Mindfulness in Three Easy Steps

Recently, when I informed my 11 year old that he had to set aside his afterschool plans for fun with friends to attend his acting class his mouth tightened and tears filled his brown eyes. I was shocked to see this from a boy who loves this class and has never wanted to skip it. When I questioned his unusual reaction he said “I just have too much to think about. I can’t handle one more thing.” His mind was filled with the current happenings in his life, field day and other end of school celebrations, but his thoughts also went to future events. Day camp in a few weeks, his first time at sleep away camp, and the start of middle school were among the topics occupying his brain and increasing his stress. He described endless thoughts swirling in his head making it difficult to concentrate.

It occurred to me that learning about mindfulness might help him to better manage his thoughts and reduce his stress.

It’s funny, in my work as a therapist, I’m constantly teaching clients to use mindfulness skills, but I’ve never taught my own son. I broached to subject and he loved the idea.

First, what is mindfulness? It’s one of those words that’s thrown around, but many people don’t know what it means.

Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment with acceptance of the feelings, thoughts and physical sensations that may arise.

The opposite of mindfulness is MINDLESSNESS. When you go through life mindlessly, intense emotions, powerful sensations and agitating thoughts build up to the point where you can’t ignore them. It may feels as if they come out of nowhere, overwhelming you and leading you to do anything to get a moment of relief…have that cookie, smoke that cigarette, check that text. On the other hand, with mindfulness, you notice experiences in your body and mind bit by bit as they happen so you can better tolerate them.

The question is how do you practice mindfulness? In his Ted Talk, Dr. Judson Brewer, psychiatrist and mindfulness researcher, describes practicing mindfulness in three simple steps notice, get curious, let go and repeat:

  1. Notice: Become aware of thoughts, feelings and sensations as they happen. When you do this you will realize there is a constant stream of thoughts and sensations going on at all times. Don’t try to stop the flow. Just notice.
  2. Be Curious: Curiosity allows you to take a step back and observe what is happening in your mind and body just as a scientist would collect data during an experiment. The goal here to neither analyze nor avoid what occurs. Just be open to whatever comes up.
  3. Let go: Thoughts, feelings and sensations naturally enter our awareness, peak and dissipate. You have never had a thought, feeling or sensation that didn’t eventually go away. The key is to let it go. When you try to avoid, suppress or otherwise ignore it will keep coming back again and again.

When my son practiced being mindful of his thoughts he saw that he was worrying about many things he had no control over. As he continued to practice he was able to let the thoughts go, and he’s starting to feel much better.


Improve Your Life With DBT: Mindfulness


“Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment."  Jon Kabat-Zinn When I first heard the word mindfulness it sounded like new age nonsense.  I couldn’t understand how it could help with everything from decreasing depression to increasing concentration to effectively manage pain.   But when I began to practice mindfulness, it became very clear how beneficial it could be.  The fact is that the benefits of practicing mindfulness are endless.  But you can’t just read about it.  You have to try it.  In this on-going series about improving your life with DBT Skills, this week’s topic is mindfulness.


Here are a few ways mindfulness is helpful:

Mindfulness gets us out of our heads and into our lives.  So many of us have a tape playing in our heads that is chockfull of criticisms, judgments and worries. (I’m stupid, I don’t deserve happiness, nothing will every get better).  Mindfulness helps us stop believing the negative messages in our heads, stop comparing this moment to any other, stop thinking about what should be and just be present in this moment.  This is particularly important for those who struggle with depression because those negative messages can spiral into an episode of depression.

Mindfulness helps us focus on one thing at a time.  I know multi-tasking is all the rage.  We are texting while listening to music while watching TV while talking on the phone.  Our attention is so divided and superficial that we are not really experiencing our life.  When we focus on one thing in the moment we are much more engaged, much less distracted and much more effective.

Mindfulness helps us accept reality as it.  When we fight again reality we are fighting a losing battle and ultimately creating more suffering for ourselves.  Mindfulness teaches us to stop fighting that which we cannot change.

So the question is how to you practice mindfulness? Like any other skill we learn in life, mindfulness is best learned step by step.  Observing and describing are the teaching steps that get us to the goal of participating.

1.  Observe:  The first step is observing, just noticing your experiences right now...notice sensations in your body.  Notice smells, tastes, textures, sights, thoughts, feelings, anything that may be part of you current experience.  Just notice without judgment.

2.  Describe:  Now put words to your experiences.  The idea is to clarify what you have noticed to yourself and to others.  Stick to the observable facts, and stay away from judgments.

