National Yoga Day – Monday, June 21
Mindfulness is a foundational element of a yoga routine. To be mindful means to pay attention to your experience while it is happening, without judgment. Observing your mental, physical, and emotional experience without judging it provides a perfect opportunity to interact with your body as a source of wisdom and information. In a yoga practice, much of mindfulness is facilitated by breathing intentionally and focusing on your breath. This type of breathing practice creates positive states of calm you can turn to when moments of stress arise.
Often what is most recognizable about a yoga practice are the physical shapes and poses, or asanas, which compose the movement of a yoga class. This physical component is one of eight integrated elements of yoga which in concert attend to our well-being and growth as whole people, physically, mentally, emotionally, interpersonally, and spiritually. Yoga and mindfulness are much-loved components of our programming here at THIRA Health, because these holistic practices integrate intuitively with Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
Mindfulness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy
If you are familiar with the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) approach, you may already be aware that a key part of the treatment is learning skills to effectively move through life. These skills include: Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and finally Mindfulness—the foundation on which they all depend. Without mindfulness and its central role in regulating emotions, managing crises, and navigating relationships, you will have little luck changing long-standing patterns of behavior.
Mindfulness helps us to see what is. Only by seeing reality as it is can one learn to accept it or change it. As a practice, mindfulness facilitates accessing Wise Mind, which resides at the intersection between emotion and reason. Because mindfulness requires observing your experience without reacting to or judging it, it helps you step back and examine all your options from a wise place. Our Wise Mind is the reflective and balanced perspective from which we have clarity to make decisions and act according to what is best aligned with our goals for a life worth living.
More on Mindfulness
We can further break down the concept of mindfulness into a concrete explanation of what exactly the practice entails, as well as how to go about it. These are known in DBT as the “what” and “how” skills of mindfulness.
The Observe Skill
The key to this skill is in noticing your direct sensory experience without immediately reaching to words to describe it. At first, this is very counterintuitive to our brain’s desire for organization and making meaning. However, observing is about being with those bare sensations—what you feel, smell, see, sense, taste and hear—without adding to it or trying to change it.
The Describe Skill
Following our observations, we have the opportunity to put language to what we’re experiencing. Describing, in essence, is done by putting words on the experience. This requires sticking to the facts without adding your interpretations, opinions or other commentary. In this way emotions are simply emotions, thoughts are thoughts, and sensations are sensations.
The Participate Skill
Our experience of self-consciousness and self-criticism separates us from our experience of the present moment, making many of us passive spectators in our own lives. Participating is devoting yourself entirely to the moment, letting go of self-consciousness, judgments, and inhibition to be fully present. When you join in and give yourself completely to what’s happening, you’ll find the antidote to the painful experience of alienation from others and life in general. Participation collapses the separation between you and others and allows you to more fully connect with others, your environment, and yourself.
The “How” skills
Nonjudgmentally – We must work to rid ourselves of the need to place judgment or sort our experiences into “good” or “bad.” When we choose instead to let go, we can embrace reality as “what is,” not “what should be.” Adopting a nonjudgmental stance does not mean that we give up our values or opinions. We simply let go of a moral ground and instead focus on whether or not actions are effective or ineffective toward our own or others’ goals.
One-mindfully – When we let go of distractions and focus on one thing at a time, we can engage with our whole selves. Rather than multitasking, this is the art of training ourselves to be mono-focused on what is immediate and important.
Effectively – Rather than getting stuck in our ego or our need to be right, mindfulness is about doing what works, especially in service of our larger goal.
Yoga as Mindfulness
Intellectual understanding of these skills is not enough; they must be experienced to truly understand the reframing power they offer for our everyday experience of being in the world. This is why a daily yoga practice is a great place to start when you’re new to either concept. Yoga or other moving meditation can make meditation easier because each movement releases tensions and transitions you into a state of relaxation from which one can more readily be present.
As we move through each yoga flow, we are asked to send our attention to our breath, to ground ourselves in its rhythm, and to observe its flow throughout the body. The practice helps to achieve clarity in the mind and more awareness about the body, and as with mindfulness, asks you to simply notice without changing. While we may stretch and test our limits, we are also called to accept those edges of our ability as facts, describing them in our heads and our hearts without judgment.
In yoga, there is a reason why the term “practice” is used to describe the daily routine. It is both a reminder that our abilities are constantly evolving, and that having more flexibility or more graceful movement between poses is not better than someone who uses the time to learn to be still within themselves. Yoga isn’t meant to be something to achieve, but rather something to journey with. In yoga, we can practice allowing ourselves the permission of full participation, where immersion into our bodies and into our present experience effectively silences the voice of comparison and of self-judgement.
Yoga allows for a full body experience, and as with mindfulness, the way that we approach it matters. When we allow ourselves to stay non-judgmental, to train our focus one-mindfully, and to release the hold of our ego, we can gain the most from our yoga session.
Is Yoga, Mindfulness, Or DBT Right For You?
Integrating yoga or mindfulness practice just twenty minutes a day could have an extremely beneficial outcome and can help you find your center, or “Wise Mind,” from which to approach all else in the world.
Mindfulness and the other skills that DBT offers can pave the way for those looking to change their lives, especially those battling severe and persistent mental illness.
If you’re looking to learn more about our programming or the way we infuse yoga, mindfulness, and DBT into our schedule, contact us today. We’d love to share more about what we know works, and how we can help you.