Mindfulness is about developing ways to stay more in the present moment, and spending less time and energy focused on the future or the past. To quote John Kabat-Zinn “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
“Mindfulness is the capacity to know whatever is arising in our experience and being with that and making wise choices from that place with a sense of kindness and open heartedness.”
“Mindfulness is not something that you have ‘to get‘ or acquire. It is already deep within you – a deep internal resource available and patiently waiting to be reawakened and used in the service of learning, growing, and healing”.
Centre for Mindfulness, Massachussetts, USA
Describing Mindfulness is like explaining what a glass of water tastes like! It cannot be explained, you have to taste it and experience for yourself.
Through mindfulness we begin to see our feelings and thoughts in a different way, and so come to have a new attitude and approach which is curious and non-judgemental, and which breaks the cycles of destructive thoughts and actions which can detract from our well-being.
As an approach, it can be helpful for those experiencing depression, anxiety, stress, addiction and pain management, but it is useful not only for those with specific health problems, but can be used by anyone to help them live life to the full, and cope with the changes and difficulties that life throws us.
Mindfulness skills can be learned and practiced by almost anyone, whatever their background. They are practices which strengthen and deepen the human capacity to live healthy, more meaningful, balanced and peaceful lives. Mindfulness is rooted in the Buddhist meditation tradition of more than 2,500 years.
There are two main approaches which have been developed in the western world from the Insight meditation tradition, which are:- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), both of which are taught over 8 sessions and are completely secular in nature.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, to help people with a wide range of physical and mental health problems.
Since then, thousands of people have completed the 8 week MBSR programme. The central focus of the MBSR programme is an intensive experiential training in mindfulness to enable participants to access their own resources for responding (rather than reacting) more effectively to stress, pain and illness.
The teaching of MBSR has since been extensively developed in hospitals and clinics for staff, medical students and patients alike, and also in inner-cities, prisons, businesses, legal practices, universities, schools and government agencies.
Evidence based research shows MBSR to be effective in helping chronic pain and fatigue, depression, anxiety, life stress, psoriasis, cancer and in supporting self-care.
In the last 20 years Professor Mark Williams, Dr John Teasdale and Professor Zindel Segal have further developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for the treatment of recurrent depression, as an adaptation inspired by the MBSR programme.
The central aim of the programme is to help people who are liable to depression to stay well. The pattern of mind which makes people vulnerable to depressive relapse is rumination, in which the mind repetitively re-runs negative automatic thoughts.
MBCT introduces mindfulness skills that offer a different way of relating to this experience, and helps prevent the consolidation of negative patterns of thinking and feeling, that may escalate towards depressive relapse.
MBCT is now recommended in the guidelines of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a treatment of choice for people who have suffered three or more episodes of depression.
See the Mental Health Foundation for information and access to UK mindfulness-based courses www.bemindful.co.uk.