Mindfulness Isn't About Stress Reduction




In Peter Hess' "Psychologists Express Growing Concern with Mindfulness Meditation," which predates McMindfulness, and which is making the rounds again, we have reasonable criticism of what mindfulness has become. Allow me to bring some clarity to the discussion.


The Mindfulness Edge

There will always be people who capitalize on a trend and find ways to monetize it. Mindfulness is no different. Unfortunately, busy people looking to "get an edge," "reduce stress" and "train their brain" are likely to end up signing up for one of the well-oiled marketing machines that are constantly in their feeds making promises and offering "turnkey solutions."


What's missing from these scenarios is the truth that learning mindfulness is hard work. It can be painful and uncomfortable. And "progress" is slow. Practice makes progress. Not worksheets, not books, and not videos (all of which can have their place). Mindfulness training shouldn't be something you do on your own, left to your own devices to figure out what's happening and why. At the same time, it's something only you can do for yourself.


The Issues with Research

Furthermore, it's absolutely the case that the research on mindfulness (and by the way, what does that mean? What was the intervention? Was there training behind the intervention? Was it Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or did they do some basic attention or breathing practice?) doesn't say that across the board, mindfulness is beneficial for everyone. Mindfulness isn't necessarily beneficial for everyone and it can also be beneficial for you at one time in your life but not another. This is why there is an intake discussion.


As far as outcomes go, yes there's research attesting to decreases in chronic pain and anxiety and improvements in well-being, but I don't focus on that because I don't see it as the point. It's great if pain and anxiety are reduced, but it's more important to me that individuals begin to understand the one mind/body they will be traveling around in until the day they die.


Stress Reduction? Sort of.

And as for stress reduction, it's part of the name of the course created in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), which I am qualified to teach, and I don't see that name changing anytime soon. But it's a bit misleading. We all have a stress response, and that response exists to help us. We have evolved it as a life-saving measure. We're not aiming to get rid of our stress response in MBSR; our aim is to shift our relationship to it so it doesn't cause harm to our health and well-being.


The Real Benefit

The moment an 8-year old or a 70-year old realizes that they are not their thoughts or their emotions, or the moment that they are able to identify the moment emotions begin to arise in their body, is the real benefit of mindfulness training. Once that moment occurs, the 8-year old or the 70-year old is introduced to their actual, moment-to-moment experience. Once introduced, they soon see that they can be at choice with how they meet their thoughts, emotions, and sensations.


Mindfulness teaches you how to access your actual experience, and then how to work with it in a way that's healthy for you and not maladaptive. As Kabat-Zinn has said, "it's simple, but it's not easy."


NEW CLASSES begin in January and include:

  • Befriending and Understanding Your Emotions (ages 8-12)

  • Befriending and Understanding Your Emotions (ages 13-17)

  • Mindfulness for Parents

  • Mindfulness for Financial Planners

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Contact me at mary@marymartinphd.com with questions.


May you and all beings be at ease . . .

© 2020 by Mary Martin, Ph.D. 

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Jupiter, FL