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Mindfulness, from a therapeutic, secular perspective is a conscious awareness of our present moment. This includes openness and non-judgment about the experience. It is often coupled with other types of therapy, such as Cognitive-based Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Mindfulness therapy is not concerned with relaxation, though that might be a result of certain practices. The focus is on increasing our awareness of the thoughts, feelings, and actions that hinder our progress. When we are better able to do that, we can engage with those aspects of ourselves, learn to tweak our language, and choose how to respond.
During mindfulness meditation, an expert practitioner guides a person to focus on the present moment. This is not always an easy task. Often, our mind wanders. To combat this, the practitioner instructs participants to accept the wandering mind without judgment. She also might tell the person to notice where their mind went before reeling it back to the present.
Mindfulness-based approaches are most commonly delivered through the use of mindfulness meditation, through mindfulness may be achieved through a variety of techniques. During mindfulness meditation, the practitioner will typically guide the person or people in therapy to direct their focus on the present moment. The participants are trained to zone in on a particular phenomenon. If the participants become aware that their thoughts are drifting away from the present, they are encouraged to take notice of where they are and what they are doing before bringing their attention back to the present moment, without reacting or judging themselves.
Therapists can help those in treatment better understand and address the emotions and physical sensations associated with their cognitions.
Many types of mindfulness meditation are practiced, in and out of clinical settings. Mindfulness meditation is a popular technique used to achieve mindfulness, but mindfulness can be achieved without meditation. Once the knowledge of mindfulness practices is developed, those in treatment are usually encouraged to integrate mindfulness into their daily lives, especially in non-clinical environments. Mindfulness may be especially important during emotionally overwhelming experiences, as the practice can often help individuals maintain a sense of control.
Gentle yoga movements and sitting, walking, or mountain meditations may be used in mindfulness approaches as a way of heightening awareness of physical sensations. Verbal cues help the person in therapy maintain awareness of movement, breathing, and sensations throughout several different exercises. Breathing exercises, body scan meditations, and guided imagery are also often used in mindfulness approaches. Eventually, the person in therapy is encouraged to practice mindfulness in daily life. This continuation of the therapeutic process allows the individual to observe, explore, and experience mindfulness in a non-clinical environment and later examine, in session, the effects and obstacles encountered during daily life. The combined observations and examination can often become a catalyst for behavior and thought modification.
Mindfulness is often incorporated into other therapeutic modalities as part of an integrated approach to treatment. Even small negative thoughts can accumulate and/or spiral out of control, leading to concerns such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Mental health professionals have come to realize, however, that mindfulness can be of great benefit, as it can enable people to become better able to separate themselves from negative thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations that may be present, often before they become too overwhelming. Those who are able to achieve this state of awareness may find it easier to then implement other therapeutic strategies to address any potentially harmful cognitions in order to prevent negative effects. Regular mindfulness practice is believed to help further psychological insight and emotional healing, over time.
Mindfulness-based interventions, generally aimed at relieving symptoms of stress, mental health concerns, and physical pain, can be used to address and treat a range of symptoms and concerns.