Mind-Body Connections for Increasing Non-Judgment in Mindfulness Practice

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Mindfulness is the new black. I love the current media buzz and the integration of

awareness practices into everything from psychotherapy to education and business.

Further, I love that western science is starting to have evidence-based research that

validates the value of such practices. Take a look at the amazing research going on

through The Greater Good Science Center through Berkley University to find

research, articles and skills for increasing mindfulness, happiness, forgiveness,

empathy, compassion, altruism and gratitude.

 

Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as: “The awareness that emerges through

paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally to the

unfolding of experience moment by moment.” I like this working definition of

mindfulness as it includes both “wings of awareness”— focusing attention and non-

judgment.

 

In my psychotherapy practice, I guide people through many mindfulness techniques

whose aim is to gather the awareness back from wandering in the past (regrets) and

the future (worry) by connecting attention to the body in the present moment. The

techniques include noticing with the five senses or mind-body- bridging, and

focusing attention on sensation and feelings in the body or vipassana/insight

meditation. These techniques in themselves can be quite calming as they

momentarily quiet negative thoughts that tend to increase symptoms of anxiety and

low moods. They are skills that can be used in the moment and discretely anywhere

you find yourself— an emotional first aid kit you always have with you.

I notice personally and in others I work with that this aspect of mindfulness practice

can be embraced and utilized with success fairly quickly. Clients notice that paying

attention to sensation in the body helps them both track escalating symptoms and

calm them.

 

The Importance of a Non-Judgmental Approach

The Non-Judgmental aspect of mindfulness, as outlined in Kabat Zinn’s definition, is

often a more challenging aspect of the practice. It involves being open, curious,

compassionate and allowing of what is happening internally. The critical voice we

all live with inside our mind is brought to light as we deepen in awareness practice

and begin to pay attention to the nature of our thoughts. Often, it is hard to separate

oneself from critical thoughts enough to have the awareness that they are just

critical thoughts and not the truth. We might believe these thoughts are true about

ourselves based on messages we have internalized along the way. These beliefs can

exist as blind spots that make them unconscious to us. Or, if we do recognize them,

there is a part of us that truly still believes these thoughts are accurate and so they

are hard to put down.

 

Using Inquiry to Disarm Critical Thoughts

Inquiry practice is a level of investigation of one’s thoughts that can foster increased

capacity for non-judgmental awareness. Using it successfully involves meta-

awareness that one is using the mind to disassemble the mind. I believe that staying

aware of sensation in the body simultaneous to inquiry practice can have the best

results as it grounds and connects this mental work to the five senses and feelings in

the body. Being concurrently aware of thinking, feeling and sensing gives us access

to our fullest self and abilities.

The first step of inquiry is to notice that thoughts are just thoughts. I like Byron

Katie’s inquiry technique found in her book Loving What Is and at her website. I

often use this technique personally and with clients and I pair it with mind-body-

connection techniques. I believe this pairing deepens and enhances this process.

 

Practice: Investigate with Openness, Curiosity, Allowing and Compassion

To begin, become more present in your body by intentionally connecting your

awareness to your five senses. Start right now, by noticing colors and sounds in your

environment.

Connect to sense of touch by noticing the feeling of the surface you are sitting on.

Notice being supported in space and see if you can settle into being held. Notice if

this allows you to relax a bit.

Now notice the texture of the fabric of your clothes or the furniture and describe it:

velvety, smooth, cold, etc. Notice the temperature of the room. Once you feel

grounded and present, let’s begin our inquiry.

Think about a situation that is difficult for you currently, perhaps a situation in

which you have been feeling lack of confidence or one that is anxiety provoking.

Write down any negative thoughts about your self in this situation; i.e. “I am a bad

person,” or “I am not good enough” or “I am lazy”. Next, take each thought and work

through the following steps.

 

1. Is it true? We can spend a lot of time on this question. We could spend years

answering this question if we get lost in self-doubt. So move on to the next

step.

 

2. Is it absolutely true? I love this question and it can be a flash of insight that

moves us quickly out of the judgment. For example, when applied to the

thought “I am lazy”, inquire if you could you prove this to a court of law. Is

there any way to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt? Imagine what lengths

one would have to go in order to prove it (conduct an evidence-based study

for example) If you can’t prove it, then it is just a thought.

 

3. How does this thought affect me? Check in again with sensation in the body.

As you are working with this thought, how are you feeling right now? Notice

any place in the body this thought impacts you, for example tightness in the

chest or stomach or heaviness all over. Notice your posture right now and

your breath. If you find you are slouching as you do this, exaggerate that

posture so that you can feel the full effect these thoughts have on your well-

being. When you feel like this, how do you generally behave? Do you

withdraw from others, work harder, try to prove yourself in some way or

avoid doing difficult tasks even more? Reflect on the full influence of this

thought on your body, your feelings and your ability to function at your best

capacity. Had enough of this? Then go to the next step.

 

4. Who would I be without this thought? Imagine if you just let this thought go

and could be free of it, and notice if anything changes in your body. Do your

shoulders relax, does the tension in your jaw soften? Remember the posture

you assumed before and change it now to reflect how it feels as this thought

is sent away; stand up taller, breath deeper. Reflect on how you would do

things differently in your life and in your relationships without this

judgment. As this judgment subsides, feel an increased sense of well-being in

your body experienced as more energy, openness of heart and clarity of

mind.

 

5. What do you want to believe about yourself instead? As you work your way

through this inquiry process with each negative belief, see if you can rewrite

it into a positive statement or affirmation. For example, “I am doing the best I

can” or “I am just as motivated as others”. Remember, to be effective, positive

affirmations need to be genuine and of value to you. Don’t force yourself to

say something that doesn’t feel true. One way to work with this is to add the

phrase “I am learning to be more (motivated, kind, mindful)” as a way to start

to embrace new beliefs.

About Renee Podunovich LMHC

Renee Podunovich Renee Podunovich is a licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor offering psychotherapy in Salt Lake City, UT and beyond via online services. Renee earned a BA in Sociology and Human Services and a MA in Counseling. She has worked in human services for over 25 years and has been in private practice for 10 years. Renee is interested in health and holistic wellness, dance and movement, sustainable living and innovative designs and solutions. She is a freelance writer and has published two books of poetry: "Let the Scaffolding Collapse" (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and "If There is A Center" (Art Juice Press, 2008). Her writing workshops (in person and online) are designed to use creative writing as a tool for centering, reflecting and for personal growth. Renee offers caring, compassionate support and focused guidance to help people come into balance with their own inner wisdom and self-healing abilities and to make meaningful and lasting changes in their lives. She believes optimal wellness comes from feeling connected to our essential nature within and to the larger world around us. Renee's specialty is in mind-body therapies including EMDR therapy, mindfulness practices and meditation techniques that build awareness and compassion. Whether you are in a period of difficult transition or wanting to deepen your connection to your creative process and build positive resources, Renee provides a safe environment where your wisdom and needs are put first. Get ready to engage at the next level in your professional, creative or personal life!

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