How do the Mindfulness Exercises look like?
Common mindfulness exercises performed regularly promote different skills, such as patience, open-mindedness, kindness or an accepting attitude towards difficult situations. An accepting attitude doesn’t mean that one doesn’t care what happens. It is rather about observing events and things that have already taken place and which cannot be influenced at the moment and accepting them as part of human life. If successful, it is calming to the nervous system and the body can relax.
In addition, a training of alertness fosters the development of these skills. In common mindfulness exercises, the attention will be brought to the breath, with words like
“Focus the attention on the breath. In which body part do you notice the breath the most? Maybe in the nostrils, or in the throat, does the chest area rise and fall, or is it the abdomen, or is the breath more noticeable in a different part. Keep the awareness on this very body part and observe the inhalation and the exhalation. Maybe notice the time that passes between the breath in and the breath out. And if the attention wanders to a different spot, it could be a thought or a feeling or something else – observe, and gently bring your mind back to the breath […]“
According to the Canadian writer, educator and trauma expert David Treleaven, the breath is experienced as a neutral place by most people. This is why the breath can be used as an anchor during mindfulness exercises. An anchor can be useful when establishing inner stability. With a sturdy anchor we even have the opportunity to bring the breath, step by step, to uncomfortable events. Interes­ting­ly, a mindful awareness of unpleasant things often leads to relaxation afterwards. David Treleaven believes that a big part of the job of mindfulness exercises is to establish said inner stability, in order to use it in connection with the unpleasant.
What is the difference between
trauma sensitive mindfulness exercises
and common mindfulness exercises?
In the book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness David Treleaven describes 5 principles and 64 modifications when instructing the trauma sensitive mindfulness exercises. On the basis of his experience, for some people with a traumatic history the breath may not represent a particularly neutral place, because the breathing can have the trauma memory rise into consciousness. Therefore a different anchor for certain people with trauma is needed. This could be a noise, the touch of the hands, or the sensation of touching the floor. According to David Treleaven, due to these experiences it’s helpful to give people a choice and offer various options when it comes to focussing the attention. Said modification, besides 63 more, is being considered when practising trauma sensitive mindfulness exercises. As stated by David Treleaven, giving people with trauma a varity of options supports them in their self-efficacy, because during a traumatic experience most were not able to have a choice. This has an additional stabilizing effect.
The window of tolerance, defined by Daniel J. Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, stands for one of the 5 principles, writes David Treleaven. It refers to a conceptual framework in which we can feel comfortable and are more able to cope with stress and hardship. The more we familiarize ourselves with the window of tolerance, the easier we can practice mindfulness exercises in a responsible way. It may also happen that the window of tolerance expands over time.
Ultimately the question is: What do we need to know in order to safely offer mindfulness exercises to persons with trauma?
During our development of these trauma sensitive mindfulness exercises in the languages of refugees we factor in everything that might be relevant to refugees with trauma. We achieve this by acquiring the most up to date scientific findings in the fields of trauma research, mindfulness, trauma sensitive mindfulness, and education science. By considering the various cultural, religious, and linguistic backgrounds, and also the current situation of refugees, we work closely with universities, organizations, experts and refugees.