‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way:
On purpose in the present moment and without judgement’
– Kabat-Zinn, 1990
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness teaches us to direct our attention to what is happening right here, right now, with an attitude of kindness towards ourselves and our experience. This “being with” ourselves is in contrast to more habitual states of mind in which we are often preoccupied with memories, fantasies, worries or planning.
Although we are often unaware of the currency of our thinking, it has a profound effect on how we live our lives, as well as on our mental and emotional health.
Mindfulness promotes self-awareness, personal development and general well-being. In mindfulness we learn skills which support us in developing this quality of attention, and the capacity to come back, again and again, to the present moment, with patience and compassion.
This programme is not group therapy, although there can be healing. Instead, is very practical and educational, teaching us to apply the practices of mindfulness to our day-to-day lives.
The importance of practice
It can be challenging to find the time to do the home practice but it really is worth it. It is good to have an open mind going in to the source and judge if it was of benefit to you after or if this is something you would like to continue with. We have spent years developing habits of the mind which we are now working to change. We have to apply real commitment to unlearning our automatic habits of mind in order to form new habits, bringing mindful awareness to more and more to aspects of our lives.
A central aim of the approach is to learn how to be more fully aware and present in each moment of life. The good news is that this makes life more enjoyable, interesting, vivid and fulfilling. On the other hand, this means facing what is present, even when it is unpleasant and difficult. In practice you will find that turning to face and acknowledge difficulties is, in the long run, the most effective way to reduce unhappiness. In this course you will learn gentle ways to face difficulties and will be supported while doing this.
Patience is also needed
We will be investing time and effort in our meditation practice and home practice exercises, the effects of which may only become apparent later. In many ways, this is much like gardening: we have to prepare the ground, plant the seeds and ensure that they are adequately watered and nourished and then wait patiently for the results.
Research supports these practices
Over the last 35 years there has been lots of evidence based research carried out in the area of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). This indicates that a regular mindfulness practice helps the body/mind respond rather than react to stress, leaving resources for taking care of our general health and well-being.
Extensive research in MBSR and MBCT has shown that developing mindfulness has a significant positive effect on:
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Reducing tension, anger and fatigue
- Enhancing relationships
- Aiding better sleep
- Developing stronger immunity
- Developing greater self-awareness
- Increasing ability to manage stress
- Improving physical and psychological health
- Increasing vitality
Studies from the University of Wisconsin showed that mindfulness practices lead to an increased activation in areas of the brain responsible for positive emotions and lowered anxiety states (Davidson et al, Psychosomatic Medicine 2003, vol.65).
Mindfulness programmes are also being used to treat and support the treatment of: addiction, cancer, eating disorders, chronic pain, anxiety, suicide, borderline personality disorder, relationship enhancement in couples and many other areas.
There is also a growing worldwide problem with depression and anxiety. According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that by 2020, depression will be the second largest health issue globally. Zylowski et al., (2007) argue that mindfulness meditation “has emerged as a new approach to stress reduction and an important innovation in treating psychiatric disorders” (p.2).
Scientific studies have 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 even change! Neuroplasticity, the rewiring that occurs in the brain as a result of experience, now highlights how regular mindfulness meditation has numerous health benefits including increased immune functioning (Davidson et al., 2003; Lazar et al., 2005; Siegal, 2007) and has been shown to also improve wellbeing (Carmody & Baer, 2008) and reduce psychological distress (Coffey & Hartman, 2008; Ostafin et al., 2006). Mindfulness involves nonjudgmental attention to present-moment experience. In its therapeutic forms, mindfulness interventions promote increased tolerance of negative affect and improved wellbeing (Farb, N.A., Anderson, A.K., & Segal, Z.V., (2012).
Why are we getting stressed?
Evolution explains our need for the Fight or Flight response (Sympathetic Nervous System versus the parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest & Digest)). However in the 21st Century, we are not really like the wild gazelle – after surviving an attack by a leopard, we are not going back to grazing! However, like the frequently watchful gazelle, we are still in a constant state of Hyper Arousal.
How can we reduce these hormones in the body?
Mindfulness is a technique to allow us to come into the present moment and move from the fight or flight response to the rest and digest response. By doing this we are lowering hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in the body.
This is done by bringing our attention to the breath, the body and our senses. As well as starting to approach rather than avoid what is happening with our thoughts, emotions and body sensations.
Attention is like a puppy – it needs training
We ask the mind to ‘sit’ or ‘stay’ in a certain place – but it is not very good at staying for long. Like an untrained puppy, it wanders off, keeps fetching things we didn’t ask for and sometimes makes a real mess.
Motivational reflections for doing this course:
There may be many reasons for you coming to this course. Some of them are explained above but there are others. Before starting the course you may find it helpful to write down your responses to the questions in the link below. You can then reflect back on your original reasons for coming on the course when you have completed it.