Mindfulness and meditation are getting so much hype nowadays! The term mindfulness is used in so many different contexts. At a certain point when a word means everything it can seem like it really means nothing. So, what do the practices of mindfulness and meditation actually look like? How does meditation or mindfulness actually promote change? And how is mindfulness relevant to therapy?
We live in a society that is so rushed and encourages us to manage multiple tasks at once. However, research shows: multitasking isn’t a thing our brains are capable of doing and actually decreases our enjoyment in what we’re doing (Park, Xu, Rourke, & Bellur, 2019). With so much societal encouragement to keep doing, it can be hard to slow down. That’s where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is the intentional attunement to all parts of our experience: our thoughts, feelings, and sensations in our bodies. Mindfulness is a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute practice.
For some, it might look like noticing your thoughts wandering in a meeting. For others, it might be savoring every bite of a meal--intentionally chewing and noticing all the flavors of your food. Mindfulness might be noticing what’s happening in your body when you’re fighting with your partner and then choosing how to proceed with the conversation--or pausing the conversation for later. It might be noticing you need a stretch break after a morning of working on the computer; or recognizing that tight feeling in your chest relaxes when you call up a friend.
Mindfulness is a unique practice for each individual--just like psychotherapy. Mindfulness-based psychotherapy is a dynamic process that aims to promote awareness of the connection between your thoughts, feelings and physiological responses. At Mindful NYC our clinicians pull from a wide range of tools to support you in being more aware of what is happeninging in your mind and body.
Ok, so if that’s what mindfulness is, what’s meditation? Meditation is also a practice and will look different for each individual. Traditionally, meditation is the seated, formal practice of mindfulness: a meditator will select an allotted time to sit in an upright posture, lower their eyelids, focus on their breath, and notice their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations--without judgement.
Research shows that the formal process of meditating actually promotes the micro-practice of mindfulness (Hernández, Suero, Barros, González-Mora & Rubia, 2016). Without getting too scientific: your brain produces electrical impulses all the time--your brain is never not working. What you think about and consciously notice going on around you is only a portion of your whole experience. Your brain is working hard to filter out unimportant stimuli.
When you close your eyes your brain begins to produce more alpha activity. Alpha is associated with calmness and relaxation. When you close your eyes and focus on your breathing: your brain begins to produce more theta activity. We’re still learning so much about the brain, but generally speaking, theta is associated with: relaxed attention, memory/emotional integration, and focus. When we meditate our brains produce more alpha and theta which leads to being more relaxed, aware, attentive, and focused (Lomas, Ivtzan, Fu, 2015).
Over time, the practice of mediation and the neurophysiological processes it promotes changes how your brain processes information and makes it easier to be more mindful (Dentico, et al., 2016). Working with a mindfulness-based psychotherapist is a collaborative process, pulling from a wide range of tools, aiming to connect your mental, emotional, and physical experiences. All-in-all, the combination of mindfulness, meditation, and psychotherapy can help you slow down, relax, and notice more of what’s happening in your mind, body, and environment.
Dentico, D., Ferrarelli, F., Riedner, B. A., Smith, R., Zennig, C., Lutz, A. Tottoni, G., & Davidson, R. J. (2016). Short Meditation Trainings Enhance Non-REM Sleep Low-Frequency Oscillations. PLoS ONE, 11(2), 1–18. https://doi-org.tcsedsystem.idm.oclc.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0148961
Hernández, S. E., Suero, J., Barros, A., González-Mora, J. L., & Rubia, K. (2016). Increased Grey Matter Associated with Long-Term Sahaja Yoga Meditation: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study. PLoS ONE, 11(3), 1–16. https://doi-org.tcsedsystem.idm.oclc.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150757
Lomas T, Ivtzan I, & Fu, C. (2015). A systematic review of the neurophysiology of mindfulness on EEG oscillation. Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews, 57, pp.401-410. Retrieved from 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.09.018
Park, S., Xu, X., Rourke, B., & Bellur, S. (2019). Do You Enjoy TV, while Tweeting? Effects of Multitasking on Viewers’ Transportation, Emotions and Enjoyment. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 63(2), 231–249. https://doi-org.tcsedsystem.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/08838151.2019.1622340