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Practicing Mindfulness

Written by: Max Merritt, M.A.

Recently, I had two dreams come true. The first was moving from an associate licensed counselor to being a fully licensed counselor. A long road let me tell you. The second dream was completing training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT. It is this second dream that I would like to share with you today.

DBT encompasses four modules of skills training for individuals and groups. Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness.  For this blog I am going to share a Mindfulness exercise and then in future blogs touch on the other three modules.

Mindfulness is a great way to “stay present” when life seems to be getting the better of us. Maybe we are feeling anxious about the future, or down and depressed about something that happened in the past. Mindfulness can help keep us grounded while at the same time moving forward in life.

First, stop. Stop whatever you are doing, or whatever it is that you were about to do, and simply allow yourself to be “here,” without needing to do anything.

Next, simply bring your attention to your breath, just as it is, in the here and now. You don’t need to make your breath any different than it naturally is. You don’t have to make it slower or deeper. Just bring your attention to your natural breath, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness. Notice the movement of the air as you breathe in, inhaling oxygen, and as you breathe out, exhaling carbon dioxide.

Experiment with saying silently to yourself as you breathe in and out: In… Out….

Pay careful attention to your breath, following it as you breathe in and out. Notice the beginning of your in-breath. Follow your in-breath from the beginning to the middle, all the way to the end. Then notice the pause between your in-breath and your out-breath. Follow your out-breath from the beginning to the middle, all the way to the end.

You might want to imagine that you are floating in the ocean and each breath is a wave passing beneath you. Each in-breath lifts you up, and each out- breath sets you back down. Just float gently on the waves of your breath. It might also help to focus on the part of your body where you notice your breath most easily, like your nose—where you can feel the air going in and out—or your belly, which rises and falls with each breath.

Following your breath doesn’t have to feel like work. Breathing mindfully can be relaxing and enjoyable. If your breath feels good, simply enjoy the sensation and smile.

If your mind wanders or if you get distracted, that’s okay. That’s what minds do. Don’t judge yourself as having done something “wrong.” You can just notice and gently say to yourself, “Oh, my mind has wandered off”, and perhaps be curious about where your mind wandered off to. Then gently bring your attention back to the next breath.

You can breathe mindfully like this for three breaths, nine breaths, or, if you have time, two or three minutes.

What was it like to pay attention to your breath? What was it like to come back to the present moment? Did you notice anything interesting or surprising?

You can take some time to do mindful breathing any time of day, anywhere. After breathing mindfully for a few breaths or a few minutes, continue to go about your day, more connected to the present moment.

I hope this has been an interesting little primer for the concept of Mindfulness.  There are many, many different ways to practice Mindfulness.  But the main concept is the same: being present.  And by being present, hopefully, you will have been able to “surf” your way through any strong emotion you may be experiencing.

If you or someone you know are in need of therapy, and would like to know more about DBT and what it is designed to treat, please reach out to me at mmerritt@summitcounseling.org for more information.

Take care!