7 years ago, Avila President Ron Slepitza was approached by the Menorah Foundation Legacy with a grant opportunity for their Healthy for Life program. This program seeks to “proactively improve health and wellness by fostering transformational change in individual or community behaviors”. Dr. Maria Hunt was invited to the meeting because of her interest in health psychology. Avila proposed the idea of researching to find the active ingredients in mindfulness in order to make practicing it easier and more accessible and therefore draw more people in. The Menorah Foundation Legacy agreed with the idea and awarded the grant to Avila.
Mindfulness refers to a psychological state of awareness. It draws from some Buddhist concepts and the act of meditation. It consists of several practices and exercises to help one become aware of their true nature without judgment. There are several benefits of mindfulness, including emotional regulation, decreased reactivity, increased response flexibility, and better inter/intrapersonal relationships. Mindfulness also has many benefits for therapists that use it in their counseling. These benefits include increased self-efficacy, promote empathy, enhance compassion, aids in skill development, and decrease stress and anxiety (Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A., 2011).
Aware of the many benefits of mindfulness, Dr. Hunt began her search for the main ingredients. Dr. Hunt discovered that attention, attitude, and aim are these ingredients. Once these three ingredients were found, Dr. Hunt’s mindfulness lab worked with a different population each year in order to see how people use mindfulness and the ways that it works best. Although Dr. Hunt knows that the three main ingredients are consistent for anyone practicing mindfulness, the way each person focuses on them and the ways in which they practice varies. One example of this is that of a poor, 94-year-old woman. Although this woman understood the reasoning behind attention and attitude, she felt that aim was pointless. She would say that she reached her goal by not dying the night before. Dr. Hunt continued to teach about aim and after a little introspection, the woman decided that she was going to live her life as if each day was an adventure – something she did as a child. As soon as she did that, her outlook on life took a 180 degree turn. People didn’t even recognize her because she had grown out of her depression and into someone who enjoyed life again.
So what exactly do these three active ingredients mean? Attention means to observe what we’re paying attention to. It’s practicing to look inside ourselves and become aware of the things we’re focusing on. This can be done using several different activities but two very successful ones are breathing and body scanning. Breathing activities simply means to focus on your breathing and see what thoughts come into your mind. Body scanning includes breathing but you focus your attention on each part of your body to notice any differences that may be present. Both are great ways to see what’s really on your mind. Attention exercises are also very helpful for focusing your thoughts when your mind is racing. Counting breaths or repeating a mantra are good exercises to practice attention. One application on my iPhone is very useful in guiding my breath and helping me focus on my awareness. It’s called “Universal Breathing – Pranayama Free”. Unfortunately, it’s only available for iPhones but androids also have similar apps available. (If you’ve used any of these, please share.)
Attitude is the next ingredient. This means to pay attention to how we’re reacting to things. When doing this, it’s important not to judge these thoughts or judge ourselves for these thoughts. Whether something is unpleasant or not is not the focus, but rather to be open to whatever exists. Accepting that things are what they are can help get rid of negative associations you may have to an event, thought, or emotion. It can also be helpful to count your blessings. Gratitude is the biggest healer.
The third ingredient is aim. Aim is when you’re aware of what choices you want to make and you take charge of these choices. Aim is a lifelong search. Another aspect of aim is figuring out the type of person we want to be and learning to make the best decisions for ourselves. An exercise to increase our aim is to think about what your best possible self looks like. Ask the questions: what is happening? How am I reacting? What do I want to accomplish?
It’s important to have self-compassion throughout the whole process of mindfulness. Self-compassion means not judging our thoughts or feelings. It means not being hard on ourselves because a goal we have might not make everyone else happy. There are several different types of exercises to practice being compassionate but I’ll share with you one that I’ve found to be very powerful. Exercise: Exploring self-compassion
Because our society is so wrapped up with technology and multitasking, we are in dire need of a way to slow down. Dr. Hunt explained how because mindfulness has so many health benefits, it “gives people a reason” to practice it. Currently, Dr. Hunt has been looking into the business aspect of mindfulness to transfer its effectiveness into this realm. She has been working with website developers to create a website that allows employees to personalize their journey through mindfulness. This website will be paired with occasional mindfulness seminars. The end goal is to sell this program to corporations in hopes to spread the practice of mindfulness and increase the mental and physical health of those across the area.
Dr. Hunt will be leaving Kansas City this December to move to Colorado with her husband. Fortunately, she will still be working with the mindfulness lab and possibly teaching weekend intensive courses.
Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48(2), 198-208. doi:10.1037/a0022062
Posted on April 8, 2013, in Avila Information, Community, Emerging Trends in Psychology, Faculty and tagged aim, attention, attitude, Dr. Hunt, health, mindfulness, psychology. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.