Mindfulness is an ancient Eastern practice that has been adapted to contemporary Western society and shown to be an effective strategy for enhancing well-being and increasing psychological flexibility. Mindfulness can take many different forms, but at its core is about paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment (Jon Kabat-Zin).
If you already have a meditation or mindfulness practice, we encourage you to continue this excellent habit and discuss your experiences with your therapist. For those of you who are skeptical and/or beginners we hope to adress your concerns and iron out the obstacles in the way of you starting exercising this fundamental skill.
Lets Start by taking this psyc-info capsule on mindfulness…
here are some formal guided meditations (creative commons license). Try them and see which one is best suited for you, then download the one(s) you prefer on you phone to use during the day:
Brief 3-minute meditations for check-ins during the day:
Peter Morgan Male British Voice 3 minute meditation: https://www.marcosinai.ca/wp-content/uploads/audio/FreeMindfulness3MinuteBreathing.mp3
Zindel Siegal Male Canadian Voice 3 minute meditation. This meditation called the “Three Minute Breathing Space” was developed by Dr. Segal for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), a form of therapy specifically designed to prevent relapses of depressive episodes. The reason why I love this meditation is that it combines three forms of mindfulness meditation in one: Open Monitoring, Focused Breathing, and Body Scan.
In open monitoring, we take a break from our hectic lives and bring inward awareness to the present moment. We allow for the opportunity to take stalk of where we are right now. We redirect our mind’s eye from the external world to the thoughts that are trotting in our minds, our current emotions and our bodily sensations. It is also an opportunity to practice observing our mental objects without judgement, and with self-compassion.
Open monitoring is essentially a metacognitive exercise because it invites us to observe our own mental lives. When we observe ourselves, we can create a slight space between our emotions and ourselves and we can call upon this experience to regulate our emotions when they get out of hand.
In the “Mindfulness for Beginners” paragraph, we alluded to the fact that meditation that focuses on one’s breath is challenging and encouraged you, at least in the beginning, to look for activities in your everyday life to anchor your mind and practice mindfulness. It is true that anchoring your mind to the breath is difficult, but it also has tremendous advantages. For starters, it is very portable. It’s always there with you, in any situation or circumstance. Second, when you focus your attention on your breathing, you reconnect with your core; it has a grounding effect, not to mention that it often has the pleasant effect of relaxing us.
In the second part of the three-minute meditation, we practice redirecting our attention in a non-judgmental way. After a few seconds or a few minutes of focusing your attention on your breathing, chances are that your mind will wander away from your breathing. This is normal because our minds are always active and alert, some call it “my monkey brain” which captures its incessant motion. The goal of this exercise is not so much to stay focused on the breath for a long time, but rather to redirect our wandering mind back to the breath. The more we redirect our mind, the better we become at disengaging from negative thoughts and emotions. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this basic mental skills. In fact, I suspect that the better we become at redirecting our mind, the less we become vulnerable to mental illness. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to more easily disengage from worries about the future or ruminations about the past?
People who are depressed often complain: “I’m too much in my head”; it’s almost like people struggling with depression are cut off from their body. This observation has been supported by brain imaging studies comparing participant’s brain activation before and after MBCT. The results suggest that depression is associated with decreased activation in an area of the brain that receives inputs from the body (the insula), and that after successful treatment, remission (that is, lower or no depression) is associated with increased insula activation. In the last part of the Three-Minute Meditation, we attempt to reconnect with our body by becoming attentive to the sensations that emanate from each part of our body. As we move from body part to body part, we strive to adopt an attitude of non-judgmental curiosity toward the sensations (and pain) that come from the body.
After systematically paying attention to each part of the body, we are then invited to expand our attention outward, to the boundary between ourselves and the external world, and then to become more aware of the immediate environment around us.
Here is a video with Dr. Segal himself explaining why this meditation might be so effective: