I specialise in teaching clients the art of mindfulness: a skill that encourages present-moment being-in-the-world for the purpose of reducing internal and external suffering. Mindfulness is an evidence-based practice that stems from Eastern teachings, and is growing in its understanding and application in Western psychotherapy.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a skill that enables the individual to be aware of the present moment, including one’s internal and external experiences. Whilst we are conditioned within a society that values multi-tasking and problem solving, it becomes easy to get caught up in our thoughts—particularly about the past and the future—by which we lose touch with the immediate world around us. When we lose contact with the present, we run the risk of separating ourselves from experiences that may enrich our lives. On the converse, an example of mindlessness is when we find ourselves on automatic-pilot, or simply going through the motions. Slowing down and being mindful enables us to notice what information our minds and feelings are presenting in a situation, which may help influence our actions rather than propel us to react in ways that may take us further from what we actually want. ACT provides the therapist with a litany of mindfulness exercises that clients are encouraged to practice, all for the purpose of enhancing one’s awareness that is the catalyst for growth.*
*This passage is excerpted from my published article titled "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): Be Present, Open Up, and Do What Matters Most," The Clinical Update [for the California Society for Clinical Social Work], Volume XLIV, Issue 2, September 2012. You may find the full article by clicking on the link.
A common misconception about mindfulness practice is that is can only be done in total silence, without any interruptions, perhaps with the lights off or dimmed, and if any thoughts arise during this time, then you have totally and utterly failed.
Again, this is a total misconception. In fact, mindfulness may be practiced anytime, anywhere. Given that mindfulness simply means being aware of the present moment, then practicing mindfulness can be as simple as noticing your breathing, even if for a few seconds. Furthermore, it's OK for thoughts and feelings to come and go as they please. Being able to notice these thoughts and feelings, then return your focus back on to the present moment - even if you do this a hundred times - is mindfulness. In fact, there are several ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Try this exercise:
Informal mindfulness exercise:
Mindfulness of Domestic Chores
Pick a chore that you normally try to rush through or distract yourself from, such as ironing clothes, washing dishes, vacuuming floors - something mundane that you have to do to make your life work. Aim to do this chore as a mindfulness practice. For instance, when you wash the dishes, notice the the sounds of the water as it flows out of the faucet, the feel of the water pressure on your hands, the change in the temperature of the water. Notice the firm feeling of the dishes, glasses, cutlery, any food bits remaining that you brush away with your hands. Notice the smell of the dish soap. Feel the steam of the water rise up against your face...
If boredom or frustration arises, acknowledge it, and return your attention back to the task at hand. Similarly, if a thought arises, acknowledge what distracted you, and, again, return your attention back to what you are doing. There is no one right way to do this. Even if you get distracted a hundred times, that's OK. Again, the mindfulness practice is about coming back to the present moment, no matter how often.
Recommended mindfulness books and resources:
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mindfulness by Anne Ihnen, MA, LMHC and Carolyn Flynn
The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, MD
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Germer, PhD
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness by Arnie Kozak, PhD
The following links have useful resources that cater to experiential learning and practice of mindfulness. Click on the link for more information:
Russ Harris, MD resource pages:
Kelly Wilson, PhD workshop materials: