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In short, mindfulness to me means ‘be here now.’ It means fully accepting the present moment for what it is, nonjudgmentally, without trying to change it. This concept is both spectacularly simple, yet mentally challenging at the same time. As human beings, we spend much time trying to fight the present. This can take the form of ruminations or dwellings about the past, or anxiety about what is to come in the future. The human condition can only handle 24 hours; mindfulness ensures we do that.
I practice mindfulness myself and teach it to my patients on a daily basis. I work in private practice and do individual sessions and teach coping skills courses. I teach my patients specific mindfulness techniques such as variations of grounding, body scans, or thought diffusion strategies. We also incorporate nature in my classes and sessions by going on mindfulness walks in nature.
Mindfulness has certainly made me a calmer individual. Accepting the emotions we have in the current moment takes pressure away from having to change them. Often times, typically with unpleasant emotions, we are quick to distract or push them away which in turn has a ‘pink elephant’ effect; the more we try not to think or feel something, the more we do. Practicing mindfulness myself has allowed me to take judgments and pressure off of my negative emotions while sitting with, and appreciating the pleasant ones more.
Back in graduate school, I had the privilege of taking a cultural diversity psychology course. In this course, I learned that certain cultures (specifically Eastern cultures that practice mindfulness and meditation) do not have a word for anxiety. Now, these individuals obviously do know the emotion of anxiety, as they are not robots, but this implies that anxiety is not a pressing concern in that society and managed well. What we learn from these cultures is that mindfulness practices are strongly negatively correlated to anxiety levels, being that the more mindfulness is practiced, the lower the anxiety levels of the culture. In the US, we live in a high stress, high anxiety culture. The prevalence rates of anxiety in my practice alone are staggering and medication is often used to supplement. What I see is that patients who practice mindfulness daily have decreased levels of anxiety and some can learn to live lives medication free. Adapting mindfulness practices as a society can have tremendous positive implications on overall quality of life; individuals can learn to manage stress, anxiety, or discomfort behaviorally. One positive change tends to promote more, and managing stress behaviorally through mindfulness can serve as a linchpin to other areas of wellness.
I think the outlook for practicing mindfulness is great! The current trends of yoga, Pilates, and Zen all promote mindfulness in different ways. I believe incorporating mindfulness with nature or animals is an additional step. Nature tends to be calming to the soul and animals often provide therapeutic relief. I am eager to be a part of what the future holds to promote new mindfulness ideas.