Summit Achievement incorporates mindfulness, as well as mindfulness meditation, in different segments of the program. Every day there are periods of time of silent reflection with the most notable being before each meal when the community stands in a circle in silence for a period of time. Spending Thursday through Sunday out in nature without distractions helps increase mindfulness for both staff and students. At times, while on expedition, a team may just hike in silence and just watch their minds. Other students are educated by their clinician, or guide, on mindfulness meditation techniques as treatment planning. By the time a student reaches the end of the wilderness experience they have an option to go on a solo which is a 24-hour period of silence and self-reflection. The solo experience has been researched and shown to be one of the most powerful experiences in a wilderness program (Kalisch, Bobilya, Daniel, 2011)
The term “mindfulness” has become quite popular in the press, books and other forms of media. Similarly mental health professionals are encouraging clients to practice “mindfulness” techniques in order to address cognitive challenges such as anxiety, emotional regulation, and depression. This is also the case for Summit Achievement clinicians as they often assign treatment goals that include a mindfulness practice to students with anxiety or other mood disorders. But what is “mindfulness” and why does it seem that everyone is talking about it?
“Mindfulness” is often used to refer to a cognitive state of awareness, a practice that promotes awareness, a way to process information and even a characterological trait (Davis and Hayes, 2011) The simplest way to define “mindfulness” is “moment to moment awareness” (Gernes, et al 2005) Mindfulness is a state of mind that can be promoted by practices. Practices the promote mindfulness including yoga, breathing exercises, sitting in silence, and prayer. Others have written that mindfulness can be enhanced by long distance running, gardening, surfing, rock climbing or any activity that can one can get into a ‘Flow” state (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008) Time in nature has also been shown to increase mindfulness especially for young people (Louv, 2008)
The most well-known of the mindfulness practices is referred to as “mindfulness meditation.” Mindfulness meditation is the practice of attending to the wide range of changing objects of attention while maintaining moment to moment awareness (Goldstein, Kornfield, 1987). Mindfulness meditation is the process of sitting in silence and focusing on breathing while not being caught up in the distractions of thoughts and emotions. When thoughts and emotions occur the meditator just labels those mental intrusions as “thoughts” and goes back to the process of focusing on the breath. It sounds simple but the actual process is quite difficult as our minds, are often distracted by thoughts and feelings and we don’t realize how busy our minds are until we start to meditate.
Mindfulness meditation has been researched for several decades and the positive outcomes of this practice cannot be overstated. Research studies have shown that mindfulness meditation helps develop effective emotional regulation of the brain (Siegel 2007), decreases ruminative thoughts (Chamber, et al 2008), helps to reduce anxiety and depression while increasing positive affect (Hoffman, Sawyer, Witt, Oh 2010)). Other studies have shown the meditation practice have increased cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning (Moor, Malinowski 2009). If mindfulness meditation was a drug every physician would be prescribing it! Mindfulness meditation is being talked about because it works and evidenced based research has proven it.
“Mindfulness” is a term that is widely bantered about and yet it is really about simple practices of slowing oneself down enough to see how busy our minds are. Summit Achievement by its very nature, due to incorporating the wilderness aspects and times of reflection in the program, is a program that promotes mindfulness for all who participate. Mindfulness promotes a peaceful and reflective mind.
To see some of Summit Achievement’s outcome research, click here
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