NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Self Reflection and Basic Mindfulness Techniques

In my previous article, Creating Time for Self Reflection: Mindfulness, I began a discussion about mindfulness as one way to engage in self reflection and included some of the benefits of mindfulness.

Self Reflection and Basic Mindfulness Techniques

In this article, I'll continue the discussion by providing some basic ways that you can begin to develop a mindfulness practice on your own, if you haven't done so already, so that you can reap many of these benefits.

The Roots of Mindfulness Practice
Although mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, there are many other religions and spiritual practices that include some form of prayer or meditation technique that can be considered mindfulness techniques.

The Roots of Mindfulness:  Buddhism

But you don't have to be religious or even consider yourself to be a spiritual person to practice mindfulness in your everyday life.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, helped to bring attention to mindfulness practices to the general public.

The research that he conducted among patients showed that mindfulness practice can lead to physical and psychological improvements.

Basic Mindfulness Techniques
I think that many people, who aren't familiar with mindfulness techniques, believe that mindfulness techniques tend to be mysterious esoteric practices that would be difficult to learn and, as a result, they feel discouraged about learning to engage in mindfulness.

But, as I mentioned before, practicing mindfulness doesn't have to be connected to any form of religion or spirituality (although it can be), and it doesn't have to be complicated at all.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, so I'm going to begin with very basic techniques that can help you to get started.

Mindfulness and the Mind-Body Connection
One of the reasons why I love using mind-body oriented approaches to therapy, like EMDR, clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing in my psychotherapy practice in NYC, is because I believe that the mind-body connection is crucial for overall health and well being, and these types of therapy all have in common that they focus on the mind-body connection.

Mindfulness and the Mind-Body Connection

Since my focus in this article is how you can begin to develop basic mindfulness techniques on your own, I'll begin with the simplest techniques that don't involve attending psychotherapy.

A Basic Mindfulness Technique:  Noticing Body Sensations
One basic way to practice mindfulness is to just notice the sensations in your body.

To practice mindfulness in this way, you don't need to know how to meditate and you don't even need to know anything about the mind-body connection.  You just focus on your body.

A Basic Mindfulness Technique:  Noticing Sensations in Your Body

Here are some simple steps:
  • Focus on the physical sensations that you're experiencing right now.
  • Notice what you're sensing in your body without judgement, which means just noticing.  This can include noticing an itch, a tingling sensation, a pain, a sense of fullness or emptiness in your stomach, muscle tension, scratchiness in your throat, and so on
  • If you like this technique, you can start at the crown of your head and do a slow body scan from head to toe and just notice what you feel--again without judging it.
  • If you get distracted, it's okay.  Just bring your attention back to your body.
Another Basic Mindfulness Technique:  Noticing Your Emotions in Your Body:
After practicing noticing body sensations, if you find you enjoy this, you can add noticing your emotions in your body.

A Basic Mindfulness Technique:  Noticing Your Emotions in Your Body

This is a technique that I use with clients in my psychotherapy private practice with EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis, but you can also do it on your own (see my article:  Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Connection to the Unconscious Mind).

Basic steps to noticing your emotions in your body:
  • Begin by noticing body sensations (as outlined above).
  • After you do a body scan from head to toe, begin to notice where you feel emotions in your body without judgment.
  • If you're new to this, it's easier to start by noticing certain sensations in your body and beginning to tentatively identify which emotions this might be related to.  So, for instance, if you sense tension in your jaw, tension in your shoulders or clenched stomach muscles, ask yourself what emotions might be connected to these sensations.
As you practice noticing emotions in your body, you will become better at identifying these emotions and using this information to develop a greater sense of self awareness.

One of the keys to practicing these mindfulness techniques is being nonjudgmental.  So, if you find yourself beginning to berate yourself for feeling certain sensations or emotions, just notice that you're doing this and, if you can, allow those judgmental thoughts to float away.

Another Basic Mindfulness Technique:  Notice Your Cravings
Noticing your cravings can help you to become more mindful of your cravings, whether it's a craving for food, alcohol, drugs, overspending or whatever it is.

A Basic Mindfulness Technique:  Notice Your Cravings

Whatever the craving is, if you just notice it first, rather than immediately giving in to your craving, you'll soon discover that cravings often come and go.

Basic steps to notice your cravings:
  • Begin by doing a body scan, as outlined earlier in this article.
  • Notice, without judgment, where you're experiencing these cravings in your body (mouth, stomach, etc).
  • Rather than denying or actively trying to get rid of the craving, just allow it to be.  If you don't indulge in the craving, it often just passes.
  • Notice what it feels like in your body and emotionally to have the craving come and go.
Another Basic Mindfulness Technique:  Mindfulness Meditation
There are many ways to practice mindfulness meditation, so I'm going to focus on a basic way to get started.  After you've practiced for a while, you can find your own way to practice.

A Basic Mindfulness Technique:  Mindfulness Meditation

Basic steps to practice mindfulness meditation:
  • Find a quiet place and time where you won't be interrupted for at least 15 minutes (you can increase the time, if you like, as you develop your mindfulness meditation practice).
  • Sit quietly and notice your breathing.
  • Notice what it feels in your body to breathe in and what it feels like to breathe out.
  • Allow your thoughts to come and go without judging them or trying to hold onto them (this includes both "negative" thoughts as well as positive thoughts).
  • If you get distracted, bring your attention back to your breathe again.
Later on, if you like mindfulness meditation, as I mentioned, you can develop your own unique way of practicing.  But, in the beginning, this is all you need to do to start.

Practicing Acceptance, Self Compassion and Being Nonjudgmental
Allowing judgmental thoughts to come and go can take practice.

Self Reflecting and Basic Mindfulness Techniques:  Acceptance and Self Compassion

When you start practicing mindfulness techniques, you might need to allow these thoughts to come and go many times.  That's okay.  It usually gets easier over time with practice.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people have problems getting started with basic mindfulness techniques on their own because they feel overwhelmed with emotional problems.

If you're feeling emotionally overwhelmed, you're not alone.

Seeing a licensed mental health practitioner can help you to overcome your problems so that you can live a more fulfilling life.

Seeing a psychotherapist who has a mind-body oriented approach to therapy can help you to work through your problems in a more holistic way.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.