That's why mindfulness does not work for you


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In a culture obsessed with personal care, the feeling of failure in the practice of mindfulness can engender unique feelings of frustration, resentment and even shame.

It sounds so simple: By calmly observing your thoughts, you stay open and curious about the present moment without judging the ideas that come and go in your consciousness. You expect to benefit from the benefits that, according to the research, mindfulness can offer, including reduced stress, increased attention, less emotional volatility, and increased satisfaction with the relationship.

Except that for some people, this is not what happens. They may find it hard to stay in the present moment, feel anxious after trying to stay alert and give up their practice. Such frustration often stems from a misunderstanding of how mindfulness works and what it is supposed to do, experts say. User expectations of mindfulness are sometimes much higher than the tool could provide.

"There is a lot of hype and buzz around mindfulness," says Alex Haley, assistant professor and head of the mindfulness program at the Earl E. Bakken Center, Center for Spirituality and Healing Research. University of Minnesota. "[People think] Wherever I turn it is something based on consciousness. I'm going to have all these expectations that mindfulness is a panacea, that it's a panacea. This is not it. There are limits to what he is able to do. "

These misconceptions can be brightened up with just a little research. Yet there is another more complex reason why some people think that mindfulness is not effective. An emerging area of ​​research seeks to determine how people who have experienced trauma may feel significantly worse during or after the practice of mindfulness. Researchers working to understand this dynamic think that it is still possible to use mindfulness approaches, with significant modifications.

Therefore, before giving up mindfulness or being ashamed that it does not produce the desired results, make sure to consider the following:

What does attention mean even?

Mindfulness has several definitions and these can be different depending on your teacher, whether you get tips or instructions from an app, a best-selling book, a YouTube channel , an Instagram influencer, a yoga class or news like this.

"Conscious awareness pays special attention to the experiences of the present moment with openness, curiosity and willingness to be."

The best-known definition of the lay practice of mindfulness may come from the researcher and the meditation teacher. Jon Kabat-Zinnwho said: "Mindfulness means to be attentive in a particular way: deliberately, in the present moment and without judgment."

Although Haley uses the Kabat-Zinn definition, he frequently invokes another from Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the UCLA Semel Institute Mindful Awareness Research Center: "Consciousness conscious pays attention to current experiences of openness, curiosity and willingness with what is. "

J. David Creswell, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who studies mindfulness, sees it as "open or current attention to your current situation."

Although different from one another, these definitions share a fundamental element: attention to the present. If you adopt one definition over the other, remember that it aims to help you understand how to practice mindfulness and that it makes sense to think about what it might leave out. This approach will help guide your practice and refine your expectations.

"They are not unicorns and rainbows"

Creswell says that misconceptions about mindfulness describe them as a tool for relaxation or "well-being".

"They are not unicorns and rainbows," he says. "I compare mindfulness meditation practices to aerobic practices for the brain. [Exercising] wrong, it's a little unpleasant, but at the same time, it builds muscle. With mindfulness, you build a stronger brain. "

This mental strength develops over time as you focus the brain's attention on the present moment and learn to observe positive, negative and neutral feelings without getting carried away. This is not an easy task for human beings, whose powerful thoughts and feelings can annihilate them from the present moment and propel them into a confusing stream of consciousness that makes people exhilarate, exhilarating, fulfilling or exhausting.

Some people believe that mindfulness is a sure way to avoid this overwhelming experience, but Creswell says this is not the case. Developing mindfulness skills can mean, for example, staying alert and curious about what happens during a panic attack. For Creswell, the goal is to cultivate "equanimity" in the face of uncomfortable experiences. This goal explains why mindfulness is so often associated with formal sitting meditation, which can cause physical discomfort and mental fatigue.

Why should it make me feel better?

Haley thinks that mindfulness works because it puts people in a different state of mind, in which they are actively aware of the events happening in the present moment and which are paying their attention. By gathering this information, they understand the situation better and can choose how to react. With regular practice, this can create a "positive feedback loop" that leads to more moments of attention, and our resulting choices become wiser and more compassionate, says Haley.

