18 December 2015

Washing Dishes Mindfully

Mindfulness thoughts. (Multiple websites)
Welcome back. Vicki is reading a book on mindfulness. A year ago, I told her how impressed I was by a 60 Minute report she missed on the topic. I considered blogging about it, but there was so much available, I let it go. Then I saw a recent study on washing dishes mindfully. How could I let that go?  

Mindfulness Background 
Some key points of mindfulness.
(Multiple websites)

Being an admirer not a practitioner of mindfulness, I can only relay what others have said. That’s particularly relevant as it pertains to what mindfulness is, which seems rather nebulous: Being aware of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and surroundings, living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Mindfulness traces to Buddhist tradition--the word itself is from an element of Buddhist practice. Mindfulness-based therapeutic applications for psychological conditions have developed since the 1970s. Most notable is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, which was designed to assist with pain and a range of conditions and life issues. That and similar programs are now widely used in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans’ centers and other settings.

Research on the topic, underway for 30 years, stepped-up the past decade. Typical of the findings, last spring, researchers from the Netherlands’ Erasmus University Medical Center, Harvard University and Harvard’s Medical School and School of Public Health published a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy programs. They reported that the programs “alleviate symptoms, both mental and physical, in the adjunct treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, depression, anxiety disorders and in prevention in healthy adults and children.”

Dishwashing Study

The dishwashing study was conducted by researchers from Florida State and Utah universities to investigate whether such an informal contemplative practice could promote the state of mindfulness and its related phenomena. They noted that research has concentrated on interventions which combine formal and informal practices to foster mindfulness, yet experimental investigation of informal practices has lagged, despite the goal of integrating mindfulness with life’s activities.

For their study, the researchers enlisted 51 undergraduates (33 females). After baseline testing, participants were randomly assigned to read either a descriptive dishwashing passage (25 students) or a mindfulness dishwashing passage, both of similar length (about 228 words) and reading difficulty.

The descriptive dishwashing passage gave explicit instructions, from filling the sink with water to adding soap to the order in which dishes should be washed. The mindfulness dishwashing passage, adapted from a 1975 introduction to meditation, described the importance of presence (“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes…Why put so much stress on a simple thing?…The fact that I am standing there and washing is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions…”)

Participants then wrote and explained their interpretation of the passage and were timed as they washed the same prearranged set of 18 clean dishes. After dishwashing, participants completed standard self-reporting scales of mindfulness and affect, before being asked to recall features of their experience (number of dishes, soap smell, how long it took).

Those who followed the descriptive instructions showed no affective change; however, those who washed dishes mindfully reported significantly increased state of mindfulness and inspiration and significantly decreased nervousness, in addition to overestimating the dishwashing time.

Wrap Up

Warren and Vicki washing dishes?
No. We have no aprons.

(Multiple websites)

After reviewing mindfulness for this blog post, I’m even more impressed than I was on first look, though it’s not something I feel pressed to practice since retiring. Oh, I worry about this or that--family, health, finances, the world situation, running out of milk, but I’ve been addressing those sorts of things for years, know what I can and can’t affect and usually find the humor in life. And lacking a dishwasher, I wash dishes as I go and am always inspired. Thanks for stopping by.


Research paper on dishwashing in Mindfulness journal and on ResearchGate:
Article on dishwashing study on Time website:
Source of study’s mindfulness dishwashing passage (see pp 3-4):
60 Minutes Mindfulness report, 14 Dec 2014; rebroadcast 6 Sep 2015:
Mindfulness background:
Research review of mindfulness in PLOS One journal:

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