The practice of Mindfulness has been explored for centuries dating back to the primal days of the Buddha however the teachings of mindfulness include Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism in addition to the Eastern religions and practices. The combination of Eastern and Western psychologies has become a common theme today amongst scholars alike. Within the biopsychosocial construct of health, evidence suggests that the benefits of self-care for personal well-being can be categorized into psychosocial perspectives, integrating them with “mind regulation, body regulation and breath regulation” (Chow & Tsang, 2007). Over the past years, the practice of mindfulness has become more popular within the mental health industry. Bioenergetics and mindfulness go hand in hand in many ways when utilizing the breath and alternate techniques for releasing past trauma that has been stored within the body. This leads to our seven energy centres within the body which hold physical and emotional symptoms that become imbalanced over time and require readjustment using mindfulness techniques. This paper will demonstrate how mindfulness techniques can be useful within three modalities: Talk Therapy, Bioenergetics and Energy Work.
Mindfulness has been described as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013) or also “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis” (Marlatt & Kristeller, 1999). By directing one’s attention in this way, it becomes possible to utilize meditation as an instrument to help assist with the delineation of anxiety disorders. During the practice of meditation perceptions, cognitions, emotions and physical sensations are recognized enabling the possibility of acknowledging and accepting the experience however it presents (Bondolfi, 2005). The objective of the practice in mindfulness interventions, is to learn how to observe nonjudgmentally the phenomena such as muscular tension or thoughts or signs and to come to a balance between the disagreeable symptoms and the acceptance of these symptoms (Bondolfi, 2005). These tactics can prove to be a successful tool for those who suffer from anxiety by bringing awareness to what is, culminating confrontation to intolerable negative occurrences, rather than avoidance (Linehan, 1993).
Mindfulness interventions can include a multitude of practices, but two of the most gratifying interventions are the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) by Kabat-Zinn (2013). MBSR and MBCT consists of a 2.5 hour once a-week sessions, for eight weeks plus a one half-day meditation retreat in Week 6. Participants are expected to engage in formal exercises consisting of sensory modalities (body scan), breathing, sitting walking, and eating meditations, as well as gentle stretching. Informal practice includes brief pauses involving voluntary shifting attention to present moment awareness which allows for the content of experience to move from thoughts, emotions, memories, mental images and physical sensations (Kabat-Zinn, 2013), and accepting the transient nature that is presented. It is also encouraged for participants to involve themselves with a minimum of 45 minutes for 6 days a week, of home practice guided meditations from pre-recorded sessions cultivating a comfort within the uncomfortableness. By looking at a metacognitive analysis of mindful interventions, it can be determined that MBSR and MBCT are established programs shown to weaken symptoms of stress and anxiety (Goldin & Gross, 2010).
Hayes (2002) called a metacognitive approach to mindfulness, cognitive diffusion whereby the accoutrement of thoughts is meant to change rather than trying to modify the style or regularity, positively resulting in being comfortable with the relationship to unpleasant experiences. One of the first studies presented within the efficacy of mindfulness and anxiety was implemented by Kabat-Zinn et al. (1992) where 22 subjects presenting General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or panic disorders, defined by the DSM-111-R, participated in the study. The participants engaged in an 8-week long MBSR program, resulting in a significant improvement in anxiety and depression both following a three-month follow-up and a three-year follow-up confirming the prolongation of the clinical improvement of anxiety and depression within the sample group (Bondolfi, 2005). MBCT is combined with parts of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to facilitate training for recovered depressive individuals to be coached in enhanced management skills with awareness to thoughts and feelings (Teasdale et al., 1995). Strauss et al. (2014) conducted a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis using randomised control trials. Their inclusion criteria included participants over the age of 18 years, to have mindfulness as an essential part of the MBI’s, to participate in daily practice between sessions and to have met full diagnostic criteria for a current episode of a DSM-IV anxiety or depressive disorder. They found that effects of MBI’s on individuals with anxiety and depressive disorders, were recommended and considered to be used for the relevant populations.
