We hear so much about mindfulness at the moment, but what is it and does it really work?
According the evidence based scientific research from the last 30 years, doing an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course has an impact on our mental health, our experience of pain, brain function and general well-being (Williams, 2011).
Research in the Havard Gazette shows the average person is on autopilot 47% of the time – our attention is absorbed in our wandering minds and we are not really ‘present’ in our own lives. Mindfulness is a way of becoming more aware of what is happening right now!
Mindfulness is a type of mental training which allows us to cultivate awareness. In mindfulness we learn skills which support us in developing our quality of attention, the capacity to come back, again and again, to this present moment with curiousity, compassion and patience. Being with the present moment and whatever is arising is quite different from our usual modes of day dreaming, worrying, planning and preoccupations. We are often unaware of the current of our thinking but it can have a big impact on how we live our lives, interpret events and respond to what is happening around us, according to Segal, Williams and Teasdale.
The 8 Week MBSR/MBCT programmes are not group therapy, although there can be healing. It is a very practical, educational programme which teaches us to apply mindfulness to our daily lives. The programme develops self-awareness, and resilience around pain, low mood, anxiety and depression in order to lead to improved well- being and healthier coping mechanisms.
Mindfulness programmes are also being used to treat or support the treatment of addiction, cancer, eating disorders, chronic pain, anxiety, suicide and many other areas. There is a growing problem of depression and anxiety worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that by 2020, depression will be the second biggest health issue globally. Zylowski et al., argue that Mindfulness meditation “has emerged as a new approach for stress reduction and an important innovation in treating psychiatric disorders”.
Scientific studies have also shown that mindfulness prevents depression and also positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day stress, irritability and anxiety. Studies show regular meditators have improved attention, memory and faster reaction times – and even affects hypertension, the immune system, cancer and chronic pain (Williams, 2011).
Recent developments in neuroscience regarding the plasticity of the brain reveal that with mindfulness training the brain can change! Biotech workers did an 8 week MBSR course and there was a change in their brain – the left prefrontal cortex showed more activity after the 8 week course. The left side affects happiness and good mood, whereas the right prefrontal cortex has an effect on sad mood (Davidson 2012).
Interested in starting meditating? Here are some tips to get you started:
• When you first wake up in the morning before you get out of bed, bring your attention to your breathing. Observe 5 mindful breaths.
• Throughout the day – take a few moments to bring your attention to your breathing. Observe 5 mindful breaths.
• Whenever you eat or drink something, take a minute and breathe. Look at your food and realise that the food was connected to something which nourished its growth. Pay attention as you eat, consciously consuming this food for your physical health. Bring awareness to seeing your food, smelling your food, tasting your food, chewing your food, and swallowing your food.
• Bring awareness to listening and talking. When listening, can you listen without agreeing or disagreeing, liking or disliking or planning what you will say when it is your turn? When talking, can you say what you need to say without overstating or understating? Can you notice how your mind and body feel?
• Whenever you are waiting in a queue, use this time to notice standing and breathing. Feel the contact of your feet on the floor and how your body feels. Bring attention to the rising and falling of your abdomen. Are you feeling impatient?
• Before you go to sleep at night, take a few minutes and bring your attention to your breathing. Observe 5 mindful breaths.
(Adapted from Saki Santorelli, EdD, University of Massachusetts Medical School)
For more information about 8 Week MBSR/MBCT Courses and Free Meditation Resources please visit The Mindfulness Centre.
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