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Increasing Awareness For Better Relationships
Increasing Awareness For Better Relationships
In today’s fast-paced society, in which texting and emails have become the norm for communication, and date nights consist of streaming a movie off the Internet, we sometimes lose sight of what is actually going on in the present moment. Technology has taken off, but in the process has it left behind what’s really important—like the quality of life and relationships? Researchers, psychologists and spiritual teachers say the concept of mindfulness and awareness is a key way to slow down and enhance your relationships.
What is mindfulness?
In Wherever You Go, There You Are (Hyperion, 1994), Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that mindfulness is a Buddhist practice but actually has little to do with Buddhism. He says mindfulness is about waking up, examining who we are and being in touch. Mindfulness is bringing attention to your experience, moment to moment. This may be noticing a thought, a body sensation, an emotion or the weather outside. Kabat-Zinn says mindfulness is also “just being”—learning how to make time, slow down and observe.
In Full Catastrophe Living (Delta, 1990), Kabat-Zinn says that allowing all of our “doing” to stop enables us to not get caught up in our thoughts (which can be judgmental or unproductive), and to make room for new ways of seeing old patterns and problem behaviors. By not being aware of our actions and behaviors, we can cause problems for ourselves and others. These problems tend to build over time, creating fear and insecurity, and eventually lead to feeling stuck or unable to cope.
Impact on relationships
Studies have shown a direct association between mindfulness and relationships. In a study published in 2007 in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, researchers found that both emotional skills and mindfulness are associated with identifying and communicating emotions, as well as regulating anger expression, which in turn impacts marital quality.
In a 2004 study published in Behavior Therapy, researchers at the University of North Carolina studied how mindfulness can enhance relationships between couples. The results suggest that the mindfulness interventions taught to these couples improved their relationship satisfaction, autonomy, relatedness, closeness and acceptance of one another. Mindfulness techniques also beneficially affected individuals’ optimism, spirituality, relaxation and psychological distress.
In The Developing Mind (The Guilford Press, 2001), Daniel Siegel says human relationships shape the neural connections in our brains, and that through understanding these connections we can better understand the role interpersonal relationships play in shaping the development of our mind. Likewise, by developing mindfulness, we can shape our brain so that we have better relationships.
Clearly, evidence tells us that mindfulness matters. But in a busy day and age, how do we shift our focus to spending time to “just be”?
In Full Catastrophe Living, Kabat-Zinn lays down the foundation of mindfulness practice. He says mindfulness takes a shift in attitude and commitment. Being mindful is a learning process that requires opening the mind, being receptive, trusting and having patience. Practicing mindfulness also requires commitment, discipline and intention. With this foundational approach, anyone can begin to experience a difference in his or her life and relationships.
In order to incorporate mindfulness into your day, start by carving out time to practice. Here are a few ways to get started:
Breathing. Breathing brings in oxygen, helps pump the heart and push fresh blood through the body, and reminds us of the present moment. We are always breathing. Notice your breathing when you wake up; while driving; or when you feel excited, angry or sad. Feel the sensation of the in and out breath.
Sitting meditation. Carve out a time when you can sit either on the floor or in a chair. Sit up straight, hands on your legs, and simply notice your breath and mind without “doing” anything. This can last for five minutes or more, but whatever amount of time you choose, practice every day for at least one week in order to notice a difference in your mindfulness.
Body scan. This can be done anywhere and anytime, but it fits nicely before beginning sitting meditation. Body scans help you notice body sensations and emotions. Start with noticing your breath. Then begin to observe your body sensations from the top of your head all the way to your feet. Sensations include temperature, pain, tingling, numbness and tension. Notice your skin, muscles, tendons and bones. This exercise takes five to 10 minutes depending on how detailed your body scan is.
Movement. If you don’t already, incorporate some kind of movement that cultivates strength, balance and flexibility, such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, Pilates or dancing. You will enhance your awareness of your body and breath.
Play. Play is spontaneous and often a very mindful way of being. When you’re playing, you have an opportunity to enter into the present moment. You can also play in relationships with another person or with animals. When was the last time you engaged in play?
Learning mindfulness takes practice, but if you are patient and trust the process, you will see how “just being” will seep into every aspect of your life. You will know yourself better, feel more connected to your everyday experiences and deepen your relationships.
Calyn is a licensed child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapist. She earned a BS in Applied Psychology from Ithaca College and an MA in Counseling from Naropa University. She specializes in grief, trauma, depression, anxiety and attachment. She started her own private practice in 2009, Contact With Horses, and has led several groups and workshops, presented nationally, organized marketing and networking groups, and has worked with clients from all over the United States and Mexico. For more information, visit ContactWithHorses.com.
March 1st, 2012