Defining the Origins of Mindfulness:
Mindfulness has been around for thousands of years, used and practiced within a multitude of religions. One of the more prominent religions that Mindfulness is derived from, at least how we now look at it in a modern western society, was that of the Buddhist religion. Mindfulness, in a more flexible approach that was adapted into western models, is used as a way to bridge the mind, body and spirit in hopes to understand not only the self better but how to adapt to life circumstances with a calmer mind and presence. It also is used as a tool to connect to the present moment and allow for our bodies and mind to remain grounded within our environment. This is all accomplished and achieved through incorporating some type of breath work within connection to the self.
Misconceptions of Expectations When Starting Mindfulness:
There are many misconceptions, and I hear time and time again, clients saying “I don’t have time to sit and breath for 20 minutes” or “I can’t focus and it makes me frustrated that I am not able to focus for 20 minutes of breathing and meditation”. The idea of mindfulness and what is expected can often look intimidating, where there are some expectations of sitting down and focusing for a long period of time. Now, don’t get me wrong, these can absolutely be accomplished, and some people really benefit from doing this type of practice. However, the expectation that everyone is able to practice within this is not realistic.
Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Daily Life
If you are wanting to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, there are many other ways that 1. Do not require or have the expectations of sitting and focusing for 20-30 minutes straight 2. Have a lot of the same benefits with calming the nervous system and connecting to the present moment and 3. Non-traditional ideas of what mindfulness can be.
Benefits of Mindfulness Breathing:
Many Western ideas of emotion explore how emotions, even negative ones, can communicate important and adaptive information that is essential for our survival. For example, emotions play a key role in making decisions, behavioral responses, and help guide interpersonal interactions. However, negative emotions can also be maladaptive, dysregulated, or situationally inappropriate that as a result can foster poor decisions, unhelpful behavioral responses, and interpersonal conflict. For example, ruminating on a minor annoyance in someone’s behavior can lead to anger, which can then escalate into verbal or physical conflict. Therefore, some emotions appear to be more intra- and interpersonally beneficial than others.
By incorporating mindfulness into this idea, it is possible to connect to what is really going on and stopping the cycle before conflict arises and your left feeling worse than how you began. With the ability to become aware of how you’re feeling in these negatively charged moments, we also have the ability to control the outcome of how you react to these moments. By using mindfulness, it helps facilitate a healthier and more regulated state of mind, so that when you are feeling dysregulated using mindfulness can actually help regulate your emotions and stop the cycle of unhelpful behaviors and possibly conflicts within yourself and with others.
The Science Behind Mindfulness: Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system’s purpose is to maintain the body’s core functions, including heart rate, breathing and other essential functions. The autonomic nervous system has two subsystems: the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. When the two subsystems are in balance, the body can utilize its resources in the most efficient manner. When there is an immediate need for resources, the autonomic nervous system redirects resources to cope with the needs. The sympathetic nervous system developed to allow for rapid response to a threat; the “fight-or-flight” reflex gave our primitive ancestors an advantage in dangerous situations. Key functions, such as heightened awareness, increased heart rate, and the release of hormones, particularly adrenaline, are prioritized, while nonessential functions, such as digestion and healing are deemphasized.
By incorporating Mindfulness, it can reboot our parasympathetic nervous systems back into a state of balance which includes normal functioning within our bodies. This has been shown to decrease anxiety, depressive symptoms and improve overall functioning when dealing with stress not only mentally and emotionally, but physical symptoms as well (Alpart, 2019).
Ways To Implement and How:
4-7-8 Breathing Method: Practices getting in touch and focusing in on your breathing
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for the count of 7 seconds
- Exhale to the count of 8 seconds through your mouth
- Repeat as many times as you would like or feel comfortable.
Color Breathing: Practices visualizing emotions through breathing
- Think of a color that is relaxing to you, some use a scenic view such as a sunset for more visualization
- Now, think of a color that represents anger, frustration, or sadness
- Close your eyes and as you breathe in, visualize in your mind that relaxing color or scenic view
- As you exhale the breath picture the color that represents that anger, frustration or sadness
- Repeat as many times as you wish with the same inhale/exhale colors.
5 Senses: Practices remaining grounded in times of dysregulation
- What are 5 things you can see?
- What are 4 things you can touch?
- What are 3 things you can hear?
- What are 2 things you can smell?
- What is 1 thing you can taste?
Alpart, J. M. (2019). Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Parasympathic Nervous System Measures, Anxiety, Stress and Coping in Adults (Doctoral dissertation, Chestnut Hill College).
Prazak, M., Critelli, J., Martin, L., Miranda, V., Purdum, M., & Powers, C. (2012). Mindfulness and its role in physical and psychological health. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 4(1), 91-105.
Malcoun, E. (2008). Unpacking mindfulness: Psychological processes underlying the health benefits of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program (Doctoral dissertation, Bryn Mawr College)