"Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens." Published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley
We've all heard the term "Mindfulness". It started out as a "New Age" practice and has now earned the attention of medical professionals. We have over 30,000 thoughts a day and it's believed 80% of those thoughts are the same as the day before. It is also said, a majority of those thoughts are negative. As someone who struggled with negative thought my entire life I wasn't surprised to learn many of my clients also experienced the same problem.
Which begs the question, why?
I believe Mindfulness is the most under-rated tool in our toolbox. It's available to everyone no matter what particular corner of hell you reside in. Mindfulness can be used to shift your thought processes which in turn will create new neural pathways in your brain which will eventually, with repetition, lead to less and less negative thought.
Mindfulness is described as a "meditation" which gives people the idea they have to sit in silence and stop themselves from thinking. I describe it as a working practice which can be and should be implemented into your daily life.
Article in Psychotherapy Theory Research Practice Training · June 2011
Impact Factor: 3.01 · DOI: 10.1037/a0022062 · Source: PubMed
NOTE: This is a small portion of the article which can be found in its entirety by clicking HERE
The question of how mindfulness affects interpersonal behavior has been pursued recently by scholars who have addressed concepts such as mindful relating (Wachs & Cordova, 2007), mindful responding in couples (Block-Lerner, Adair, Plumb, Rhatigan, & Orsillo, 2007), and mindfulness-based relationship enhancement (MBRE) (Carson, Carson, Gil, & Baucom, 2006). Evidence indicates that trait mindfulness predicts relationship satisfaction, ability to respond constructively to relationship stress, skill in identifying and communicating emotions to one’s partner, amount of relationship conflict, negativity, and empathy (Barnes, Brown, Krusemark, Campbell, & Rogge, 2007; Wachs & Cordova, 2007). Barnes et al. found that people with higher trait mindfulness reported less emotional stress in response to relationship conflict and entered conflict discussion with less anger and anxiety. Evidence shows that mindfulness is inversely correlated with distress contagion and directly correlated with the ability to act with awareness in social situations (Dekeyser, Raes, Leijssen, Leyson, & Dewulf, 2008). Thus, empirical evidence suggests that mindfulness protects against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict (Barnes et al., 2007), is positively associated with the ability to express oneself in various social situations (Dekeyser el al., 2008), and predicts relationship satisfaction (Barnes et al., 2007; Wachs & Cordova, 2007). Given that the therapeutic relationship is emotionally intimate, potentially conflictual, and inherently interpersonal, therapists’ trait mindfulness may aid their ability to cultivate and sustain successful relationships with clients.
Other Intrapersonal Benefits
In addition to the affective and interpersonal benefits identified above, mindfulness has been shown to enhance functions associated with the middle prefrontal lobe area of the brain, such as self-insight, morality, intuition, and fear modulation (Siegel,2007b, 2009). There is also evidence that mindfulness meditation has numerous health benefits including increased immune functioning (Davidson et al., 2003; see Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt,& Walach, 2004 for a review of physical health benefits). Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve well-being (Carmody & Baer, 2008) and reduce psychological distress (Coffey & Hartman, 2008; Ostafin et al., 2006).
Neuroplasticity—the rewiring that occurs in the brain as a result of experience—now explains how regular mindfulness meditation practice alters the brain’s physical structure and functioning (Davidson et al., 2003; Lazar et al., 2005; Siegel, 2007a; Vestergaard-Poulsen et al., 2009). Changes in the structure of the brain include thicker brain regions associated with attention, sensory processing and sensitivity to internal stimuli (Lazar et al., 2005), distinct gray matter concentrations (Hölzel et al., 2008), and thicker brain stems, which may account for positive cognitive, emotional and immunoreactive benefits (Vestergaard-Poulsen et al., 2009). Research suggests that states experienced during mindfulness meditation eventually can become effortless traits over time (Farb et al., 2007; Siegel, 2007a). Thus, the longer therapists practice mindfulness meditation, the more they may benefit from its effects.
Other benefits of mindfulness meditation practice include increased information processing speed (Moore & Malinowski, WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS? 201 2009), decreased task effort (Lutz et al., 2009), and having fewer thoughts that are unrelated to the task at hand (Lutz et al., 2009).
In particular, Lutz et al.’s research implies that due to increased attentional skills and increased ability to manage distractions, therapists who practice mindfulness meditation may have an increased ability to be present to their clients.
Mindfulness meditation consistently has been theorized to promote empathy (Anderson, 2005; Fulton, 2005; Martin, 1997; Morgan & Morgan, 2005; Shapiro & Izett, 2008; Walsh & Shapiro, 2006), and research utilizing a variety of methods is now accumulating in support of this premise. In a within-subjects study on meditation and empathy, counselors in training demonstrated increased empathy after participating in a 4-week Zen meditation training (Lesh, 1970). In a between-groups experiment, premedical and medical students who participated in an 8-week MBSR training had significantly higher self-reported empathy than a control group (Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998). A qualitative study (Aiken, 2006) of therapists who were experienced meditators found that they believed that mindfulness meditation helped develop empathy toward clients. In particular, interviews were conducted with six psychotherapists who each had more than 10 years of experience practicing both therapy and mindfulness meditation.
Consistent themes from the data indicated that mindfulness helps therapists: develop their ability to experience and communicate a felt sense of clients’ inner experiences; be more present to clients’ suffering; and help clients express their body sensations and feelings.
Finally, along similar lines, Wang (2007) used a passive design and found that therapists who were experienced mindfulness meditators scored higher on measures of self-reported empathy than therapists who did not meditate.
In addition to empathy, a second therapist characteristic that seems to derive from meditation is compassion. For example, MBSR training has been found to enhance self-compassion in health care professionals (Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova, 2005) and therapist trainees (Shapiro, Brown, & Biegel, 2007). Kingsbury (2009) investigated the role of self-compassion in relation to mindfulness. Two components of mindfulness, non-judging and non-reacting, were strongly correlated with self-compassion, and two dimensions of empathy, taking on others perspectives (i.e., perspective taking) and reacting to others’ affective experiences with discomfort. Self-compassion fully mediated the relationship between perspective taking and mindfulness.