What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementallyJon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness comes from the age-old Buddhist tradition, although it has been translated into a secular (non-religious) form to make meditation accessible to everyone. By being more aware of the lived experience and your connection to others this will lead to a greater sense of wellbeing, even when under stress, or experiencing persistent pain or a long term health condition.
Mindfulness helps us stop being on auto-pilot and helps us realise that our reaction to stress and pain can create further problems. Three quarters of GP’s believe that it would be beneficial for all patients to learn mindfulness techniques.
There are many ways to learn mindfulness. The 8 week course is the most widely researched and evidenced-based approach. It also helps to build up regular practice over a series of weeks to help form new patterns of thinking and habits. If it is difficult to fit in an 8 week course, you may find individual sessions more flexible, or a shorter course may suit you better. Thrive offers a number of options but, whatever you decide, by attending a course or individual sessions on mindfulness you will gain the support and motivation needed to make the commitment to mindfulness that can make a difference in the long term.
There will be regular mindful mornings for anyone who has taken a mindfulness course. These will be an opportunity to support your experience of mindfulness and a chance to practice both formal meditation and mindful movement with others.
Stress and anxiety reduction
If you experience stress in your life, you’re not alone! Stress can be debilitating and have a major impact on the quality of your life and relationships, but don’t despair, the latest scientific evidence suggests that mindfulness practice can:
- Change your responses to stressful situations, so that rather than experiencing the stress of ‘fight or flight’, your brain accesses the ‘relaxation response’ (Goldin & Gross, 2010)
- Re-wire the physical structure of your brain so that a greater volume of stress-busting neurons becomes accessible to you (Holzel et al, 2011)
- Reduce the amount of work-related stress and burnout, and improve quality of life and relaxation (MacKenzie et al, 2006)
A variety of factors – including stress – can lead to poor sleep patterns, which in turn can impact on our health, wellbeing and general functioning. Mindfulness has been shown to:
- Improve quality of sleep (Carlson and Garland, 2005)
- Lessen the need for sleep medication (Greeson et al, 2009)
- Reduce sleep disturbance (Carlson and Garland, 2005)
Learning mindful techniques is to learn a non-judgemental way of being. Alongside the well documented health benefits for this, there is strong evidence that this can have a positive impact on our relationships with ourselves and others. Research suggests that mindfulness can:
- Improve the quality of communication and regulation of anger, hence improving the quality of relationships (Wachs & Cordova, 2007)
- Increase empathy, and promote non-judgemental responses, leading to greater life satisfaction (Dekeyser et al, 2008)
- Enable couples to get on better and enjoy their relationship more! (Carson et al, 2004)
Pain & Illness
Mindfulness research has demonstrated that the mind and body are inextricably linked; in other words, when the mind worries, the body responds. Learning to be mindful in your day to day life may as a result have powerful benefits to the body’s ability to fight infection, improve blood pressure, and reduce pain. Researchers suggest that mindfulness training:
- Can improve resistance to infection (Rakel et al, 2013)
- Reduce your overall risk factor for heart attacks or stroke (American Heart Association, 2014)
- Reduce pain levels – and maintain this reduction in pain (Teixeira et al, 2008)
- Improve psychological and physical effects of illness (Alinaghi et al, 2012)
Whatever you’re doing, your performance and ability to learn new things is dependent on your ability to focus. Being able to focus and resist distraction is also linked to our ability to control our impulses, emotions and achieve long-term goals. Mindfulness training can:
- Improve working memory and recall (Jha et al, 2010)
- Increase attention and focus on challenging tasks (Maclean et al, 2010)
- Improve academic performance and the learning of new tasks (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005)
Depression is thought to affect one in five of us at some point in our lives. It can be a debilitating experience with far-reaching impacts on ourselves, our families, our relationships, and our work. The use of mindfulness to address depressive symptoms indicates that:
- Mindfulness is more effective than maintenance doses of antidepressants in preventing a relapse in depression.
- Three-quarters of people taking an mindfulness-based course alongside antidepressants were able to come off their medication within 15 months.
- Mindfulness training can also reduce the severity of symptoms for people who are experiencing an episode of depression. (Williams et al, 2012, 2013)
Whatever you do, creativity can give you the edge needed to achieve your goals. Whether being creative is part of your job, or if you just need to solve a tricky problem at home or in your relationship, we could all benefit from being that bit more creative. Research has shown that regular mindfulness practice can:
- Increase our ability to express ourselves freely (Greenberg, 2012)
- Improve our problem solving ability and increase the number of novel ideas we have (Ostafin & Kassman, 2012)
- Open our eyes to possible creative solutions and be less rigid in our thinking (Colzato et al, 2012)