Mindfulness interventions (MI’s) aim to foster an increased wellness among individuals suffering from anxiety and depression. Creswell (2017) explains how MI’s such as mindful breathing, mindful walking, eating mindfully, mindful stretching and other variables responsible for present moment awareness, can have positive holdings on one’s mental and physical health. Rodrigues, Nardi & Levitan (2017) conducted a systemic review of literature covering a variety of MI’s using approaches in treatment of mood and anxiety disorders over a 10-year period. The searches were controlled from January 2006 through July 2016, with 524 articles, 24 were selected and 16 were included in the review. This review showed that there was a direct link between anxiety and mood disorders utilizing mindfulness- based interventions. One study conducted by Lenze et al. (2014) consisted of 18 participants taking part in the MBSR program over 12 sessions. The study exhibited that MBSR was effective in treating anxiety in older adults leading to decreased worry and improved memory. Furthermore, there was no significant difference in the results of the 12-week MBSR program and the 8-week program. The findings within the literature reviews were consistent with MI’s being positively linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety in older adults (Lang, 2013) in combination with MBSR being a coetaneous treatment for anxiety, depression and reducing suicidal ideation in older adults (Smith, Metzker, Waite, & Gerrity, 2015).
Mindful breathing is suggested to foster a helpful response to anxiety and stress. Brown and Gerbarg (2005) found that breathing heightens the autonomic and stress response systems and harmonizes the cortical areas. In addition, mindful breathing stimulates the limbic totality, bringing stimulation to emotional release and a further exculpation of prolactin and oxytocin, which enhances the feeling of calmness (Brown and Gerbarg, 2005). When working with meditation, the individual develops an awareness to cognitive control and attention awareness which in turn, enhances the individual’s concentration, reaction times and motor skills (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006). Thich Nhat Hanh (1999) shared that “breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts” (p. 98). One’s breath fluctuates up and down, and fast and slow when one is relaxed or stressed. Breathing becomes shallow or deep during emotional states such as anxiety, anger, or panic and it is reflected in one’s mental state as well as the somatic experience.
Sigmund Freud (1905) believed that breathing was relevant for neurotic patients to expel when beginning therapy. William Reich, a student of Freud’s, elaborated on this belief that the breath was a means to access repressed emotions that were sealed away in the muscles and structure of the body, confirming how deep the mind and body are connected. Breathing techniques may be used to specifically deepen one’s emotional experience by bringing repressed emotions and thoughts forward. By restricting breathing, one limits the ability to feel the intensity of one’s emotions. Reich moved on to incorporate massage and bodily manipulation in order to work with dysfunctional breathing which usually resulted with the patient shedding tears.
When considering psychology and traditions of the Buddhist there are three types of suffering: the physical which is the suffering of pain, psychological which is the suffering of change and the suffering of one’s existence which is spiritual. Within Buddhism, it is suggested that we do not get rid of pain but rather dispose of suffering. Within Buddhist customs, reflective practice is contemplated by resolving needless suffering, and meditation has been viewed as a conduit of this practice for more than 2,500 years. Mindfulness and having the stability of one’s attention, enables one to settle into the current moment to the way things ‘are’ leaving the judgement and thoughts behind. When one’s attention is brought to awareness, one becomes vulnerable to the ability of expanding one’s attention to a larger picture of the self and a heightened view of one’s sense of presence to the moment.
Chogyam Trungpa (1991) demonstrated how to practice mindfulness within psychotherapy which included several important steps: To settle oneself into a quiet and comfortable position followed by noticing one’s breath and bringing awareness to whatever thoughts or feelings arose. Then moving onto expanding the practice with a more open awareness, balance and lightness to what is present within the mind. Trungpa (1991) believed that as one took steps toward a formal practice of mindfulness and meditation, the many types of suffering would be displaced. A client who experienced pain in the physical, psychological or spiritual realms, had the benefit of bringing mindfulness practice into existence to transform any overwhelming pain into something manageable.
