Recently, the HuffPost Parents blog featured an interesting article by Karen Bluth, who taught mindfulness to at-risk teenagers at a small public school. The original post is certainly worth a read, as she recounts her experience with humor, warmth and insight. While some of her lessons are unique to her experience working with reticent adolescents, here are three strategies that can strengthen anyone's mindfulness practice, be it your own or a client's.
1. Make a commitment.
Bluth’s commitment to teach mindfulness for at least one semester carried her through some difficult times when she felt tempted to throw in the towel. If you’re having trouble establishing your own mindfulness practice, or if a client is struggling with it, consider using a similar time-specific commitment as a motivational tool. Set a period of a few weeks or months and commit to practicing regularly for the duration. This may help provide structure and motivation when life gets busy and mindfulness can seem like a lower priority.
This strategy may also encourage a client who is reluctant to engage with mindfulness to give it a try: the expiration date on the commitment gives the client something to work towards, and as the end of the experiment approaches, you can have regular check-ins to talk about how things are going. Just remember that it can often take time to get into the rhythm of mindfulness.
2. Find a supportive environment.
Bluth started out teaching mindfulness in the classroom but soon discovered that her students had negative connotations with that environment, which negatively impacted their focus. Although some mindfulness practices, like the 3-Minute Breathing Space, are designed to be used anywhere, finding an environment free of distractions may be beneficial for beginners struggling to get started or stick with a regular mindfulness practice. You may want to encourage clients who are just beginning their practice to seek out a space that has positive or neutral connotations, as Bluth did with her students. Once your clients have a strong foundation built, they may wish to expand their practices to other, more potentially stressful environments.
3. Be flexible.
As Bluth quickly discovered with her class, mindfulness doesn’t work the same way for everyone. While her students felt the raisin activity was too abstract, they loved restorative yoga and body scans. Bluth adjusted her curriculum to fit their preferences. In the same way, it can be valuable to customize a practice as necessary, while still honoring the basic intentions of mindfulness.
As Bluth says, “Most mindfulness activities are designed to get at the same thing: to bring awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of present-moment experiences. The specific practices we use - whether we focus on the breath, physical sensations, or sound - are incidental.” You may consider incorporating some of the elements Bluth utilized in her class, such as yoga and soothing music, into your own practice, or suggest these elements to clients. Varying the type of practice is another strategy for customization. A bit of experimentation can help you or your clients discover what works best and is easiest to maintain.
Bluth's story is an honest, and at times funny, look at how difficult it can be to teach mindfulness. As she learned, perserverance and flexibility are the keys to successfully establishing a practice that can be rewarding for therapists and clients alike.