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Mindfulness and Meditation in Psychotherapy

Mindfulness is not an intervention, it is a practice; a way of living. Over the past couple of decades, this term has gained increasing popularity and significance in psychotherapy, healthcare, and general vocabulary in the Western world. But, what does it mean?

The word mindfulness simply means paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, physiological sensations, and your surrounding environment, right now, in the present, with kindness, rather than judgment. In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn began researching and developing context for this term in the Western hemisphere, which derives from the Buddhist tradition as a way of purposefully and intentionally being aware; who we are, the reciprocal influence between individuals, people around them, and the environment, all without judgment.

To be aware of who we are, and accept this as reality, frees us to see ourselves and our lives through a lens of what is, not what should be. On your path toward knowing and accepting yourself for the whole you, you will discover that many of those shoulds are actually based in shame for not meeting expectations that were, in fact, unrealistic in the first place.

Accepting what is and having realistic expectations is not suggesting that we do not have expectations for outcomes, or that we do not change that which causes us problems. On the contrary, seeing through a mindful lens helps us determine what we can and cannot control, allowing us to devote our energy and focus to the areas that need adjustment, and can be altered. Imagine a chiropractor. When you experience pain, the chiropractor makes small adjustments to what can be changed in your body. Over time, these adjustments realign your body to create a better, more efficient flow. Mindfulness is similar to chiropractic medicine, in that you are making adjustments for yourself to reach a better flow of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which allow for acceptance and less stress over what you cannot change.

Mindfulness Practices

Yes, mindfulness is a state of mind and a practice. Like most new endeavors, and anything worth achieving, it takes practice, which can be quite challenging in the beginning. Some of you may have heard that to love others, one must first love himself/herself. This principle applies to creating and maintaining changes in your life. Be kind to yourself, and allow space to be kind to others. Sometimes what we want is clouded by all of the obstacles causing us stress. By incorporating a few practices into your daily/weekly routines, the path becomes much clearer and more accessible. Much of the growth and development you will experience in our sessions are based in mindfulness, with or without meditation and yoga. These practices simply help you incorporate kindness, awareness, and acceptance into your daily lives outside of therapy sessions.

Meditation is a great way to promote mindfulness and healthy living. There are several recordings for guided meditations on the internet, mobile apps, and even on this website. So, if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed, and don't know where to start, try one of the many audio clips available. As you become aware of self, you become aware of what is healthy for you, and what is not. Find a time in your schedule that works for you. When learning this process, do not try forcing meditation into a five minute window between appointments or during a time that feels rushed. Perhaps try setting aside five to 15 minutes in the morning or in the evening, when you can be still and silent, with minimal to no distractions. Remember, this is for your benefit, so be kind and give yourself the time and space to meditate.

Yoga is another great way to incorporate mindfulness into your life. Despite what you may think, yoga is not just for young women or super flexible people. Everyone can benefit from its rewards. It's more than stretchy pants, flexibility, and poses. Yoga is a practice that teaches us focus, clarity, and balance. Through mental and physical processes in yoga, we learn to breathe through discomfort, make necessary adjustments, and keep moving forward. We learn that we do not have to retreat from pain or strive only for perfection. We learn our strengths and limitations, as well as how to increase the former while pushing through the latter. Like meditation, yoga takes practice, and is a process. Find time and space that work for you. You may consider joining a class or following one of the many videos available online.

Also worth noting, we store emotions in our bodies. For those who have experienced trauma or repress your negative experiences in some way, you may notice that certain poses bring up emotions or experiences that were uncomfortable, or seemingly impossible to deal with in the past. By incorporating yoga into therapy, we provide a safe space for you to listen to what your body is telling you, address these repressed memories, feelings, or experiences, and move passed them in a healthy and lasting way. No longer will your past show up to haunt you in your present. You can live for now, and create new enjoyable experiences.

Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and other Martial Arts

As the mindfulness buzz spreads in popularity, westerners are paying more attention to ancient traditions and practices with refreshed lenses. Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and even other martial arts, like Aikido, are differentiated from the action-packed forms we see in movies, which involve attacks and fighting styles. Instead, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, specifically, are low-impact and quite slow, on purpose. The intention is to promote balance, strength, stamina, and focus, not fighting. They have been referred to as "mindfulness in motion," thanks to their very purposeful and intentional movement, bringing focused awareness into the body in its present state, without judgment. These traditional flowing martial arts have significant health benefits, including strengthening muscles, improving balance and flexibility, lowering blood pressure. They have even shown to have mental health benefits, including stress-reduction and improved focus.

Mindfulness in your daily life is not limited to sitting meditation and yoga. Many practices, when done from this lens, can be meditative, and increase your mindful practices. Mindful walking, being in nature, some sports, yoga, meditation, and even eating mindfully can all be effective and practical ways of implementing a mindfulness practice into your life.

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