Eastern philosophies like mindfulness and yoga have been a part of Western psychiatric medicine for decades. A deeper look at how these concepts have come to be introduced in the early days of psychotherapy, and their evolution alongside modern talk therapy can give us a better insight into how mental health is treated and addressed today – and why we value a variety of modalities and evidence-based therapies here at The Verve.
MINDFULNESS, MOVEMENT, YOGA
THE ROLE AND HISTORY OF MINDFULNESS IN MENTAL HEALTH
The history of mindfulness as a therapeutic process in American psychiatric medicine is most commonly attributed to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn was introduced to Zen philosophy by an American missionary who studied in Japan. After studying meditation under various Buddhist teachers in East Asia, Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction treatment course, which gained traction after Kabat-Zinn’s first book took off in 1991. Work on Kabat-Zinn’s stress reduction course dates back to 1979.
Around the same time in the 1980s, psychologist Marsha Linehan was introducing elements of eastern Zen Buddhist philosophy into her behavioral therapy program, later called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). The introduction of Buddhist meditation, later renamed mindfulness skills, aimed to help clients with high suicidality and borderline personality disorder symptoms learn to develop better distress tolerance, improve emotional regulation, and finally begin to apply their skills training in other aspects of life, to improve their therapeutic outcomes (beginning with a focus on harm reduction and treatment adherence).
Both of these introductions to Western psychiatric medicine began with the interest in Buddhist thought as a unique means of tolerating and overcoming stress.
At its core, Buddhism teaches that suffering is an inherent part of the nature of the world, and that learning to be at peace with that fact can bring us a step closer towards a more harmonious relationship with the world around us – and peace in the afterlife. There are hundreds of different schools of thought in Buddhism, and countless interpretations of the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, as well as other ascetic figures throughout history.
Mindfulness, however, is linked most strongly to Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism, which was first developed in China, focuses entirely on present-moment awareness and the skill of simply existing, and reaching the “truth of the mind”.
Despite an early fascination with the spiritual and religious elements of Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness as a treatment method was adopted purely for its clinical value, and rebranded as a means to avoid alienating clients who might not have any familiarity with Buddhism, or are uncomfortable about adopting another religion’s practices.
Today, mindfulness techniques have become an established and evidence-based treatment method for mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder, and substance use disorder.
Mindfulness techniques incorporate traditional meditation techniques, as well as breathing techniques and imagery techniques to encourage clients to be in the moment, focus on a mechanical or conscious focal point (such as breathing or observing), and use these to calm erratic thoughts, readdress negative thinking from a different perspective, or cope with acute stressors.
MOVEMENT AND MENTAL HEALTH
Exercise in all of its forms is beneficial for the mind. This isn’t limited to a jog in the park or a hike through the hills. At The Verve, we encourage clients to embrace a multimodal approach to treatment – understanding that therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes each go hand-in-hand in helping someone throughout the recovery process.
Movement is perhaps the most versatile tool in a therapist’s toolkit because prescribing movement can mean anything from dance to martial arts or competitive biking – as long as brings a client to a certain level of physical exertion, personal satisfaction, and sense of accomplishment.
The latter are just as important as the former. Yes, movement benefits the mind through the release of certain endorphins. But the runner’s high is neither as strong as some people would have you believe, nor is it as common – or strictly limited to running, for that matter. Here at The Verve, we encourage clients to embrace all sorts of different types of movement and find a physical activity (any physical activity) that they enjoy doing. Some common examples of beneficial movement activities for mental health include:
Walking with friends
Walking in nature
And much more.
RECOVERY REIMAGINED. A NEW TAKE ON WHAT YOUR RECOVERY CAN BE.
MOVE WITH OTHERS
An underappreciated link between movement and mental health is the social aspect of exercise. Getting together as a group of friends or strangers can be incredibly encouraging, and can often help with consistency, as well as self-esteem.
Studies show that beginners feel more confident in their movements when they have someone else to mirror – and that mirroring an instructor’s movements helps beginners feel more like them, which reflects positively on their body image as well. This goes for dance movements as well as aerobics classes, and even strength training and weight lifting.
YOGA AS A THERAPEUTIC TOOL
Just like the ancient tradition of meditation, yoga is an ancient practice that began in the Indian subcontinent, at least 3,000 years ago. While yoga has evolved dramatically over so many centuries, at its core, it has always been a physical meditation and marriage of the mind, body, and soul.
On a therapeutic level, yoga in modern psychiatry aims to offer an alternative treatment method that combines the lessons taught in mindfulness with the spiritual history of yoga as a meditative practice, and the physical benefits of yoga as a form of exercise.
Whether yoga itself offers any unique benefits over other forms of exercise is unknown – but if its appeal alone can help clients stay consistent in their daily movement habits, then it can prove a useful tool in a larger therapeutic arsenal.
Yoga’s social element should not be understated, either. Group yoga sessions can help beginners focus on the physical challenge of each pose and movement, while engaging with the positive affirmations and reiterated focus on the here and now which each mantra or chant.
LEARN MORE ABOUT ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS AT THE VERVE
Our treatment methods and programs are individualized for each client’s needs and expectations. Physical modalities such as movement and yoga, as well as mindfulness training can help clients in therapy and day-to-day life.
Want to learn more? Get started with us today by calling (202) 816-6006 or sending us a message via our contact form.
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