What exactly is mindfulness? And how can it help us?
In essence, mindfulness means being in the moment. Being aware of where we are and what is going on for us right now.
The origins of mindfulness go back a long way…
Eastern cultures have been meditating for centuries and all religions encourage quiet times for reflection. Being in the here and now does not negate other stuff that is going on in our lives. We’re not talking about ignoring planning for the future and being unprepared for life events. But we are talking about getting life into perspective. Not being so overwhelmed with the small (or big) stuff that we don’t have time to appreciate what’s going on in the here now.
Mindfulness as we now know it was created by Professor of Medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s. He merged the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a zen Buddhist monk, with current neuroscience to create a format which has been proven scientifically to be effective.
Here in the UK, mindfulness was developed into Mindfulnessbased Stress Reduction Therapy (MBSR) an 8-week course offering meditation, observation of ourself without criticism and being compassionate with ourself.
It does this by offering:
- short daily guided meditations
- daily activities to increase living in the moment eg brushing your teeth, eating breakfast mindfully: so concentrating on just the one thing and really feeling it and being involved in all aspects of it
- habit releasers which are changing small ways in your routines like sitting in a different chair instead of your usual one, choosing what tv you watch, only watch that one programme and be thoroughly involved in it
- becoming more spontaneous in life generally
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness practice includes specific activities to encourage spontaneity so we can become less routined and regular meditation to calm the brain. Brain scans have shown that neural pathways can change positively after 5 weeks of regular meditation.
Some benefits are:
- physical benefits: decreases depression, decreases blood pressure, decreases pain, improves sleep, improves the immune system, improves memory.
- increase in self-awareness. We notice what is going on for us in the moment and how we are feeling.
- increase in stress management: by self-regulating our emotions.
- increase in our attention span and focus. We are able to spend longer on one task at a time. We concentrate better by prioritising tasks, filtering distractions and become more productive.
- increase in our attention and empathy in personal and professional relationships. We manage conflict better, respond compassionately and communicate more effectively.
- Increase in our appraisal of situations and decision making. We become more objective in situations and are able to make a quick, informed, fair decision.
Who Is It For?
Mindfulness is for anyone. The MBSR course targets people affected by stress, anxiety, pain and depression but anyone can improve their general sense of wellbeing by practising mindfulness regularly. Anyone who wants to feel more relaxed, less stressed and overwhelmed and get life more in perspective can benefit from mindfulness.
So How Can I Find Out More?
BBC Breakfast has a 12-minute report which is a good place to start. Then I suggest trying a few short meditations. Youtube has numerous mindfulness videos, I can recommend the 9 minute Mindfulness Meditation Taster with Jon Kabat-Zinn or the 3 Minute Breathing Space by Mark Willams.
If you like the feel of these then I suggest trying some more formal practice and exercises. My favourite is Mindfulness – A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.