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“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf”, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
With so many distractions in today’s busy world, it’s easy to sweep through life on autopilot. Mindfulness is the practice of consciously bringing ourselves back to the present moment to experience life as it is happening to us now. Instead of getting caught up in the past (which we can’t change) or worrying about what’s going to happen in the future (which we can’t ever know for certain), mindfulness is the act of slowing down and learning to accept everything as it arises. Although its origins lie in Buddhist tradition, mindfulness can be practised by anyone and is probably best defined as a state of ‘being’ rather than a specific theoretical approach.
Mindfulness-based therapy approaches bring the principles of mindfulness into the therapeutic setting by teaching you how to become more mindful in daily life. Your therapist will provide you with techniques to help you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations and encourage you to sit with them - without judging them or worrying what they mean. This might involve focusing on your breath or scanning through your body to see what sensations come up. Mindfulness techniques encourage you to delve deeper into your awareness and explore any triggers which might be causing you unhelpful or impulsive thoughts and behaviour. This increased awareness can help gently guide you towards healthier, more conscious decision-making.
Mindfulness-based therapy approaches focus on what’s happening in your mind and body right now, rather than looking to the past. That said, many therapists combine mindfulness techniques with other approaches. In some cases, this might mean you’ll be exploring your past too. For example, a psychodynamic therapist trained in mindfulness will work with you to uncover buried emotions and childhood experiences (as exists within the psychodynamic framework), whilst also using mindfulness techniques to teach you how to deal with situations better in the present.
The real benefits of mindfulness are felt when it’s woven into the fabric of everyday life (eating, commuting, exercising, socialising - even doing the dishes!) Therefore, in order to get the most out of your sessions it’s important to see mindfulness as a way of life rather than just a quick fix.
Mindfulness-based therapy approaches are especially helpful for anyone feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Helping to increase self-awareness, mindfulness can help you get perspective on your thoughts and feelings, and how they impact everyday life.
Recent studies have shown that a regular mindfulness meditation practice can help increase concentration levels, improve emotional intelligence and even boost creativity.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy combines the analytical approach of CBT with mindfulness techniques like meditation and deep breathing. Drawing a focus to the present rather than the past, MBCT will teach you to recognise negative mental loops without getting caught up in them.
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Mindfulness-based stress reduction was originally developed to help people living with chronic illness and pain. MBSR teaches techniques to help you become aware of negative thought patterns, and how they distract you from your experience of the here and now.
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