When most individuals come to a psychotherapist, they are looking to solve a problem or to bring relief to a certain issue. Anthony de Mello (1990) wrote: “It’s only when you’re sick of your sickness that you’ll get out of it. Most people go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist to get relief. I repeat: to get relief. Not to get out of it” (p. 12). When one becomes aware of rock bottom and is present to the truth of what the trigger may be, it becomes possible for one to find a way out of the web. De Mello (1990) shared that “when you fight something, you’re tied to it forever. As long as you’re fighting it you are giving it power. You give it as much power as you are using to fight it” (p. 15). When one looks at treating the symptoms of a problem the surface may only be dealt with, however, when one problem begins to surface and slowly untangle itself from the web, the individual begins to heal. Mindfulness may be a means to an end when working through a difficulty as it delivers a moment of understanding to a current reality. Mindful understanding, or self-understanding, allows one to view inside oneself and cultivate change, not just scratch on the surface.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who was devoted to developing theories and approaches to psychoanalysis, was responsible for the theory of human evolvement leading to his basic premise of psychotherapy; making the unconscious conscious (Freud, 1920, p. 291). Mindfulness explores the true nature of self which can be linked to the unconscious leading to the expression of what lies beneath our existing awareness. Ron Kurtz (1990) explains how mindfulness and psychotherapy share a link:
Mindfulness is a special state. It is self-observing. It is noticing one’s own present experience. It is also a special kind of availability, an openness of the mind, a willingness to allow oneself to be affected. Mindfulness is characterized by relaxed volition. It is a relaxed, open, undefended, quiet state. In mindfulness, one can be extremely sensitive. Small, precise, accurate inputs can get large reactions. This enables one to gather information about core material with an ease and speed impossible any other way. Mindfulness is established by: asking for it, describing it if necessary, but mostly by: speaking and acting in ways which invite it, that is, slowly, simply, and directly, with focused concentration, and without tension of judgment (p. 68).
The importance of bringing mindfulness to the client can be modeled by the psychotherapist within session. When the psychotherapist is present to the client, the client may further understand how critical it is to be mindful of the current moment. Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks (1993) shared: “The most important healing strategy is being present. For all of us, but especially for therapists, giving a person space to feel whatever he or she is feeling is the fundamental healing technique. Everything we do either enhances or interferes with our ability to be with what is going on in ourselves” (p. 103). When a therapist is present, the client discovers how to conquer their own presence of being, which supports an objective relationship with self. As the therapist becomes more present to the client and his/her needs, the client may learn how to become less defensive and more accepting to what is present. As the therapist becomes more present to the process of the client, situations such as transference and countertransference may become more obvious, resulting in a more supportive role overall for the client. It is not always the techniques that the therapist has acquired that supports the client’s development, it is “the quality of the therapeutic relationship that they develop…therapists heal through a process of genuine dialogue with their clients. The kind of a person a therapist is, or the ways of being that he or she models, is the most critical factor affecting the client and promoting change” (Corey, 1996, p. 5).
Mindfulness is beneficial for working with individuals who have personality disorders such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). Marsha Linehan (1993) who developed DBT, stated that “mindfulness skills are the vehicles for balancing ‘emotion mind’ and ‘reasonable mind’ to achieve ‘wise mind’” (p. 63). Linehan (1993) described DBT and mindfulness in terms of “what” and “how” skills that clients are encouraged to practice daily (p. 63-65). When discussing “what” skills, the attention is placed on observing, describing and participating (Linehan, 1993. P. 63). The “how" skills include “taking a non-judgemental stance, focusing on one thing in the moment, and being effective” (p. 64-65). Within the four DBT models that Linehan developed, mindfulness techniques were the core foundations that were recommended within the program. Linehan (1993) further used mindfulness skills when working with clients who had Borderline Personality Disorder. When clients learn how to make reference to their experiences, thoughts and feelings they are on the path to bringing more awareness to any difficult issues within their life. Linehan (1993) shared that “to a certain extent, being in control of one’s mind is actually learning to be in control of attention processes – that is, what one pays attention to and how long one pays attention to it” (p. 65).
