Mindfulness Based cognitive therapy

“Our life is what our thoughts make it” (Marcus Aurelius)

What is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of therapy born from the union of cognitive therapy and meditative principles.

  • Cognitive therapy aims to help clients grow and find relief from symptoms of mental illness through the modification of dysfunctional thinking (Beck Institute, 2016).
  • Mindfulness can be summed up as the practice and state of being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions on a continuous basis (Greater Good Science Center, 2017). Mindfulness also contributes to an acceptance of the self as it is, without attaching value judgments to our thoughts.


The marriage of these ideas is MBCT, a powerful therapeutic tool that can be successfully applied to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more.



MBCT For Treating Depression

MBCT is thought to be effective for many clients, but it has been found to be especially effective for one group in particular: people who have suffered from multiple episodes of depression (Mental Health Foundation).

The official jury is still out, so to speak, on the effectiveness of MBCT for individuals with less chronic depression and those who suffer from other mental ailments, but the preliminary evidence is encouraging (see sources above).


How Does it Work?

MBCT can effectively treat mental health obstacles by applying mindfulness in all steps:

  1. Mindfulness helps the client discover their own thought and mood patterns.
  2. Mindfulness helps the client learn how to be present and appreciate the small pleasures of everyday life.
  3. Mindfulness teaches the client how to stop the downward spiral that can emerge from a bad mood or thinking about painful memories.
  4. Mindfulness allows the client to “shift gears” from their present state of mind to one which is more aware, more balanced, and less judgmental.
  5. Mindfulness gives the client access to another approach to dealing with difficult emotions and moods(MBCT.com).


In particular, MBCT is effective in helping clients deal with depression. The website MBCT.com lays out the three steps through which MBCT can help:

  1. It will help you understand what depression is.
  2. It will help you discover what makes you vulnerable to downward mood spirals, and why you get stuck at the bottom of the spiral.
  3. It will help you see the connection between downward spirals: High standards that oppress us or feelings that we are simply “not good enough”, ways we put pressure on ourselves or make ourselves miserable with overwork and ways we lose touch with what makes life worth living.

Here are some useful techniques you might benefit from:

Three-Minute Breathing Space

The three-minute breathing space is a quick exercise that is undertaken in three steps:

  • The first minute is spent on answering the question, “how am I doing right now?” while focusing on the feelings, thoughts, and sensations that arise and trying to give these words and phrases.
  • The second minute is spent on keeping awareness on the breath.
  • The last minute is used for an expansion of attention from solely focusing on the breath, to feeling physical sensations and how they affect the rest of the body.

man breathing - mbct breathing excercise positivepsychologyprogram
For a guided version of the three-minute breathing space, watch this video.

Other recommended MBCT techniques are discussed below.


Body Scan

The Body Scan exercise begins with the participants lying on their backs with their palms facing up and their feet falling slightly apart. This exercise can also be done by participants sitting on a comfortable chair with their feet resting on the floor.

The facilitator asks the participants to lie very still for the duration of the exercise, and move deliberately and with awareness if it becomes necessary to adjust their position.

Next, the facilitator begins guiding participants through the Body Scan. Participants begin by bringing awareness to the breath, noticing the rhythm, and the experience of breathing in and expelling out. The facilitator explains that participants should not try to change the way they are breathing, just hold gentle awareness on the breath.

The facilitator guides attention to the body next: how it feels, the texture of clothing against the skin, the contours of the surface on which the body is resting, the temperature of the body and the environment.

Participants are instructed to bring their awareness to the parts of the body that are tingling, sore, or feeling particularly heavy or light. The facilitator asks the participants to note any areas of their body where they don’t feel any sensations at all or, conversely, areas that are hypersensitive.

A typical body scan runs through each part of the body, paying special attention to the way each area feels. The scan typically moves in this order:

  • Toes of both feet
  • The rest of the feet (top, bottom, ankle)
  • Lower legs
  • Knees
  • Thighs
  • Pelvic region- buttocks, tailbone, pelvic bone, genitals
  • The abdomen
  • Chest
  • Lower back
  • Upper back- back ribs & shoulder blades
  • Hands (fingers, palms, backs, wrists)
  • Arms (lower, elbows, upper)
  • Neck
  • Face and rest of head (jaw, mouth, nose, cheeks, ears, eyes, forehead, scalp, back & top of head)
  • Blow hole (Fleming & Kocovski, 2007)

woman body scan - mbct exercise bodyscan positivepsychologyprogram
After the Body Scan is complete, participants are instructed to bring awareness back to the room when they are ready. It is recommended that participants open their eyes slowly and move naturally to a comfortable sitting position.




Mindfulness Stretching

Mindfulness can be practiced in many situations throughout the day, including exercise. However, rushing straight to the exercise can be a missed opportunity to prepare both mind and body for physical exertion.

