I can honestly say that I have integrated Yoga and affirmations fully into my life and have been using them almost on a daily basis. Using these two practises has made a significant difference to my levels of depression. So I feel like its time to add another piece to the puzzle – Mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
I was introduced to the concept of Mindfulness by listening to a talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn who is considered the father of Mindfulness he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine. Here he developed a series of techniques to reduce stress, anxiety and more recently depression.
Kabot-Zinn defines the practise below;
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to things as they are.
The Mindful Way Through Depression
I have been following a program that Jon Kabat-Zinn has co-written with Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal that combines western psychological studies of depression and the eastern philosophy of meditation. The book is a detailed insight into the mechanics of depression – and provides a step by step program of how to use Mindfulness to overcome depression.
The Mechanics of Depression
This program has been a revelation for me on the structure of depression and I could fully relate to the many case studies that they presented.
There are three key things that I learned about depression;
1. If you become depressed once (have a serious episode of depression) it creates pathways in your brain that make its re-occurrence quicker and easier in the future. Its like the serious event that first triggered your depression cuts a path through a dense forest – but after the path is cut even relatively small things can now follow that same path. My first episode of depression occurred after I had finished university. After graduating on a high and thinking that the world was my oyster I found myself unemployed and rudderless for almost a year. My confidence took a huge body blow and I felt defeated. Although rationally I understood that jobs in the arts don’t grow on trees – deep down I believed it was because I was not good enough. The path was cut – and when the anxiety and sadness of pre-fertility hit me – depression easily snaked down the path.
2. The major compounder of depression is trying fix the problem – this seems like the most logical thing to do – the thinking goes – I am sad, something is making me sad, I just need to find that thing and resolve the issue. But this is what really happens;
“When depression starts to pull us down, we often react, for very understandable reasons, by trying to get rid of our feelings by suppressing them or by trying to think our way out of them. In the process we dredge up past regrets and conjure up future worries. In our heads, we try out this solution and that solution, and it doesn’t take long for us to start feeling bad for failing to come up with a way to alleviate the painful emotions we’re feeling. We get lost in comparisons of where we are verses where we want to be, soon living almost entirely in our heads.”
3. Depression is caused by a distance between what is happening right now and what we think should be happening. For example, I am sad but I want to and should be happy or I am not pregnant but I want to and should be pregnant. We become averse to our current feelings or situation and then try to use our minds to bridge the gap between the now and where we want to be. Unfortunately this just brings up more emotions and anguish about where we are now. The author’s refer to this as ‘Doing mode‘ our mind is trying desperately to do something to change our situation. They direct us instead into ‘Being mode‘ simply accepting and being aware of the situation or emotion;
“In being mode, we discover we can suspend evaluating our experience in terms of how it “should” be or “ought” to be, of whether it is “correct” or “incorrect”, of whether it is “good enough” or “not good enough”, or of whether we are “succeeding” or “failing”, even whether we are “feeling good” or “feeling bad”. Present moment can be embraced as it is, in its full depth, width, and richness, without a “hidden agenda” constantly judging how far our world falls short of our ideas of how we need it to be. What a relief!”
The Tools Of Mindfulness
The program outlines a variety of techniques to become more grounded, compassionate and accepting of the present moment below are the three that I have been using almost daily;
1. Mindfulness is experiential
The body scan is a 30 minute meditation that starts at your toes and slowly leads you to the top of your head. Taking in each part of the body you are invited to simply feel any sensations that appear – such as cool, warm, tingling, itchy, sore – whatever is there or not there – the aim is simply to tune in. This is the foundation of the program getting back to our bodies and deeply experiencing ourselves.
2. Mindfulness is intentional
Choosing one activity a day and building up to several activities over 8 weeks – on which you completely and intentionally focus. These should be everyday routines – I try to pay close, intentional attention when I am brushing my teeth and having a shower. Lots of thoughts come and go and I often get distracted but at least for a few minutes every day I am fully present.
3. Mindfulness is non-judgemental
This has probably been the hardest part of the program for me. I have come to realise – that I live my life by a “success” and ” failure” paradigm classifying all of my interactions, activities and relationships in this way both consciously and unconsciously. Byron Katie says that all suffering is caused by being at war with reality – fighting the now for some imaginary replacement you think would be better. By judging our experience we are constantly at war with the now. I have been actively trying to accept the here and now without attaching the labels and evaluations.
Although the Mindfulness program is laid out over 8 weeks, it is really a life long practise of acceptance, compassion and presence. This practise has taught me that life is happening moment by moment, if we are always cashing in the present for some future goal – we might miss it altogether.
Below are some resources and links to find out more about Mindfulness;