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Tools for Healing: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).
— James Baraz

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be best described as awareness. This type of awareness can range from awareness of this moment through observation of what we are feeling (emotionally), the connection to what sensations are present (physically), and further a connection to our five senses. Through the practice of mindfulness, there is also a dual component of coming back to the present moment when our mind, as is normal, will wander to think of past events or think of future events that may occur. Mindfulness is the constant “coming back” to the present moment, whether that moment requires attention to our body, our present emotions, or our environment. An aspect of mindfulness involves observing when our emotions start to spiral into thoughts or narratives about ourselves and when those thoughts and narratives further spiral into beliefs about who we are or how we perceive ourselves.

How can mindfulness serve me?

Mindfulness can help tame the spiral of thought, that typically draws us further and further away from the present moment. Mindfulness from a trauma recovery lens, helps us disengage the amygdala -the part of our brain responsible for some post-traumatic symptoms (anxiety, flashbacks, panic attacks, etc.). It assists us on the neurobiological level to get grounded to the present moment. Mindfulness helps improve present functioning and if practiced over a repetitive period of time, can help significantly reduce post-traumatic symptoms.

Tips for practicing:

  • Start building tolerance for the present moment.

Part of practicing mindfulness involves being present. Although, that seems simple, if we’ve never had to close our eyes and feel our body or experience heavy emotions it can feel daunting. Start by cultivating presence in your environment.

Example: Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 technique

5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.

4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow, or the ground under your feet.

3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.

2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and smell pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need to take a brief walk to find a scent you could smell soap in your bathroom, or nature outside.

1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch?


  • Breathe mindfully when needed.

The way we are breath can influence our mind and vice versa. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try noticing how you are breathing. If you’re feeling too overwhelmed to notice, go straight to practicing a mindfulness exercise.

Example: 4-7-8 “relaxing breath” exercise

To use the 4-7-8 technique, focus on the following breathing pattern:

  • empty the lungs of air

  • breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds

  • hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds

  • exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a "whoosh" sound, for 8 seconds

  • repeat the cycle up to 4 times

Dr. Andrew Weil, has a great video explaining this technique, check it out here.


  • Practice the R.A.I.N. of self-compassion.

R: recognizing what is happening

A: Allow life to be as it is

I: Investigate inner experience with kindness

N: Nurture and non-identification

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