Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Meditation

Why It Works

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Meditation

The digital explosion has universally amplified the intensity and complexity of legal practice. Clients demand more timely and even instant responses. Many lawyers have found that the centering and integrative effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Meditation (“MBSR”) have enhanced their ability to achieve calmness and personal integration in the face of accelerating and competing demands. As such, they have adopted contemplative lawyering practices that are rapidly spreading throughout North America. Lawyers find that the intentional focus of attention on moment-to-moment experience, using the breath as an anchor, is an effective way to reduce stress because it enhances the physiology of internal attunement within the nervous system. They are surprised that by simply taking their breath deeper into the diaphragm, they can alter their mental state and focus. Neuroscience research has shown that internal attunement has been found to improve the following integrative functions of the brain and keep persons “on-line” in the face of stress, thereby augmenting their innate abilities as follows (Siegel 20072010):

  1. Attention training and developing the capacity to focus;
  2. Self-efficacy and fear modulation;
  3. Response Reflexivity through the recognition of perceptual alternatives to stressful situations, thereby allowing them to respond to situations more thoughtfully with less reactivity;
  4. Self-regulation, body regulation and calming down, which creates self-understanding as to how they function, think and act with themselves, others, and the world;
  5. Emotional balance;
  6. Insight;
  7. Empathy and understanding the experience of another; and
  8. Attuned communication with others and being mindfully and internally attuned.

Through practising MBSR techniques, using the breath as an anchor, a person can greatly enhance their ability to “feel the reality of their experience” and then to act on it rather than getting lost in it. This enables lawyers to make better decisions, deal with clients more effectively in the moment, and do their work more efficiently and with less stress.

At the Lawyers Assistance Program of British Columbia, CEO Derek LaCroix implemented group training for lawyers in MBSR techniques. Associate Director Susan Burak has facilitated the program since its inception four years ago and has observed that the contemplative practices of MBSR enhance lawyers’ abilities to engage more effectively and with greater satisfaction in legal practice. Through focusing on the deeper breathing space as an anchor, MBSR practices assist with the quiet introspection and realignment of one’s inner compass. The moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensation, and the environment allow for the over-ride of habitual “autopilot” response patterns of mindless reactivity and their gradual replacement by a calm and centered focus. One can then prevent the over-thinking, over-analyzing and perseveration that impair problem solving abilities by sapping motivation, interfering with concentration and creating anxiety and depression.

Recent studies at Yale have shown that MBSR and other associated contemplative practices reduce mind wandering and rumination and enhance capacities for optimism and overcoming negativity bias. As such, a person’s mental capacity is enhanced for more spacious awareness and recognition of perceptual alternatives to “all or nothing” thinking. This allows for improvements in perceptual clarity, objectivity, concentration and resilience to stress, all of which are essential to effective legal practice. As lawyers, our minds are our instruments and if our instruments are properly attuned through MBSR we can augment our abilities and capabilities. It is as easy as breathing. MBSR techniques can be learned quickly.


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