How Often Should You Practice Mindfulness?
Just about everywhere you turn, there’s an article extolling the benefits of mindfulness. Some suggest just minutes a day is all it takes, while others recommend eating mindfully or even mindful dog walking. With so much information available, it can be challenging to know whether you should practice mindfulness and if you should, how to actually do so.
Lisa Thomas Prince and Heather Sorensen, co-managers of UW Health’s Mindfulness Program, explain that there is research showing the benefits of mindfulness, but it’s not a one-size-fits all answer. The bulk of the studies are based on an eight-week curriculum that was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn more than 40 years ago.
Kabat-Zinn is an American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He drew from his studies of centuries old Eastern contemplative practices to develop an eight-week course he called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. The course was intended to help individuals manage stress, chronic pain and improve their well-being. Subsequent research found that a daily practice of 30-45 minutes did offer health benefits, including reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms, improving memory, increasing immune function and even decreasing blood pressure and markers of inflammation.
Sorensen stressed, “The research is based on consistent, daily practice. There hasn’t been enough research yet on how informal practice – including apps and similar tools – provides benefit.”
Thomas Prince uses the analogy of a marathon. If all one does is run short distances for training, that person is not building endurance. Similarly, listening to an app a few minutes once a week isn’t going to have the same results as an eight-week mindfulness course.
Both Sorensen and Thomas Prince explained that mindfulness offers the opportunity to recognize thinking patterns and patterns of reactivity.
“Through practice, we are building an awareness of how we habitually react in situations. Through mindfulness we learn to recognize our patterns so we can reconsider how we’ll react. It’s a form of ‘self study’ that’s important,” comments Thomas Prince.
Sorensen adds that the paradox of mindfulness is that it is not actually a quick fix. While the practice seems simple, the reality is that it is not easy.
“A lot of the conversations about mindfulness can overlook the depth of the practice and paint it as a way to calm down or relieve stress,” she says, adding “If an individual is looking for a significant shift, then a class might be a good way to get started.”
UW Health’s Mindfulness Program, which is celebrating its 25th year, is based on Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR program. While classes can vary by teacher, they offer the opportunity to engage in the practice with a group of individuals, or perhaps more appropriately – a community. During the sessions, participants can ask questions of the instructor and reflect on the practice. In doing so, it becomes clear that many individuals experience similar feelings – frustration that it’s harder than expected or even that they’re not getting anything out of it.
As instructors, both Thomas Prince and Sorensen have heard participants questioning when they’ll see the benefit because it can feel daunting. “But,” Sorensen says, “the benefit really does come, and sometimes unexpectedly.”
One example they share is a participant whose car broke down and left her stranded on the side of the road. She realized through the process that despite being a tense situation, she was able to respond differently than she normally would. She had in her words “more space.”
That “space” also offers another benefit – compassion. Thomas Prince shares that Kabat-Zinn reminds us that “heartfulness” is really as important as “mindfulness.” And that’s another aspect of the class experience – exploring our human-ness and connection to others.
“Practicing mindfulness also helps us recognize patterns in how we view other people. When we practice, we learn to be compassionate to ourselves and by extension, can offer that compassion to others,” Sorensen says.
In addition to the MBSR classes, UW Health offers a range of classes including ones tailored to middle schoolers and teens, childbirth and parenting, families, seniors and even mindful photography and drawing. For the latest class offerings, visit uwhealth.org/mindfulness and sign up for their newsletter.
Follow UW Health on Social Media
Find more tips and resources to help you live a healthy and balanced life.
Date Published: 07/23/2018