Mindfulness and Wellness

Dr. Saundra Jain is a psychotherapist, educator, WebMD blogger, and strong supporter of living a life based on wellness practices. She is also the co-creator of the WILD 5 Wellness Program, a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to optimal health. In this contribution to the KineSophy Mindfulness Series, she explains how mindfulness fits into her wellness program.

My husband and I are mental health professionals. I’m a psychotherapist, and he’s a psychiatrist. We have more than fifty years of combined experience working in the mental health field. Initially, our work focused primarily on the mental illnesses of our patients. More than a decade ago, we began noticing that while many of our patients were symptomatically better, their scores on mental wellness scales remained extremely low. Consequently, we began exploring what it means for someone to be truly well, rather than just having a reduction of their symptoms.

Recently, there has been a growing focus on wellness. While the absence of illness is a component of being healthy, it doesn’t indicate whether you are truly in a state of wellness. Wellness is a proactive process designed to help you achieve optimum levels of wellness—for you. Wellness refers to living the best life you possibly can, regardless of whether you have a disease or disability.

Considerable research, conducted at multiple academic centers around the world, as well as our own research, shows there is a global hunger for mental wellness. Additionally, there is clear evidence that a “wellness deficit” of epidemic proportions actually exists. We think the absence of, or reduction in a sense of wellness should be identified and targeted. Some years ago, we coined the phrase “Wellness Deficit Disorder,” to highlight that wellness, and its absence, is a disorder that rightfully deserves our attention. Although currently this disorder doesn’t exist in any of our established diagnostic and classification systems, it is nonetheless very real.

When faced with a mental or physical challenge, this deficit is amplified. The medical and psychiatric professions, due to training, are strongly focused on the treatment of illnesses. We often forget that wellness is an essential part of good health and deserves our attention. Wellness Deficit Disorder, if present, deserves to be identified and addressed.

After much conversation and consideration, my husband and I agreed that what we were seeing was, in fact, a Wellness Deficit Disorder. Once we knew what to call it, we were ready to roll up our sleeves, design an integrated wellness program, and get busy researching its effectiveness. We designed our program, WILD 5 Wellness, to include five specific practices of our ancestors: exercise, mindfulness, sleep, social connectedness and nutrition.

The physical and mental benefits of these five wellness practices are well supported in the scientific literature. Based on these benefits, we integrated all five of these practices into the program. Let’s explore one of the practices: mindfulness meditation.

The benefits of mindfulness meditation are frequently covered in today’s news, but you may have wondered, “What is mindfulness?” You have probably had the experience of driving your car and arriving at your destination without remembering how you got there. This type of mindless behavior is like being on autopilot. While on autopilot you are missing out on living your life fully and are at greater risk for feeling dissatisfied and unhappy.

Mindfulness is the opposite of this mindless, autopilot state. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is a world-renowned authority on mindfulness. He defines mindfulness as “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness and Wellness

Being mindful means you are paying attention on purpose. When you practice mindfulness, you are purposely directing your attention to your experience, whatever that may be.

Being mindful means that you are focusing your attention specifically on the present moment. Your mind rarely stays focused on the present, but rather is rehashing events that have happened in the past or is anticipating events that will be happening in the future. When you’re practicing mindfulness, you pay attention to your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations, without judgment. You simply observe your experiences and refrain from labeling them. You approach your experiences with non-judgment, allowing them to be as they are, rather than evaluating whether they are good or bad.

Mindfulness is an integral part of the WILD 5 program. As part of the ninety-day program, participants are asked to meditate ten minutes each day for the first thirty days (Phase 1), at least five days per week for the second thirty days (Phase 2), and at least three days per week for the final thirty days (Phase 3). Participants may continue their own mindfulness practice, begin using a mindfulness-based app, or use the WILD 5 Wellness Mindfulness Meditations. Integrating the practice of mindfulness meditation with the other four wellness practices has resulted in remarkable improvements in disease markers, wellness markers, and chronic pain.

Whether you’re new to mindfulness, have dabbled in it a bit, or are a seasoned meditator, the benefits of a mindfulness-based practice are supported scientifically by thousands of research studies documenting its benefits. Data tell us that a regular mindfulness practice improves both mental and physical health. The data on mindfulness helping us deal with mood and anxiety, increasing our overall sense of well-being, and improving our health are solid and convincing. Please don’t shy away if mindfulness strikes you as a “New Age” or “mystical” practice. Remember, it’s a top-notch wellness intervention, supported by many research studies documenting its benefits!

Read the other articles in the KineSophy Mindfulness Series.