Why I want to practice mindfulness, which is paying attention without judgment and with kindness, and why pregnant women should as well.
Ever since my wife, Beverly, introduced me to mindfulness practice, I’ve been thinking about ways to incorporate it to help my patients. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention on purpose without judgment and with kindness.
While growing up, we were always told by our parents and teachers to “pay attention,” but we were never really taught how to pay attention. Mindfulness teaches a way to learn to pay attention to what’s happening around us in this moment. While the underpinnings of mindfulness have been around for countless years, Jon Kabat-Zinn codified and developed these practices into a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, initially as a way to help his patients deal with chronic pain.
There have been many studies indicating that mindfulness practice can help not only personally in one’s life but also medically, including managing high blood pressure, chronic pain, as well as anxiety and depression. As an example, mindfulness can help manage how we relate to the pain we all will experience at some point in our lives and decrease the associated suffering that can worsen the pain.
Foundational aspects of mindfulness
There are eight foundational aspects of mindfulness practice, though Kabat-Zinn originally identified seven. He says that all of the following are interconnected.
Beginner’s mind. A beginner’s mind is open, willing and eager to accept new information and points of view. Most people are just the opposite: Resistant to another opinion and already sure their way is the correct way. If you’ve ever tuned someone out while he or she is talking because your mind is already preparing your rebuttal, you know what I mean. A beginner’s mind has no expectations, has no preconceived judgment and actually listens closely to the other person.
Non-judging. We generally make rapid judgments about everything we encounter – I’m not going to like what he says, this will be fun, that’s bad, this is good. These judgments come out without even thinking about them. Mindfulness is becoming aware of the mind’s habit of judging and stepping back from it. You can’t stop judging unless you can identify when you are doing it. Try to simply see your judging thoughts as just that – thoughts. When we recognize these thoughts, we can then step back and really consider if we truly believe them.
Patience. To be patient means to be willing to let things unfold as they may, without trying to hurry things up. That applies to achieving mindfulness: You can’t speed it up by setting a goal of when you want to achieve mindfulness. Relax, be in the moment. Don’t be focused on a future goal, such as better health or even better mindfulness.
Non-striving. We are trained to go through life and our day as an exercise in accomplishing something. We have many large and small goals that require our thought, direction and action. Mindfulness is not striving to do anything. It’s not easy, but if you can focus solely on the moment and not on what you intend to accomplish or think you need to accomplish, you’ll be closer to mindfulness. The goal is to be fully present in this moment and engaged with where you are now and what you are doing at this moment. Even if the moment is painful, try to recognize just this moment, and realize it is only a moment and will pass.
Trust. Trust begins with the body. Without thinking we trust its wisdom to support our life, to take each breath, to see, hear, to keep our organs functioning. We trust our bodies, so why should the mind be any different? The more we trust ourselves, from body to mind to what’s in our heart, the more we can bring trust to our relationships. We build confidence in our abilities by trusting ourselves, which we can build through practice.
Acknowledgement. This means practicing acknowledgement of things as they are right now without trying to change or avoid something or deny what is happening. As we acknowledge what is happening now, we learn to accept what is real, and with acceptance comes a kind of peace. Once we can truly acknowledge and accept what is occurring, then we can start to make thoughtful choices. Acknowledgement also relates to gratitude and starts with recognizing that you are alive and your body is working. So often, we take this for granted. Instead, try to be grateful for it and the many other things and people in life we encounter.
Letting be. When we want something we cling to it, grasp it. Letting go allows us to not fixate on what we want, or think we want, whether that’s an idea, an experience or a thing. Let things be as they are, don’t try to force things, which is similar to non-striving. Letting be is the path to freedom, but you have to practice it over and over again.
Kindness. Giving generously to other people is what makes them happy and you happy – purely because it gives joy to others, and you show you care about others and are not just focusing solely on yourself. Just as important, this also means being kind to yourself. Often, we get down on ourselves for a problem that we have or a mistake we have made. However, if a friend came to you with this same issue, you would be compassionate and supportive and patient to help them overcome this. Kindness to yourself and to others is a key component of mindfulness practice.
Pregnancy is prime time for mindfulness
While mindfulness practice can be great to start any time in someone’s life, I have found that pregnancy can be an exceptionally prime time to develop and utilize mindfulness practice. Pregnancy is a natural time of huge changes physically, emotionally and socially.
Mindfulness can help with adjusting to the many changes that occur during pregnancy itself. But it also helps with the time during the labor and delivery experience, and even more so with being a parent and beyond.
Over the next several months, I will try to expand on how these different aspects of mindfulness can be especially helpful during our everyday lives, with an additional focus on pregnancy and labor and delivery.