Psychedelic Therapy and Mindfulness: All You Need to Know
Psychedelic therapy using magic mushrooms and LSD is becoming more and more common. Psilocybin therapy is under ongoing investigation for its use in managing mental health and wellness, particularly anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and end-of-life care. During clinical trials, psychedelic therapy is done under the supervision of a psychotherapist or other mental health professional. While this isn’t a necessary part of the therapeutic process, it can be helpful.
One recommendation some therapists have for preparing for psychedelic therapy is to familiarize yourself with and practice mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness can help us manage the psychedelic experience and support integration.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of staying present and recognizing our feelings in the moment without judgment. In a world that’s so connected to technology and easily distracted, it’s important to take the time to actively be present.
Some people feel mindfulness is intimidating, and while it can be, it doesn’t have to be. Mindfulness isn’t about being thoughtless (as some people perceive meditation); it’s about being present and gentle with ourselves. Of course, practicing mindfulness isn’t easy, which is exactly why we call it practicing mindfulness. It is a practice that we engage with that never needs to be perfect.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
It can be helpful to understand some of the benefits of mindfulness, independent of psychedelic therapy, to help motivate ourselves to practice.
Mindfulness helps reduce stress, gain compassion for ourselves and others, improve sleep, and enhance performance – such as focus and attention. It gives us time to be present with ourselves without judgment, which can help us gain insight into our mind; this can help unlock our curiosity about ourselves.
Doesn’t this sound a bit like some of the goals we have when it comes to psychedelic therapy? No wonder they go hand-in-hand.
What Does Mindfulness Look Like During Psychedelic Therapy?
Since the core of mindfulness is about being present, during psychedelic therapy, this means being fully present in your body and allowing yourself to experience the journey fully.
How Mindfulness Can Help You Get the Most of Your Psychedelic Experience
Practising mindfulness before a psychedelic experience can deepen your understanding of the practice itself, so it’s an easily accessible tool during the therapy.
Before the experience, mindfulness can help manage anxiety and stress about the experience itself and help to get you into the right frame of mind to set intentions.
During the experience, mindfulness can help keep us calm by staying focused on the present and thoughtful about our intentions rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.
After the experience, mindfulness can help us to remain present with ourselves to help us process the experience and the thoughts or feelings that came up. In short, it can help to support the integration process.
How to Practice Mindfulness – Mindfulness Tips
There are numerous ways of practising mindfulness, so remember that if one method doesn’t work for you, don’t give up; try another approach. No matter what type of mindfulness practice you’re engaging in, remember to stay present, focus on the feelings in your body, and don’t judge yourself.
A great place to start when practising mindfulness is with breathing exercises. Paying attention to your breath can keep you grounded in the moment at any time.
Four-stage breathing is a great way to start practising mindfulness because it’s structured and follows four easy steps.
Before starting, get into a comfortable seated position, so you aren’t worried about the rest of your body.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose for a count of four seconds.
- Hold for two to four seconds
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of four
- Hold for two to four seconds
Repeat for a few minutes until you are familiar with the practice or feel calmer.
How to Sit for Mindfulness Practice
Trying mindfulness for the first time but struggling to get into a position that feels comfortable? That’s normal. Here are some suggestions for how to sit for mindfulness practice, so you aren’t distracted by your sitting position. However, remember that mindfulness is about finding what works for you, so if these tips don’t work, go with what feels best for you.
Also note, you can use this posture as a mindfulness practice in itself during busy days to bring yourself back into your body.
- Consider your seat. Find a place to sit comfortably that is stable and solid: the ground, a chair, park bench, etc.
- Consider your legs and feet. Consider crossing your legs or trying a seated yoga posture if you’re on the floor. Place your feet firmly on the floor or ground if you’re on a chair.
- Straighten your back (do not stiffen). Stack your head and neck comfortably atop the rest of your body without stiffening your back and shoulders. Consider what upright position feels natural for you.
- Consider your arms. Let your hands drop naturally to the tops of your legs with your shoulders staying back and your upper arms at your sides.
- Drop your chin slightly and soften your gaze. Some may want to close their eyes, but it is not necessary – let your gaze fall gently downward and relax your eyes.
Sit in this position for a few minutes and try focusing on your breath. You don’t necessarily have to try changing your breathing; simply follow it and feel it moving in and out of your body.
You can leave the practice here and go about your day. Or you can lead into another mindfulness exercise like four-stage breathing or stay in this position. If you stay here, every time your thoughts begin to wander (they will wander, don’t allow yourself to judge this wandering), bring your awareness back to your breath.
Some people have difficulty sitting still or have mastered breathing exercises and want to try other structured mindfulness exercises.
Walking meditation can be an excellent strategy for those who have trouble sitting still. You may want to begin with walking back and forth along a straight line or in a loop to start with, but if you have a regular walk that you do, you can practise mindfulness as you go. Actively slow down and pay attention to your body, think about how your muscles are moving you, think about walking with the correct posture, feel the sensations of the air entering and exiting your lungs.
This exercise brings all the benefits of being mindful with the added benefits of exercise and can also help us to connect with nature. Consider using this practice as an excuse to get outside on your lunch break.
Our senses play a big part in practising mindfulness, as we already talked about. A quick and easy way to bring mindfulness into your daily life is through a five senses scavenger hunt. This name is often used for kids, but we think it’s great too. Force yourself to pause and notice four things you see, three things you hear, two things you feel, and one thing you touch.
This exercise is beneficial when you feel overwhelmed, and your thoughts are racing. It helps slow your mind down, refocus on the present, and relax your mind and body.
Remind yourself to pay attention. It’s easy to get distracted by our phones or our long list of to-dos, so take the time to pay attention to this moment, right now, whatever you may be doing. Slow down and think about all of your senses: what do you see, hear, feel, touch, taste at this very moment. One great way of practicing this is with mindful eating – make yourself your favourite meal or grab your favourite snack and do nothing other than focus on eating it. Observe it before eating, what it looks like, how it smells, and then experience every aspect of its taste and texture as you chew.
While psychedelic therapy isn’t fully legal in Canada, but we are currently moving in the direction of supported therapeutic use. Health Canada has granted exemptions to a number of individuals across the country to “to allow them to possess and consume mushrooms containing psilocybin to treat their end-of-life psychological distress associated with their cancer diagnosis” according to Global News. Additionally, the federal health agency has given approval to 27 organizations to “conduct activities” with psilocybin. One of those organizations is Numinus, a BC-based clinic that says it is the first publicly traded company in Canada granted a licence to extract psilocybin from mushrooms for research purposes.
Many advocates across the country are pushing for decriminalization of psilocybin, particularly for therapeutic use, and it’s looking promising.
Of course, adult Candians do have access to obtaining magic mushrooms and psilocybin products. However, since it’s not a regulated market, it’s important that you purchase your products from a trusted source.
What is Psychedelic Integration? and how can it improve your psychedelic experience.
Learn more about setting intentions for psychedelic therapy.