Posted on March 29th, 2017 in Mindfulness
Written by Sarah Trueblood

Mindfulness is one of the four core skills introduced in a highly effective type of therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT incorporates the Eastern practice of mindful meditation into talk therapy. The combination of practicing mindful meditation and evaluating negative thought patterns can significantly increase relaxation and help one cope with strong emotions.

So what exactly is mindfulness and how do we become more mindful? Being mindful is a state of mind that can be achieved with regular practice. Mindfulness is the act of simply observing our thoughts and feelings without imposing judgement on those thoughts or feelings such that they are “good” or “bad”. Let’s be honest, to refrain from judging and criticizing our own thoughts and feelings is a hard feat to conquer. We judge ourselves constantly throughout the day; therefore, it will understandably take a fair amount of practice and time to eventually master this art.

Another component of mindfulness is to accept that we experience positive, negative, and neutral emotions and continue to live in the present moment regardless of how uncomfortable an emotion we’re experiencing. When we feel strong emotions such as anxiety or depression, naturally the inclination is to get rid of the overwhelming feeling. When approaching our emotions mindfully, however, uncomfortable emotions aren’t pushed away but rather experienced in the moment until they eventually fade away. No one has a panic attack that lasts forever!

Here’s how to start your mindful meditation: Identify a time of day that you can set aside 5 minutes to yourself. If this time doesn’t present itself immediately, don’t worry. If you need to tell your kids, roommates, or whoever is in your general vicinity to give you some alone time go right ahead! Putting aside time for yourself is important! Once you are alone in a peaceful, quiet place begin to focus on your breathing. Your breath serves as an anchor throughout this exercise. When you notice your thoughts beginning to wander, return your thoughts back to your breath and remember that you are living in this moment and no other. This is the time you become an observer of your thoughts, you are not your thoughts themselves. During this mindful meditation, there are several ways to remain in the moment. Here are some examples:

  1. Imagery
    To help ease any physical tension or anxiety, imagine a scene you find peaceful. For myself, I find peace in imagining a thick forest in the middle of autumn with a stream running through it. For others a peaceful image could be lying on a beach watching the ocean waves, or lying in a field of tall grasses watching the clouds drift by in the sky. Choose whichever scene appeals to you and please, be creative!
  2. Self-talk
    This part relates back to our tendency to be critical and judge ourselves. When you notice yourself thinking negative thoughts (for example: “this exercise is dumb”; “this will never work”; “I haven’t been able to relax before, therefore, I won’t be able to relax now”), notice and observe these thoughts, but then let them go.
  3. Body-mind connectionBe sure to check in with your physical self. Do you feel tension anywhere in your body? Do you tend to carry stress in your neck, shoulders, or hands? If you notice that a particular part of your body is more tense, use your breath as a tool. When you breathe in slowly and deeply, imagine that you are inhaling relaxation into that part of your body, and then, as you exhale, let go of that tension. Repeat this process as many times as you need to until your feel the tension in that part of your body melt away.

Once you’ve mastered the skill of mindfulness feel free to use it whenever and wherever! Since being mindful is a state of mind, you can access this state of mind in all kinds of situations – before a presentation, when driving in your car on your way to work, at a dinner party, when drinking your morning coffee, etc. Use this skill on a regular basis to reduce stress and increase relaxation in your life.