3.  Participate:  Once you have practiced observing and describing your experiences its time to participate.  Throw yourself fully into the moment.  Participate completely and unselfconsciously, if you’re eating just eat, if you’re dancing just dance.  If you watch children at play they are always participating.  They are not worried about how they look, or what they are doing later they are completely engaged in the moment.


Try the simple mindfulness exercises: 

Taste something mindfully (a mint, gum, a cup of tea).

Play with play dough or silly putty mindfully

Notice your thoughts mindfully (watch them float by like clouds, don’t become attached to any of them).  Remember thoughts aren’t necessarily truths.



Resolve To Improve Your Life With Meditation


I recently read an article about students at Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco who were dramatically changed when the school incorporated meditation.  This was sold to the students as “Quiet Time.” 

The results were amazing.  Suspensions, fighting and stress decreased significantly while test scores, attendance and happiness increased significantly.

This happened in a neighborhood where shootings were so common the school had it’s own full-time grief counselor.  Almost everyone knew at least one person who had been wounded or killed.

If meditation can change the lives of these kids, imagine what it can do for you.

During this time of year so many of us make New Years Resolutions.  Maybe you find you want to lose weight, quit smoking, manage debt, start a fitness program or reduce stress.  If you do, you’re not alone.  Those are some of the most common New Years resolutions.

The problem is most people fail when they make resolutions, but why?

Well the truth is we are creatures of habit, not creatures of change.  Even when the habit is unhealthy or unpleasant making a change is hard.  Still, don’t let that fact discourage you.  Change is possible.  You just have to be smart about it.

My suggestion is to put your mind and body in the most optimal condition before  you start to work on your resolution.  Learn to meditate like the Visitacion Valley Middle School students.

Twice a day (in the morning and in the late afternoon ideally) take about 10 to 20 minutes to sit quietly and clear your mind.  Do that regularly for a month then start to work on your New Years Resolutions one at a time.

I can’t promise you will be successful.  However, if it worked to turn around the lives of those struggling students it just might work for you.



If you are interested in learning meditation in a supportive group setting contact me about joining my Mindfulness Group for Women.

The Power of Eating Mindfully

“Mindful eating has the powerful potential to transform people’s relationship to food and eating, to improve overall health, body image, relationships and self-esteem.”  The Center for Eating Mindfully  

Take a moment and think about the old adage: “You are what you eat.”  If you really think about it, the role of food becomes deeply important.  Food nourishes the body, and gives you energy to live your life.  It creates the arms that hold your baby, the legs that carry you on your journeys, and all of the other miraculous parts that embody you.  When considered in this way how could you not mindfully choose, prepare and eat that food.


The term mindfulness simply means paying attention to the present moment, to what is happening in your mind, body and the environment, nonjudgmentally.  When practicing mindfulness you learn to slow down, to focus on one thing at a time and to accept reality as it.


You don’t have to make a huge time commitment to benefit from mindfulness practice.  All it takes is 3 minutes to reap the rewards.  Researchers have found that people who devote as little as 3 minutes a day to mindfulness practice, change rewire their brains and improve their lives.


Try being mindful for 3 minutes:  Take 3 minutes, and focus on your breath. Just notice what comes to mind, and let it go like a leaf floating down a river.  Notice what is happening in your body, in you mind, in your environment, etc.  If you get lost in thought just bring yourself back without judging yourself.


When considered mindfully, judgments about weight and food fall away.  Weight becomes just a number on the scale, just information to use in adjusting your eating and moving habits.  The adversarial relationship with food evolves into one of nourishment and pleasure.


Studies find that when people eat mindfully they eat less and enjoy the food more.  When you practice eating mindfully you change your perception about food.  Any previous conflicts with food fall away over time.  You begin to listen to your body's needs.  You learn to notice when you're hungry and when you're full.  You come to think in terms of balance and moderation rather than deprivation.  So foods you once vilified can now be enjoyed.


Try eating mindfully:  Prepare a meal.  Eat it slowly, putting your fork down between each bite. Notice the smell, taste, texture, temperature as you eat.  Notice any thoughts that pop up.  Just notice them, and let them go.  Notice any emotions that are evoked.  Notice any sensations in the body as you eat.  Particularly pay attention as your hunger begins to be satisfied.  Listen to your body and stop eating when you are full.  When you have completed your meal notice how you feel.


Of course, eating this way at every meal is not feasible for most people, and that’s okay.  You can incorporate mindful eating into your life in whatever way makes sense.  Some days that may mean taking a few mindful bites of breakfast before rushing out the door.  You don’t need to devote hours


By making at least small efforts everyday and larger efforts when you are able you can profoundly reshape your relationship with food.