Mindfulness Q&A with Lisa Dale Miller

Lisa Dale Miller, LMFT, LPCC, SEP, is a private practice psychotherapist in Los Gatos, California. She specializes in mindfulness psychotherapy and Buddhist psychology and is a certified Somatic Experiencing practitioner. Lisa trains clinicians in the application of mindfulness interventions and practical Buddhist psychology and is trained in Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Lisa has been a dedicated yogic and Buddhist meditation practitioner for almost four decades and is the author of Effortless Mindfulness.

What can a busy person do to quickly and easily improve their mental health?

There are two key elements that contribute most to maintaining physical, emotional and mental health: moderate daily exercise and good sleep. I can already hear the cries of, “I don’t have enough hours in the day as it is! Who has time to exercise? And I’m way too agitated to get to sleep quickly or I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.”
I know we are all crunched for time. But besides being great for physical health, regular exercise has significant anti-depressant effects, especially when done outside in the sun. Exercise has also been shown to increase hippocampal neurogenesis and more importantly, reduce central nervous system inflammation – an important contributor to anxious/depressive symptoms, mania and psychosis. Daily exercise promotes mental clarity, calm, and feelings of joy and aliveness. The very qualities everyone needs to work, live and play with greater ease. And it is not that hard to find ways to get your body moving every day, even if you hate exercise. Try 20-30 minutes of brisk walking during your lunch break or before or after work. Have business meetings outside walking. Take a walk with your kids after dinner; they need the exercise too. Or take up dance, yoga or tai chi.
And best of all, daily exercise promotes good sleep, the most important contributor to overall physical and mental well-being. Good sleep improves mental clarity, serenity, and sexual performance and it heightens mood. Sleeping well also decreases incidence of irritability and chronic pain. Take heed: if you snore or don’t feel rested after a full night’s sleep, get yourself checked for sleep apnea.
Here are eight easily implementable steps to immediately improve your sleep.
• Avoid cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants.
• Take all electronics out of the bedroom.
• Don’t watch TV or use devices 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
• Use that 30 minutes to unwind, relax, or read.
• Sleep in a cool, dark room.
• Go to bed and awaken at the same times each day.
• Don’t nap at all or do it early in the day.
• Do your exercise early in the day.

How can being considerate of others improve your own state of mind?

Kindness, generosity, tolerance and open-mindedness are the proximate causes of genuine happiness. Additionally, research shows that when the mind-heart are involved in altruistic thoughts or acts, the brain’s reward system lights up big time. This one of the reasons helping others feels so good. Alternatively, selfishness, greed, and stinginess contract the heart and grip the mind in aversive states. These forms of afflictive mentation lead to hurtful thoughts and feelings, and often form the underpinnings of harmful acts. When we actively seek the welfare of others we cultivate non-violence in all our thoughts and deeds. Therefore, altruism and wise, compassionate action is undoubtedly the most powerful path to personal and collective well-being.

How does the tendency to judge experience alter one’s overall sense of wellbeing?

Afflictive mentation of all kinds lures us away from the refuge of actual here-and-now experience. It also contributes to distorted, aversive, and agitating narratives about self and world, which underpin most mental and emotional difficulties. Judging is not the same as discerning. Judgment is based upon beliefs and opinions; discernment is based in wisdom. Judgment is limiting, while discernment is expanding. The richness and complexity of actual here-and-now experience is a healing balm for an anxious, depressed, ruminating or worried mind. Deliberately seeing or hearing the world around you, stills afflictive mentation and allows the body to calm itself naturally. So right now, let your eyes roam freely. Where the eyes go, intentionally see the objects before you with interest and curiosity. Or land your awareness in the sounds around you and rest in their comings and goings. When we open our senses, the world shows us its beauty and mystery. This is the way to rest in the contented tranquillity of experience as it actually is.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is wise attending. Roshi Joan Halifax describes it thusly, “Mindful attention is characterized as sustaining, vivid, stable, and effortless; it is as well non-judgmental, nonreactive, not contracting in relation to adversity, and nongrasping in terms of the desire for a particular outcome.” Attending mindfully to inner and outer experience is the gateway to awareness, the mind’s innate, inexhaustible well of beingness and equanimity. Therefore, we all have equal capacity to cultivate wise attending. Clinical mindfulness is measured as a trait, a state, or an intervention. Trait mindfulness refers to one’s disposition toward objects of attention. Mindful states vary in intensity and duration and can be strengthened using interventions such as mindfulness meditation practices and/or mindful movement. When taught properly and practiced in moderation, there are few contraindications for mindfulness meditation or mindful movement.

What are some key resources for improving mindfulness skills and overall wellbeing?

Books and recordings by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzburg, Joseph Goldstein, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mingyur Rinpoche, Anam Thubten, and Ronald Siegel.
Listen to Effortless Mindfulness with Lisa Dale Miller - Shrink Rap Radio Interview HERE.

Related Product

  • Effortless Mindfulness

    Genuine Mental Health Through Awakened Presence

    By Lisa Dale Miller

    Effortless Mindfulness promotes genuine mental health through the direct experience of awakened presence—an effortlessly embodied, fearless understanding of and interaction with the way things truly are. The book offers a uniquely modern Buddhist psychological understanding of mental health…

    Paperback – 2014-03-27
    Routledge