It has long been known that the way we think, and how we deal with our thoughts, plays a big part in our happiness, resilience and mental health. Mindfulness is firstly about awareness and the ability to live in the present moment. Meditation is one of the ways in which we can learn to be mindful. In a therapeutic / developmental sense, mindfulness is a mind-body based, psychosensory approach that can help people change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences.
Mindfulness meditation is at the heart of Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs), which include, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Both offer pathways to paying attention to the present moment, using a variety of therapeutic approaches.
MBCT is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for the prevention of relapse in recurrent depression. It combines mindfulness techniques like meditation, breathing (mind and body awareness) with elements from cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to help break the negative thought patterns that are characteristic of recurrent depression.
MBSR was originated by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at The University of Massachusetts Medical Centre and, in addition to helping people manage serious stress, it helps them deal with anxiety, pain and illness.
Mindfulness is a potentially life-changing way to alter our feelings in positive ways, and an ever-expanding body of scientific evidence shows that it really does work, not just for depression but also to help people deal with anxiety, as well as emotional and physical pain.
Mindfulness training helps us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, we’re better able to manage them. Taking a course in Mindfulness can help people to have a real understanding of their emotions, boost their focus and concentration and even improve their relationships.
The background and science of mindfulness
Mindfulness is not some new fad. In fact its roots can be traced back to Buddhist traditions of over 2,500 years ago. However, in the western world mindfulness teaching and specific wellbeing applications were not established until the early 1970s.
Since then, there has been considerable research into the benefits of embracing mindfulness and it is now firmly accepted as an evidence-based approach with an impressive array of scientific proof of its efficacy. For example, MRI scans of the brain’s Hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning, memory, compassion, introspection and self-awareness, have been shown to increase in participants of mindfulness programmes. Conversely, the brain tissue of the Amygdala, which plays a major role in stress and anxiety, has been shown to decrease.
Mindfulness in the workplace and in schools
Mindfulness can help people to live more fulfilled, relaxed, stress free and confident lives. In the workplace it can help them to be more effective team players, become more creative, set and achieve their goals, communicate well and resolve conflict.
Mindfulness was on the agenda at the world economic summit in Davos, and leading organisations around the globe, such as Apple and Google and, closer to home, The Bank of England and Virgin, have adopted mindfulness as a key component of their employee development and wellbeing strategies. Within the UK parliament, members of both houses have participated in a cross-party study exploring the benefits of learning mindfulness.
A number of schools have introduced mindfulness into their curriculum and ongoing studies are assessing benefits for pupils as well as their teachers. Within the Mindfulness Now programme we train specifically about how mindfulness can be taught to children, as well as mindfulness and wellbeing programmes designed for use within organisations, which can be adapted / tailored to meet specific needs.
Mindfulness and stress reduction
We seem to be living in a particularly stressful age – or maybe it has always been so? Certainly we live in an age of instant communication where everything seems to need our immediate attention, whether that is our phone calls, emails, text messages or social media. While all of this can be very useful, and we might wonder how we could ever manage without it all, it can also put considerable pressure upon us to find time, when there doesn’t appear to be any more time to be found!
What causes stress?
Stress is caused when we feel overwhelmed by our perception of being unable to cope with what life is throwing at us. The more stressed we feel, the more we worry and the more likely we are to take some kind of action as a stress coping mechanism. We might, for example, drink more alcohol or take medication.
Unfortunately, the more we worry and the more we resort to unhelpful stress coping approaches, then the more stressed we become and we enter a vicious downward spiral where recovery is even more of a challenge.
How can relaxing help?
When we relax we enable the mind/body process to do its wonderful healing work, our pulse rate slows and our own internal natural drug factory starts to produce and pump into our blood stream endorphins and other hormones that enable us to feel calm, free from tension and contented. In other words, we begin to feel good. With a view to health enhancement, relaxation enables the release of bodily and mental tension. It is not usually as simple as sitting and watching the television. Over the centuries and all over the world people have developed a wide range of techniques, each of which may help to create for us a special state of mind/body calmness.
Without wishing to state the obvious, the main benefit in relaxation is that when we are relaxed we are not stressed, although stress is by no means always negative or harmful. There are different types of stress and a certain amount is necessary for survival and for success in life.
Relaxation is particularly useful to those suffering from the more obvious mental/emotional conditions of anxiety, stress and phobias along with conditions usually associated as physical such as arthritis, high or low blood pressure, asthma and pain.
What’s the most effective form of relaxation?
So how do we know what is the most effective form of relaxation for us? Our approach contains a lifestyle analysis which can point to the method which is most likely to be effective for a client, bearing in mind the way they lead their life, their current state of health, the amount of time they are prepared to spend on personal improvement and their own particular preferences.
Learning to relax can be fun and you may well discover that it leads you on a wonderful journey of mental and physical exploration into uncharted territories of your own resources. You may find yourself growing and becoming more fulfilled as a human being as you discover what a great pleasure it can be to abandon yourself to an inner and outer calmness.
We are all holistic. We are body, mind and something that we may choose to call our spirit, our inner being or guide. One of the less obvious benefits of relaxation is to enable us to discover, enhance and develop our powers of intuition and to help us to identify and learn how to trust that small voice within. As we journey we can learn that the now need not be something that holds us back from relaxation. In fact we learn that we need to be mindful to treasure each moment and pay attention to our inner feelings at the precise moment, rather than withdrawing into ourselves.
Mindfulness and stress reduction
Mindfulness may, of course, not be a complete answer to overcoming stress – we also need to take some positive action to deal with stressful events in our life. Perhaps this may involve letting go in some way or moving on from, for example, a toxic work situation or relationship. It may require us to learn how to be more assertive so that we can say no, where appropriate, or ask for what we need.
The Mindfulness Now programme incorporates and adapts elements of many approaches contained within mindfulness based interventions (MBIs), including the strongly researched and evidenced Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).