What does it mean to practice mindfulness?
Our day-to-day lives are usually so busy that it can be hard to make time to focus on ourselves. However, Drs. Bengi Melton and Mark Yurewicz say it’s important to take at least a few minutes out of the day to rejuvenate our minds and bodies. To do this, they recommend practicing mindfulness.
“In general, mindfulness means you are focusing on the present moment and practicing non-judgmental acceptance,” said Yurewicz, a medical resident in psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine. “When you say you are going to practice mindfulness, this can mean different things. You may be doing a specific practice; you may be practicing once a day or three times a day. Some people will even go on retreats where they will do this for ten days. The level of physical activity is also variable.”
There are several categories under which different mindfulness practices fall. The categories include:
- Focused vs. open-monitoring: Focused practice is one in which you focus on a specific technique such as breathing. Open-monitoring is when you make yourself open to all physical experiences in the body.
- Generative: This is the practice of generating a specific image or mental state.
- Contemplative: This practice involves contemplation of certain positive emotions.
- Movement: Movement mindfulness can be practiced through Thai Chi or yoga.
- Relaxation: This can be done through techniques like muscle relaxation.
The health benefits of practicing mindfulness are numerous. Practicing can help improve cardiovascular health, digestive issues, manage chronic pain, and cognitive abilities in older adults. Additionally, it can help decrease the severity and frequency of menopause symptoms.
Melton, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor, explained that mindfulness can also be applied in clinical settings.
“We are teaching patients to go from being in a “doing mind,” which is what we do on an everyday basis, to being aware of their own thoughts, feelings, sensations, and later on to learn how to be in a “being mind,” said Melton. “It’s easier said than done. It requires a lot of practice, willingness and openness to try it out.”
Two specific mindfulness therapies Melton uses are dialectical behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. Through dialectical behavioral therapy, the patient practices mindfulness skills repeatedly so that when they do everyday activities they can easily connect with being mindful. This can help with anxiety, stress reduction, and depression because patients become more aware of their feelings, thoughts and sensations.
In acceptance and commitment therapy, Melton teaches concepts like radical acceptance, which is a form of taking situations as they are without judging, altering, approving or disapproving them.
“Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches patients to be aware of their thinking and language patterns, judgements, and labeling things as good, bad or neutral,” she said.
To schedule a visit with the Baylor Psychiatry Clinic, call 713-798-4857 or request an appointment online.
-By Julia Bernstein