Mindfulness introduction

Mindfulness-based practices are some of the most helpful tools for coping with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. There is ever-expanding scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of meditation and other mindful practices, and my own clinical experience strongly supports its usefulness.
I have been mindfully meditating for the last decade, and have found the practice to be soothing, enriching and a source of balance when things feel most unbalanced. I have the opinion that any person struggling with emotional distress can benefit from mindfulness meditation. Given that this topic is such an interest of mine, I could easily overwhelm you going on and on about the various theories and issues related to mindfulness, but what I’m trying to communicate in this post is a few of the basics of mindfulness and give you some links and resources to get you started with your own practice. For current patients, if this is not something we have discussed, feel free to ask me about it the next time we meet, as I’m always happy to help you along the process of developing your own mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness can be simply defined as non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. In mindfulness meditation, one will focus on some aspect of the present, e.g. breath, sounds, thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, etc. During this process, it is very common to be distracted by various things besides what you are intending to focus on. In mindfulness practice, the key is to calmly acknowledge and accept whatever is pulling you out of focus and bring your attention back to whatever it is you are focused on. Formal mindfulness practices can be as short as two minutes and as long as hours. I differentiate “formal practice” from the concept of mindfulness, which can be applied to life in a number of ways. 
Several things seem to happen when mindfulness is done regularly. There have been a number of discoveries in the field of cognitive science in the last several years about what meditation does in the brain. There are several brain structures affected by mindfulness practices that are key to emotional regulation and stress tolerance. Amygdala function is profoundly affected by meditation and regular meditation can even decrease the size of the amygdala. I encourage anyone with emotional problems to learn about the amygdala and what it does for/to us. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into, but I’ll just say that it plays a hugely important role in your emotional response to various thoughts, memories and other stimuli, especially when it comes to your fear response.
Mindfulness practices also increase activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which helps decrease emotional reactivity. Over time, this allows your emotions to be less triggered by various things that life throws at you. Mindfulness practices also involve strengthening non-judgment and compassion, two of the most key ingredients to a more balanced and healthy mind.
Here are some links for free guided mindfulness meditations and a few links to books that I feel are particularly helpful for someone wanting to incorporate mindfulness into their lives:
Free mindfulness

UCLA Free guided meditations

Excellent books on various mindfulness topics
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Workbook
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The mindfulness and acceptance workbook for anxiety
Mindful way through depression
Mindfulness meditation for pain relief - audio