Stretching before a workout is important for several reasons, including (Crain):

  • It’s a natural and instinctive movement for humans.
  • Regular stretching improves flexibility and range of motion.
  • Stretching improves and increases circulation by bringing a rush of oxygen to the muscles.
  • It feels good to stretch!

woman stretching - mbct stretching exercise
Mindful stretching adds even more benefits, such as increased awareness and a sense of balance. You have several options to choose from if you would like to practice mindful stretching, a few of which are listed below.



Pandiculation is a fancy term for a fairly simple stretch. To try this stretch, put your palms on your shoulders (or as close to your shoulders as you can get), raise your elbows up to shoulder height, open your mouth, and let out a big, satisfying yawn (Crain).

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

PNF is a set of guidelines rather than a specific technique. This type of stretching is based on four principles:

(1) avoid pain in your stretches,
(2) stretch slowly to avoid injury,
(3) exercise caution when stretching, and make sure to stretch the correct muscle, and
(4) stretch carefully to avoid affecting other muscles or joints (Berg, 2011).

The six parts of PNF are as follows:

  • Assume the correct starting position
  • Stretch until you reach the point where you feel a sting or pain in the muscle
  • Relax the muscle(s)
  • Tighten the muscle without moving it
  • Relax again
  • Stretch to the new point where you feel a sting or other pain


You can repeat steps three through six up to six times, depending on what is right for you at the time (Berg, 2011).



Yoga Poses

There are several yoga poses that facilitate mindful stretching, and these four are recommended in particular:

  • Gomukhasana: This pose involves opening the chest through the extension of the triceps and shoulders, and is typically performed while kneeling or sitting with crossed legs.
  • Side to side neck stretch: This stretch is performed by sitting and gently using your hand to pull your head to one side at a time.
  • Pigeon Pose: This pose is a fairly complicated pose, with your hips to the floor and one leg in front of you, perpendicular to the mat, and the other leg straight out behind you. For more information on correctly executing this pose, see the detailed explanation here.
  • The Scorpion: To practice this pose, lie flat with your arms straight out to the side. Next, lift your right foot as high as you can with the sole straight up to the ceiling. Finally, lift your right hip and reach your right foot over to the outside of your left leg, while keeping your chest and arms on the floor. Switch legs to experience both stretches (Crain).

gaumukhasana yoga pose mbct exercise positivepscyhologyprogram
Whatever technique you use, mindful stretching can be an excellent addition to MBCT.

Daily Mindfulness

Sometimes the most simple exercises can be the most helpful. In the case of MBCT, this is especially true. Practicing mindfulness throughout the day is the best way to make sure it is woven into your life.



Mindful Showering

This exercise is an easy one for beginners. While showering, direct your attention to the temperature of the water as it hits your body, the feel of the spray, the smell of the shampoo, and the sensation of lathered soap against your skin. If your mind begins to wander, a common problem during showers, gently bring it back to the present with thoughts about what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling.

Mindfully Brushing Your Teeth

Similar to mindful showering, bring your awareness to the sensations evoked by the feel of the brush. Ask yourself how the bristles feel against your teeth, your gums, and your tongue. Focus on the taste of the toothpaste to keep yourself in the present moment.

Mindful Eating

As mentioned earlier, we have covered mindful eating before. One helpful tip that has not yet been mentioned is to turn off any distractions, like the computer, TV, radio, and smartphone, and allowing all of your senses to focus on.

Mindful Dishwashing

Try this mindfulness exercise when you have only a few dishes to wash. Watch as you scrape or sponge the dirty dishes. Notice the textures, sights, and sounds of washing dishes. You can even focus your attention on the smell, although the desirability of this move is up for debate.

doing the dishes - mbct exercise mindful dishwashing



Mindfully Making Your Bed

Instead of making your bed quickly and carelessly, put effort into making the bed. Move deliberately and with purpose. Pay attention to what you are seeing and doing. Notice the way the sheets slip across the bed and the way the pillows look underneath the cover. Feel the different textures of the bedding, and above all, try to immerse yourself in your current task, as mundane as it may seem.


Mindful Exercising

As covered earlier, mindful exercising is a great way to incorporate mindfulness into a healthy lifestyle. Turn off the TV and music and bid farewell to friends and family for a few moments. Focus your awareness on how your muscles feel, how you are moving, and the changing rate of your breath. Give yourself a full experience of exercising without the distractions from the pain or heavy breathing that we often find ourselves trapped with.

Taking the opportunity to practice mindfulness whenever one is presented will help you to maintain a healthy sense of awareness and balance throughout your day.

For more exercises and techniques to apply to your practice, check out this Preliminary Client Handout for MBCT for tons of useful information and “homework assignments”. This link also features over two dozen guided meditations and talks from MBCT teachers.

If you’re interested in diving more deeply into MBCT, contact Emily  215.253.0042

or email: emilyabeledo@icloud.com

Summerwind Circle
Bradenton, FL 34209

(215) 253-0042

Request Appointment

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

Contact Information

Summerwind Circle
Bradenton, FL 34209
(215) 253-0042
Request Appointment

Connect Online