Mindfulness is growing in application, but there are still some misconceptions of what the practice includes and how it can be used. In the therapeutic arena, mindfulness aims to guide patients toward developing a richer, more rewarding awareness of their present-moment experiences, according to Ronald Siegel, PsyD, who spoke at the Summit For Clinical Excellence in Atlanta today.
Siegel also said many patients and clinicians have incorrect perceptions of what mindfulness is. For example, the goal is not to relax, create a blank mind absent of thought or to become emotionless. Rather, mindfulness allows patients to sit with their thoughts and feelings--accepting them without judgment--and to become comfortable with them.
"Meaningful moments are those in which we are fully present, but most of the time, that's not what's going on," Siegel said. "Most of the time, there is a narrative going on about the 'self,' and we are basically paying attention to the stream of thoughts instead of being present."
With experience, mindfulness can be cultivated the way an athlete might work out to develop physical fitness. He believes daily experiences can seem more "high resolution" with the practice of mindfulness, the same way a camera might offer a better picture when the lens is set sharply in focus.
"The goal of these practices is to see how the mind works and see patterns of suffering and learn different ways to experience it," he said. "Learn how to be 'with' those feelings--accept, tolerate and embrace them."
Siegel said research has shown mindfulness can have a positive effect over time, even changing the structure of the brain's amygdala.