Mindfulness allows one to recognize an experience as it is, not to interpret, understand or make sense of the experience. Simply to observe what is happening and not to figure out ‘why’ or analyze the information but simply ‘be with’ the current emotions. An example of a session may by observed as the client saying: “I notice that I am hurt”. There is no attempt for the therapist to figure out why the client is hurt or what may have caused the hurt feeling, or what to do with it, just to notice the emotion. The client may say “I feel constricted in my throat”, and the therapist would simply note this. The client once again may notice additionally that they are experiencing anxiety and panic and then to try to understand what it meant. The therapist would remind the client to stay with the awareness of noticing the information that was coming and to be present to the thoughts and feelings, nothing more and nothing less. This session would bring the client into the current moment of what thoughts and feelings arose and to breath along with the information, not to run away from the information by ruminating on a particular thought. By familiarizing a client with their present experience with respect to their thoughts and emotions, mindfulness becomes prominent within the session without judgement. When a therapist asks the client “what they notice” and to “turn toward their feelings” or to “notice where in their body they notice uncomfortableness” the client is not always at ease with this. The common way for an individual to work through a difficulty is to try to solve the problem and to make the emotions go away. Sometimes the client is aware of an emotion however, not aware of the ‘why’. When the feeling is further explored within session by bringing awareness to the “felt sense” within the body, the client learns over time there is a connection between the body and the emotions.
Eugene Gendlin (1986-1981) believed that the most important predictor of success in therapy was not what was completed in therapy, or what approach the psychotherapist used, but “…what the successful patients do inside themselves” (Gendlin, 1981, p. 4). Gendlin was responsible for bringing forward a six-step method for discovering one’s felt sense and drawing on it for personal development, called “focusing” (p. 4). Focusing was a self-therapy that proposed to increase one’s sensitivity to internal sensations which Gendlin called a “felt sense” (p. 4). These body sensations that one felt, appeared when they were stuck or triggered and trapped within personal problems, strained or uncertain situations. He was responsible for trying to teach individuals to learn how to become aware of any sensations present within the body, which was another way of introducing mindfulness before it had a formal name.
Once the client has cultivated more awareness to body sensations, thoughts and emotions, the therapist can lead the client to understand the context in which habitual patterns could be present. The client could then start to explore the ‘why’ and to look at the cause and effect or the larger context of self in relationship and of biological, cultural and social contexts. As clients become more in touch with their current experience, the time between a stimulus and a reaction lengthens. Clients have more awareness to report effectively what they are experiencing both physically and emotionally. If one were to just be in touch with their emotions and nothing more, the feelings would repeat over and over with no conclusion. When one learns how to discern between emotions and body sensations, one is able to understand more and transform old patterns. When the client increases their self-knowledge of their internal territory through insight and understanding, insight and understanding will increase bringing awareness to past and present experiences, resulting in fewer triggers. Ron Kurtz (2004) shared that, “core beliefs can be changed once they are made conscious. New beliefs can be established and stabilized, old beliefs can lose their influence. This is what the therapist helps the client to do” (p. 6).
