MBSR raisin exercise can be done anywhere and at any time to become more rooted in the present moment.
How is body scan mindfulness done?
Body scan mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves bringing your awareness to the sensations of your body. It is a way to connect with your physical self and to become more aware of any areas of tension or discomfort.
To do a body scan mindfulness meditation, you will need to find a comfortable position where you will not be disturbed.
1. Sit in a chair or lie down on your back. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
2. Bring your awareness to your feet. Notice the sensations of your feet on the ground. Pay attention to any feelings of warmth, coolness, pressure, or tingling.
3. Now, slowly bring your awareness up your body, one part at a time. Notice the sensations in your legs, hips, stomach, chest, back, arms, neck, and head.
4. If you notice any areas of tension or discomfort, try to relax those areas. You can do this by taking a few deep breaths or by gently tightening and relaxing the muscles in that area.
5. Continue to scan your body, from head to toe, until you reach the top of your head. Then, bring your awareness back to your breath.
6. Do not judge yourself if your mind wanders. Just gently bring it back to your breath or to the sensations of your body.
Body scan mindfulness meditation can be done for any length of time, but it is usually done for 10-20 minutes.
While mindfulness might sometimes seem like a recent fad, it has been practiced for thousands of years in the context of different religious and spiritual traditions.
Furthermore, while mindfulness has only recently been studied in formal scientific settings for a few decades, one could argue that Western science is only uncovering what Eastern practitioners have known for millennia.
Regardless, it is clear that mindfulness practices are an evidence-based way to improve the lives of a variety of people.
The most exciting part of these developments in mindfulness is that mindfulness is accessible to anyone who needs it. All it takes is starting a mindfulness meditation practice to reap the benefits that Eastern religious traditions have preached for years and years.
Beyond that, just like Thích Nhất Hạnh and other Buddhists taught the Westerners behind the IMS and MBSR all about mindfulness, people with deep, existing mindfulness practices should also do what they can to spread the knowledge to others.
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- Meditative Art Therapy: Art + Mindfulness To Mental Health
- 15-Minute Mindfulness Meditation Script (Free PDF)
- 10 Proven Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
- Find the next level of happiness: 10 Simple Things To Be Happier: Own These
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