"It allows us to understand our experiences and, more importantly, to choose how we respond to the things we feel," said Haley. "If we notice really difficult things, we can say," I want to make a different choice ".

"If we notice really difficult things, we can say," I want to make a different choice ".

This sense of agency gives power, but it is important to know that mindfulness is a state of mind that comes and goes. Feeling calm and observant one day and at the mercy of his thoughts and emotions the next day does not mean that you have failed in mindfulness. This is just another opportunity to reinforce your skills or try again the next day.

Haley says that frustration and difficulty with mindfulness can come from too strict ideas about how to practice it. People generally believe that mindfulness means you have to practice a formal sitting meditation, but Haley says it's only an option. He sometimes recommends people to start with the movement by observing how their body feels when it is moving for long periods of time. Haley also relies on a slight variation of the "STOP" technique which consists of slowing down, breathing and prolonging the exhalation, observing what is happening in the body and considering the possibilities before you to proceed. This approach can cause people to remain alert and not to be reactive.

Creswell's own research revealed that there are three types of evidence-based mindfulness programs: an eight-week awareness-based stress reduction course founded by Kabat-Zinn and offered by accredited instructors from whole world; applications such as Headspace and Calm that use mindfulness-trained teachers; and mindfulness meditation. Creswell recommends exploring various options for finding programs and resources based on research, or a qualified teacher.

And if mindfulness still did not work for me?

Despite the obvious benefits of mindfulness, science still can not say who would benefit most or least from this practice. Creswell says it will take five or ten years before researchers can confidently answer this question. In the meantime, some scientists and meditation practitioners who are studying mindfulness question the possibility that mindfulness creates a risk of harm to some people who try it, especially those with backgrounds. of trauma.

David Treleaven, author of Mindfulness Trauma-Sensitive: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing, explains that for some people with trauma, the basic principles of conscious meditation practice, including focusing on breathing and staying still for periods of time, can actually exacerbate the symptoms of the trauma. Paying special attention to anxious or threatening feelings can increase the body's stress response to combat or theft, induce intrusive thoughts of harm or danger, and rapid rewinds of traumatic events.

For some, focusing on traumatic symptoms because they occur at the moment can lead to a physical immobilization similar to freezing on the spot. Treleaven describes this response as a "deeply entrenched survival response in humans".

A meditation teacher who is unaware of this dynamic may insist that staying mediatized and uncritical about these sensations is a necessary part of mindfulness meditation.

"People feel isolated and ashamed that a practice that seems to work for so many people does not work for them."

Although Treleaven thinks that mindfulness can be very beneficial for people with trauma, he disagrees with an approach that diminishes or downplays their unique experiences.

"People feel isolated and ashamed that a practice that seems to work for so many people does not work for them," he said. "They end up saying to themselves," I'm so overwhelmed that even meditation can not work for me. "

Treleaven advocates rather adjustments to mindfulness meditation. He urges people to take breaks, as needed, to continue long sessions or meditation periods of several weeks. He recommends that teachers do not touch students without their explicit permission. If you focus on your breathing, do not worry, Treleaven recommends finding an "object or anchor of attention," such as sounds or the sensation that your foot touches a cushion or floor. When sitting for long periods of time is uncomfortable for those who have experienced trauma freezing, Treleaven suggests attention that incorporates movement.

The goal, he says, is to create a consistent practice that builds mindfulness skills while reducing the risk of harm. It recommends that trauma victims seek mindfulness resources, courses and instructors with an informed approach to trauma.

"It's not necessary that it's a unique practice," says Treleaven. "We can modify it for people so that it allows them to have the feeling of succeeding."

Whatever the reason for which you have difficulty feeling the benefits of mindfulness, this flexibility is essential to start, continue or suspend a practice. Mindfulness, after all, is never perfect.

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