What Is Mindfulness and How Is It Helpful?

By Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW

“Mindfulness” is a term most of us have heard of and read about in recent years. It used to be mostly associated with ancient spiritual practices and ritualistic meditations. The current and common use of the term mindfulness is not associated with any one particular religion and it is not in opposition with any religious beliefs or practices. In our more modern day use of the term and understanding of mindfulness, what does it actually mean and what is mindfulness? Has “mindfulness” just become a fashionable term of the modern time or is the understanding and the practice of mindfulness also proven through scientific research to be helpful in overall health, healing and stress management?

Mindfulness can be defined in many ways, but there are common themes: the state of being completely aware of something; the practice of being aware with curiosity of the present moment of the state of mind, body, and emotions without the presence of judgment; experiential awareness of one’s physical, mental, and emotional experiences without criticism.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) says that mindfulness is, “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Kabat-Zinn and his research clinic are responsible for a vast amount of the wide range of evidence that has been brought forth based on scientific studies supporting the impact of mindfulness actions. Mindfulness involves intentionally increasing your awareness of the present moment of a current experience, exploring mind, body, emotion, and spirit states without judgment or criticism. It is a practice of awareness of an experience that amplifies curiosity of the experience and focus of the here and now.

There are several activities and disciplines that promote mindfulness as a core part of the practice such as yoga, tai chi, qigong. Mindfulness can be a component of meditation or the meditative process. Mindfulness can simply be a brief state of intentional awareness of a current experience resulting in heightened consciousness of that awareness without stopping one’s involvement in the experience. Thus, mindfulness can occur at any point in time and during any situation.

There is increasing research and evidence that practicing mindfulness is indeed helpful in a number of areas of life functioning for people of all ages, children through geriatric adults. Research indicates that mindfulness can improve: focus, concentration, clarity of thought, sense of calm, reduction of obsessive thinking and ruminating, regulation of mood and emotions, stress reduction, worrying – particularly reducing worrying about past events and future events, physical symptoms of anxiety, irritability, management of chronic pain, management of chronic illnesses, stabilization of blood pressure and heart rate, interpersonal relationship satisfaction, and personal insight, acceptance, tolerance, patience, and confidence.

Because our minds are often very busy and cluttered with the impact of daily living and the manners in which we function, beginning mindfulness practices—particularly mindful awareness without judgment— can be quite challenging. Seeking guidance about mindfulness and the actual process of how to become more mindfully aware through psychotherapeutic support can be quite helpful and encouraging. Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC is a comprehensive mental health practice that has therapists and a psychiatrist aware of the multiple benefits of using mindfulness to improve overall quality of life due to the multiple benefits identified in this article. You can contact Behavioral Healthcare Associate, LLC at 919-292-1464 for further information or to establish an appointment. You can also review the Practice website for further information http://www.behavioralhealthcareassociates.org