Mindfulness is defined as the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness.
“Through mindfulness we become aware of our thoughts, emotions and even our somatic sensations in the present moment,” says Dr. Teresa Lanza di Scalea, psychiatrist at UT Health Austin. Dr. Lanza di Scalea’s interests center on the treatment of psychiatric disorders and emotional challenges in women during reproductive transitions across the lifespan such as the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum, and the menopausal transition, as well as mental health implications of gynecological and breast cancer.
She provides mental health services, which include psychotherapy where mindfulness is often taught as a tool for coping with health conditions as well as the challenges of everyday life.
Dr. Lanza di Scalea explains that the concept of mindfulness dates back centuries ago and lead to the development of mindfulness-based psychotherapy which is a viable treatment tool to help with several clinical conditions, for example anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic pain, and overall emotional well-being. The idea behind mindfulness is to learn accepting our present experience in a focused and relaxed way, in both pleasant and unpleasant moments.
Valuing the present moment can be a challenge in the midst of the demands of a busy ordinary life. This is very pertinent to women who are, more often than not, in a position to juggle different roles. Often times we may easily find ourselves dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. We may think we’re too busy to meditate for a minute, but in fact if we took a few minutes to do just that, the time we spend doing tasks would actually be more productive. Meditating in the moment has been proven to boost memory capacity, increase information-processing speed, and decrease distractibility (What are the Benefits of Mindfulness, APA). As every habit, what we practice grows stronger and will become easier and easier until we learn to be mindful in everything we do, not only during minutes dedicated to meditation.
Set aside just a few minutes to sit quietly and focus inward. Dr. Lanza di Scalea explains that there are various examples of mindfulness practice exercises that can be learned. For example, paying attention to even the simplest body sensations such as the air moving in and out of our lungs and the feeling of our heart beating in our chest. If distraction will arise, we should not be surprised or beat ourselves up. Instead, we should just let our thoughts wander and try to notice when they do. The practice of noticing will help us to slowly incorporate our heartbeat and sensations along with our thoughts to keep us grounded in the moment.
Along with being present, mindfulness is about letting go of judgment. If unpleasant thoughts or emotions come along, learning to let them pass can reduce their negative impact in our lives. Dr. Lanza di Scalea explains that the idea is to learn to not be frightened or overwhelmed by the surprises and challenges that inevitably come with life. Fighting to get rid of all that is imperfect – in ourselves, others, the situations we live - is an impossible battle to win. When we face mindfully situations that are beyond our control, we can realize that we can always have the freedom to choose our attitude and perspective, and this can be an avenue of personal growth. Mindfulness practice can help us hone in on the meaning of what’s happening right now in the present, can help us in the process of self-compassion, and it can turn into lasting insight into what inspires and motivates us most, ultimately strengthening a sense of purpose.