Mindfulness is a quality all of us can find in our everyday experience of life. It’s an approach to everyday living that helps us to be more present – more ‘here and now’ – in each moment rather than getting lost in endless doing and thinking. Not primarily a relaxation or problem-solving technique (though often helpful in these areas), mindfulness gives us new ways of relating to our experience and moving forward.
Mindfulness-based approaches are now widely used in programmes to reduce stress, depression and anxiety, and to help with conditions such as chronic pain and illness, using various methods such as guided body awareness, basic breathing awareness, and simple guided mindful movement. No previous experience of meditation or similar practices is necessary.
The Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme was developed more than 30 years ago by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts to explore the potential of meditation and yoga techniques to relieve chronic stress, anxiety, and pain. MBCT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy) is an adaptation now recognized by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) for treating depression relapse.
In 2010 the Mental Health Foundation – who run the useful BeMindful website – found that over two-thirds of GPs support the proposal that mindfulness training should be more accessible. Their report states:
Mindfulness approaches have been proven to be effective in a wide range of mental and physical health applications. Mindfulness generally supports health promotion and prevention of ill health. Mindfulness programmes have achieved significant reductions in symptoms and relapse rates in mental ill health and there is evidence that Mindfulness interventions can directly benefit physical health by improving immune system response, speeding healing, and inducing a sense of physical well-being.
Mindfulness is an approach to everyday living that can help you:
• cope more effectively with short- and long-term stressful situations
• relax and experience calm more easily
• appreciate life more fully
• listen and communicate more clearly
Mindfulness skills create more choice in your life by developing awareness of present-moment body sensations, emotions and thoughts. You begin to connect more deeply with your own inner resources for healing, coping, growing and taking charge of your life in new ways.
In early 2012, the BBC Breakfast programme broadcast a series of short items on the benefits of learning and practising mindfulness – still worth watching as a brief introduction.