Alexander Lowen, a student of Reich’s from 1940 to 1953, developed Bioenergetics. Lowen (1965) wrote that people, “are afraid to feel their sadness, their anger and their fear. As children, they held their breath to stop crying, they draw back their shoulders and tighten their chests to contain their anger, and they constricted their throats to prevent screaming…the suppression of any feeling results in some inhibition of respiration” (p. 2). Bioenergetics bodywork assists with the development of bringing awareness or mindfulness to what is current within one’s emotions, thoughts and body sensations. To begin the process of release, one begins with the discharge of the breath as this helps bring the individual out of their head and out of their thoughts, and into the current moment by focusing on body sensations, movement and patterns of tension. Lowen (1965) shared “the most important reason for diminished respiration is the need to cut off unpleasant body sensations” (p. 147). Through bioenergetics, the connection to words, emotions and body sensations allows for awareness that may not have been present in the past. Lowen (1965) developed particular exercises and positions to assist patients in deepening their breathing. Bioenergetic breathing consists of opening one’s mouth and throat without using any intentional control of air movement. The outcome of the breathing session which could last anywhere from two to ten minutes, may be a cathartic experience which may be expressed through hitting or punching a pillow. Bringing awareness to the internal process allows for the release of stored energy where there may be patterns of behaviour that are not serving well. This leads to more awareness of the body and the individual chakras that may have become blocked over time.
Our seven major energy centres can become blocked, closed or imbalanced throughout our life. When one or more chakras become non-responsive to the natural flow of energy within the body, the chakras will begin to compensate by directing more energy to the chakras that are more functional. Mindfulness through the chakras brings an awareness of one’s energy body and an understanding that one’s thoughts, emotions and body sensations can be worked through with focus. When a chakra is over stimulated or has shut down, there may be serious repercussions to one’s mental and physical balance. It is necessary to bring the chakras into balance by testing each one and bringing mindfulness techniques forward. One technique to assist in balancing the chakras, is self-guided meditation. An example of this meditation can begin with the client bringing awareness to their sitting position noticing how the spine is erect but not stressed and how one’s legs are comfortable with hands gently resting at one’s sides. Once breathing has begun, deeply and evenly, the client is to begin visualizing each chakra, from the root to the crown, using colour associations of each chakra to bring more guided awareness to the meditation. The root chakra is red, the sacral is orange, solar plexus is yellow, the heart is green, the throat is blue, the third eye is indigo and the crown chakra is violet. Visualize each chakra and picture energy flowing into and through the chakra until one can see vibrant energy passing through which will take several minutes. To assist with bringing awareness to one’s chakras during the day, one may use the following guides:
Root Chakra: When walking during the day, one can become aware of the earth and walk barefoot, noticing the pattern of each step and slowing it down, noticing roots from the earth connecting each foot to the earth.
Sacral Chakra: Using all of one’s awareness to senses; noting sounds, smell, touch, sight and taste. To mindfully slow each process down and use the senses to bring a connection to this chakra.
Solar Plexus: Bringing a focus to allow space within this chakra and slow down any thoughts that may arise.
Heart Chakra: Practicing gratitude daily and before bed each night naming the acts of kindness that have been bestowed on one.
Throat Chakra: To practice listening without responding, reacting or judging others or self. Being mindful of tone and level of voice.
Third Eye Chakra: To be silent and notice what energy is around and to watch one’s thoughts and behaviour.
Crown Chakra: To bring awareness to one’s home and the way one lives noticing interactions with others bringing mindful love and light forward.
Eventually, with mindfulness, clients may have the capacity to be in the present moment with the possibility to notice and name their emotions. Over time learning how to share the awareness of thoughts, emotions and body sensations can begin a process to draw connections between external incitement and internal thoughts, feelings and sensations resulting in cause and effect. When an individual has the capacity to bring mindfulness into a present situation, their ability to be more objective and observe their own and other actions and reactions, assists in a more stable relationship to both self and other. When one has the ability to experience strong emotions and be in the moment with what shows up, and not react but respond, one is capable to be in the mastery of their life with few attachments. Releasing past trauma through the body using bioenergetic techniques including the breath, assists in regaining a connection to the true self. In addition, mindfulness techniques assist in balancing the seven main energy centres or chakras within the body resulting in bringing harmony to one’s emotions and self.
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