Movement is not Meditation. It’s a loop #2: Cultivating Mindfulness through Movement?

After having narrowed down the terms movement and meditation in part one we will now take a closer look at ways to cultivate midnfulness.

TL;DR: Individual mindfulness is a type of awareness characterized by the four processes of defusion/distance, acceptance, self-as-context, and contact with the here and now. This state of awareness can be cultivated and induced through meditation, informal practice, metaphors, and certain types of interaction. Judging from the academic literature we can not say whether or not movement as an informal practice has significant effects on state mindfulness. A combination of the various forms of practices, interventions and circumstances are likely to be beneficial, even though exact doses cannot be prescribed.

Mindfulness requires practice to be achieved and maintained. There is a traditional distinction between formal and informal practice. For formal practice, time is taken to practice and the focus is on practicing mindfulness through silent meditation while sitting, walking, lying down, or standing. The objects of mindfulness can be the breath, physical phenomena and sensory impressions, emotions and thoughts. These four components are first practiced independently. This is also called focused attention. In a next step, open monitoring is practiced, in which everything that appears is perceived acceptingly.

Informal practice means integrating mindfulness into everyday activities, from washing the dishes to sitting in front of the computer to talking to other people. This usually involves recommending routine tasks that are approached with mindfulness and rediscovered in some way. The mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (2010) refers to mindfulness in everyday life as an „appointment with life,“ that is, around a direct experience of personal, sensory experience.

Parkour could therefor be a way to informally practice mindfulness. Riskin & Wohl (2015, 137) believe that mindfulness must first be formally practiced before it can be established and retained by individuals in everyday situations. Ideally, regular practice is guided by an experienced teacher. Once this foundation is established, even brief interventions or rituals can establish mindfulness. Moreover, there are people who are more mindful by their personality structure without practicing it. As is often done in studies, you could also expose athletes to a short mindfulness interventions before training and have them practice in this “altered state of consciousness”, thereby turning the Parkour practice into a mindfulness meditation. This is not gonna have the long lasting effects most people are after.

No clear correlations have yet been found between intensity of mindfulness and duration, frequency, type of meditation, or guidance by trainer or audio file (Dobkin and Zhao 2011, Britton 2019).  What can be concluded about cultivation through formal practice is that brief interventions are more likely to result in short-term state changes and that long-term personality changes, require regular and prolonged practice. What is not talked about often enough is that long-term practice can also lead to limiting effects, so-called „adverse effects.“ I will discuss this elsewhere.

The cultivation of mindfulness appears to occur in phases that follow similar stages across traditions and religions (Brown 1986). Qiu & Rooney (2017) derive from this a four-phase model for individual mindfulness training. An introductory phase of ethical training is followed by the phases of preliminary concentration, deep concentration, transcendence of self, and re-entry.

 Unless participants are already practiced in mindfulness or have a mindful personality structure, mediation will always move into phase one of preliminary training. However, the profound positive effects on well-being and ethical action in particular occur late in the process. But this is also an advantage, because many of the psychological difficulties (adverse effects) do not arise until phase two of deep concentration.

However, mindfulness cannot be cultivated and induced only through formal meditation practice. In the literature surrounding Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a direction of behavioral therapy complemented by mindfulness, there are many interventions that target one or more of the four central processes. They are often shorter and more connective than traditional meditations because they are designed to be used in one-hour therapy sessions. To this end, meditations are redesigned into three- to eight-minute experiential exercises (Strosahl et al. 2004).

In ACT, metaphors are also used to cultivate mindfulness (Varra et al. 2009). This is based on the assumption that overly explicit instructions do not allow for the flexibility needed to deal with difficult situations. Metaphors are brief, memorable, and effective interventions that make clear the nature of mindfulness and its application. This makes sense, since many traditional mindfulness teachers are known of using stories, koans or other narrative ways of explaining or even inducing mindfulness. The four core mindfulness processes can be explained and cultivated through various metaphors. Metaphors are also helpful in initiating and providing structure and focus to meditations. 

Individual mindfulness can also emerge through certain types of interactions. Preliminary empirical work shows that good and supportive relationships with parents (Pepping & Duvenage 2016) and supervisors in the workplace (Reb et al. 2015) promote individual mindfulness as a state of awareness. Kudesia & Reina (2019) found evidence that trusting relationships increase individual mindfulness among participants. They point out that it is not individual interactions but stable trusting relationships over time that promote mindfulness and that metacognition, i.e., distance from one’s own cognitive processes, is particularly supported: „It suggests that […] being in a context where more of our interactions are with people we deem trustworthy can facilitate the metacognitive component of mindfulness“ (ibid., 13).

Individual mindfulness, then, is a type of awareness characterized by the four processes of defusion/distance, acceptance, self-as-context, and contact with the here and now. This state of awareness can be cultivated and induced through meditation, informal practice, metaphors, and certain types of interaction. Judging from the academic literature we can not say whether or not movement as an informal practice has significant effects on state mindfulness. A combination of the various forms of practices, interventions and circumstances are likely to be beneficial, even though exact doses cannot be prescribed.

References

Britton, W. B. (2019) Can mindfulness be too much of a good thing? The value of a middle way. Current Opinion in Psychology, 28, S. 159–165.

Brown, D. (1986) The stages of meditation in cross-cultural perspective. In K. Wilber, J. Engler, & D. P. Brown (Hrsg.) Transformations of consciousness. Shambhala: Boston.

Dobkin, P., & Zhao, Q. (2011) Increased mindfulness—the active component of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program? Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 17(1), S. 22–27.

Nhat Hanh, T. (2010) Unsere Verabredung mit dem Leben: Über das Leben im Hier und Jetzt. Knaur MensSana: München.

Kudesia R. S., Reina C. S. (2019) Does interacting with trustworthy people enhance mindfulness? An experience sampling study of mindfulness in everyday situations. PLoS ONE 14 (4), S. 1-14.

Pepping C. A. & Duvenage M. (2016) The origins of individual differences in dispositional mindfulness. Personality Individual Difference, 93, S. 130–136.

Qiu, J. X., & Rooney, D. (2017) Addressing Unintended Ethical Challenges of Workplace Mindfulness: A Four-Stage Mindfulness Development Model. Journal of Business Ethics, 157(3), S. 715-730.

Reb J., Narayanan J, Ho Z. W. (2015) Mindfulness at work: Antecedents and consequences of employee aware- ness and absent-mindedness. Mindfulness. 2015; 6: 111–122. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-013- 0236-4

Riskin, L. L. & Wohl R. A. (2015) Mindfulness in the Heat of Conflict: Taking STOCK. Harvard Negotiation Law Review, 20, S. 121-155.

Strosahl, K. D., Hayes, S.C., Wilson, K. G., Giffor, E. V. (2004) An ACT Primer: Core Therapy Processes, Intervention Strategies, and Therapist Competencies. Hayes, S. C. & Strosahl, K. D. (Hrsg.) A Practical Guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Springer: New York, NY.

Varra, A. A., Drossel, C., & Hayes, S. C. (2009) The Use of Metaphor to Establish Acceptance and Mindfulness. In: Didonna F. (Hrsg.) Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness, S. 111-123, Springer: New York, NY.

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