What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is the practice of calming and focusing the mind and body by reducing the impact that uncontrolled thoughts have on our psychological and emotional state. This is accomplished by cultivating and maintaining an open, non judgmental awareness of the current moment.” (Jenkinson)
With practise this awareness will expand to effortlessly incorporate our entire moment by moment experience with a high level of attention placed on internal factors (thoughts and feelings) as well as on external factors (the world around us).
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been proven to be effective in reducing stress, anxiety, depression and even chronic pain. Research has also demonstrated that it can be used to treat insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, addition and more.
I believe mindfulness also has a great deal to offer new parents as it helps people to stay calm, focused and alert, even when they are under significant pressure. I foresee mindfulness being taught in nationwide parenting classes in the near future and I’ll shortly be doing my bit for the campaign by using this blog to teach the key principles and techniques to our audience of new and expecting parents. I have also started a Google + community to help spread the word. Click here to join.
Is there any evidence to support the claims?
Scientists have studied mindfulness under controlled laboratory conditions and remarkably, they have used MRI scanning technology to prove that mindfulness practice affects how the brain works. Even the brain’s structure has been demonstrated to be affected by regular mindfulness practice.
There have been hundreds of studies that have documented the positive affects of mindfulness in treating a wide range of medical conditions. Furthermore, the Mental Health Foundation commissioned a survey of 250 GPs in 2009 and it was shown that the large majority believed mindfulness practice would be beneficial for their patients in general and a third of the GPs confirmed that they already refer patients to MBCT (mindfulness based cognitive therapy) on a regular basis.
Why haven’t I heard of it before now?
Due to the increasingly large body of evidence supporting the claims, mindfulness is now gaining a significant amount of media exposure. Furthermore, the Mental Health Foundation are currently involved in a campaign to promote mindfulness called Be Mindful.
Countless books are being written on the topic and seminars and workshops are springing up all over the UK. Many yoga teachers already incorporate the practice into their classes and word of mouth is spreading like wild fire.
However, despite all this, a large proportion of the UK population is still unaware of the practice or of the potential benefits it could offer.
Tragically, some people who have heard the term have labelled mindfulness as a wishy washy, new age treatment simply by association. They see it exclusively for people who drink green tea and who chant at every available opportunity! These people have become cynical and desensitised and are likely to promptly ignore any positive publicity regardless of any scientific research that is presented to back up the remarkable claims.
Is it a fad or will it be around for a while?
Mindfulness is not a new concept. It is an ancient practice that has been a key part of many Eastern religions for centuries. However, as there is nothing inherently religious about it, it has recently gained significant interest from the Western medical community mainly owing to the work of Thich Nhat Thay and Jon Kabat-Zinn as well as many others.
Mindfulness already helps millions of people around the globe but it has the potential to help billions. I truly believe the practice will one day be taught in schools but to get there it will need to stay grounded. People are already trying to put it on a pedestal and to make it into something it’s not. They have bought into it, repackaged it and they are now trying to sell it off as whatever they want it to be.
I think Jon Kabat-Zinn has the right approach by presenting the practice in its purest form; devoid of any spiritual or religious connotation. I’d go one step further and suggest that we stop associating it with words and phrases such as ‘meditation’, ‘present moment awareness’ and ‘enlightenment.’ For people who understand them, these expressions are obviously extremely relevant to the practice of mindfulness and moreover, they are an integral part of it. However, for many others these expressions have a stigma attached to them. My major concern is that these terms are producing a barrier which is preventing a significant proportion of the population from being open enough to the concept of mindfulness. Unless we can find a way to bridge the gap, mindfulness may spend many more decades confined to meditation centres, yoga classrooms and the private residences of the population’s more spiritual and open-minded individuals.
How can I learn to be mindful?
There is a wealth of information available on the internet. There are also countless books on the subject as well as an increasing number of regional classes. I’d recommend you start with Jon Kabat Zinn’s excellent seminar on mindfulness that he presented at a Google tech talk as it’s freely available to watch on Youtube.
You can also keep an eye on this blog as I’ll be shortly be adding my favourite tips and techniques for learning to incorporate mindfulness practice into your everyday life. You can also join our newly formed Google + community here
If you suffer from a mental health problem of any kind you may also be able to get a referral by visiting your GP and discussing your options.