Beyond MBSR – Quick Start Skills
Self-calming for counselors and other helpers is one of the most important survival practices to master. Self-calming consists a set of basic mindfulness skills, all of which must be practiced regularly to achieve desired emotion-regulation effects. The utility of these skills is well established in clinical research, and not only do they calm helpers but they are also excellent forclients. Once a counselor has practiced these skills on a regular basis, it may be time to share such practices with clients. Live-practice therapy sessions are always more effective than simply “talk-therapy” about skills. Talk is cognitive, thereby impacting our executive brain more so than our body and limbic brain. Live mind-body practice impacts both the executive and limbic brain areas, and the body. In the same way that cognitive and psychodynamic interventions alone often fail to impact limbic system reactivity, these mind-body practices impact both mind and body – if we are lucky they may also impact the soul. A side-effect of regularly practiced skills may be increased personal happiness in life. These skills, if practiced regularly, will improve emotion self-regulation for most people. Here are the skills. This is simply an introduction, so you may have to research and learn “how to do” these skills via additional help. Be aware that if you suffer from severe physical illnesses, you may want to check with your healthcare provider before starting these practices. The same may be true if you suffer from severe psychological conditions.
- Mindfulness Breathing Techniques – Try calm, slow, deep abdominal breathing as a practice. Once mastered add exhalation extension; extend the exhalation slightly and maintain a similar length of the breath extension as you practice. Try mid-line breathing; imagine your breath entering your nose and moving on the mid-line of the body to your lungs and eventually into your hara, or deep abdomen. If you are experiencing low mood, you may want to try excitatory breathing; breathe in and out fast and completely. See if it improves your mood. Lastly, experiment with happiness breath; each time you take a long, slow, deep breath recall a pleasant memory from your past. Be sure the memory is an authentic one, one without mood-altering substances.
- Buddha’s Best Friends – I have added to this list. Your always helpful “best friends” are your calming breath, your smile, your standing body, sitting body, moving body, and lying body. All these practices have positive neurobiological effects. Try them to see if you feel better.
- Mindful Movement – It is often very helpful to practice yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and walking meditation. Instructional classes are often available at the community level
- Middle-Way Practices – Do your best to remain in the middle way regarding most human interactions and experiences. Being in extremes, especially in emotional experiences, is generally unhealthy for us all. When you catch yourself at extreme ends of experience and reactivity, breathe calmly and take control over your executive brain. Move your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors towards the more moderate position. This is especially important in all interpersonal relationships.
- The First and Second Arrows of Suffering – We all suffer, and we all will suffer. This is simply part of life. When a horrible things happens to you (the first arrow), there is usually nothing you can do about it. Some good old radical acceptance may be helpful. However, human suffering is deepened and prolonged because we often do not have emotion regulation skills. The second arrow generally causes longer and deeper suffering than the first arrow – even when the first is traumatic. The second arrow is what our mind and body do after the first arrow. Our negative thoughts and emotions (also action urges in behavior) set us up to suffer even more and for longer periods of time. We need to practice middle way moderation and executive control over emotional/behavioral reactivity when we are upset. Regular meditation and/or yoga will help improve your emotional capacities here.
- Gratitude – Best to practice regular gratitude for what you do have now rather than crave and react to what you wish you had now. This reactive stance causes more suffering, especially unhappiness, envy, and greed. Did you eat today? Did you sleep in a bed last night? Is your overall health moderately good? Do you have a job? How about having a or several friends? Is there a family member you care about and/or who cares about you. Take a moment for gratitude for things you may be taking for granted because you have them in your life.
- Self-Compassion Practices – Since humans suffer, we tend to become stuck in the past (may relate to “repetition compulsion”) and either fearful to craving for the future. Being out of the present moment increases angst and sometimes unhappiness. Only by being in the present moment can you exert your human power in arising and falling experiences. It is OK to practice self-compassion for your suffering, but do not wallow in it and get stuck in it. Just face it, and realize all humans suffer in their lives. We also have joy! This suffering will pass.
- Body Scanning Practice – This can be a very powerful practice. Simply start with your toes or the top-center of your head, and allow yourself to feel the “feeling” of directed and strong attention. Simply move down or up the body, placing strong attention/awareness on various parts of the body. The attention and subtle feelings alone may be relaxing. I prefer guided practices with a touch of suggestion. As you move down or up the body, add the idea of “feeling” a subtle, relaxation sensation at each point. DO NOT look for it, just do it and see.
- Loving Kindness Meditation – This is my favorite meditation, and one that is popular all over the world. You will have to research the complete steps. Here I will simply get you started. Begin with yourself and say slowly: may I be safe…healthy…free from suffering…happy…living with ease. Try to feel inside the appropriate inner experience and inner sensations of each step. Now do it for a significant other. Then end by doing it again for yourself. There are many steps, so look into this if you enjoy the effects.
- Radical Acceptance – When primary suffering hits (you are wounded by the first arrow), do you best to recognize that we all suffer, and sometimes there is little one can do about it. We need time to grieve and mourn losses and emotional pain. Radical acceptance simply recognized a reality in the moment. Use your mind-body-heart-soul systems to move beyond suffering – it takes time. Along with radical acceptance, you may wish to use RAIN process – recognize what is going on emotionally for you, accept it in the moment, inquire about why you feel this way, and use the concept on non-self (or the fact that all experiences even life are impermanent, so things will change, arise and fall). This bad experience arises and falls away in time.
- Mindful Journaling – When you practice mindfulness in everyday life, when you meditate or do yoga, it is often helpful to write some thoughts and emotions about your practice in your “special” personal journal. Journaling about ONLY positives can be a very helpful practice. My many years of clinical experience have taught me that writing negatives in one’s journal can be far less helpful. If you decide to do this add ritual to it; be mindful in seeking out the right journal for you to write in. You could also make your own journal if you wish.
- Your Best Parts of Self – Take time each day to note one or two positives about your day and about YOU. Our limbic-brain tends to keep us locked in negatives and critical/fearful mind. So we need to exert some emotional and cognitive energy to alter that pattern. It is good practice to list a couple positive traits you noticed in yourself reach day. It is a BIG deal!
For more information refer to Quintiliani, A. R. (2014). Mindful Happiness…Shelburne, VT: Red Barn Books. This book is being revised and expanded at this time.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness