Where do you find mindfulness?
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness has been around for centuries but it is only in recent times that the Western world has taken note of it. Mindfulness is the art of being in the present, not letting thoughts of the past or the future cloud the joy of being in the now. It helps you to rid yourself of negative thoughts before they take control of your life. Through the art of meditation and deep breathing you are taught to be in control of your thoughts and your reactions to them. You begin to take note of everything around you – the sights, the smells, and your taste buds and sense of touch become heightened.
Professor Mark Williams is a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University and a director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre: he says “Over time, mindfulness brings about long-term changes in mood and levels of happiness and wellbeing. Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness not only prevents depression, but that it also positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability, so that when they arise, they dissolve away again more easily.”
Studies have also shown that people who practice mindfulness are healthier than their counterparts, concentration levels are increased, creativity is enhanced and reaction times become much faster.
HISTORY OF MINDFULNESS
Luis Felipe Morales Knight of Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology says that records of mindfulness began with Hinduism in around 1500 BCE, where most Asian meditation practices began. Buddhist mindfulness began in 535 BCE and concentrates on breathing techniques and still meditation. Christian mindfulness was first seen in Europe in around 530 CE with the advent of monasteries. Muslim mindfulness was first seen in the ninth century with the introduction of Sufism. The most well known of these orders is the Persian Mevlevi Order which produced a form of meditation known as the ‘whirling dervishes’. These practitioners whirled for hours or days by moving anti-clockwise on the left foot.
Their right hand would be raised with a flat palm and the left arm would be down by their sides with the palm parallel to the earth. This movement signified the movement of the earth, with God’s energy coming down through the open right palm and down to the earth through the left palm. Jewish mindfulness began in the tenth century and most well known form is called qabbala. Qabbala has had a revival in the States over the last few decades. Modern interest in meditation was born in the hippy era of the 1970s and made incredibly popular by the Beatles’ experiences. People from the western world travelled to India to immerse themselves in meditation and took back the simplest form of meditation to their various countries – vipassana. It was in the 1980s that Jon Kabat-Zinn basically took the religious aspect out of formal meditation practices and encouraged everyone to be mindful
JON KABAT-ZINN – MBSR
Jon Kabat-Zinn was born in New York in 1944. This highly intelligent young man explored many avenues while at MIT studying for a Ph.D. in molecular biology. Kabat-Zinn had his first experience with meditation, brought to MIT by the Zen missionary, Philip Kapleau. Although Kabat-Zinn is Jewish, he began to explore Buddhism and some of its components, especially meditation and mindfulness. In 1979 Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Clinic, which used Buddhist teachings on mindfulness to help reduce stress. It was here that Kabat-Zinn produced his world famous eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course.
Since then Kabat-Zinn has founded the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The connection between mindfulness and Buddhism has been taken out of the equation and now Kabat-Zinn’s teachings are totally science based. Kabat-Zinn has done many studies on the effects of mindfulness in various contexts. He has seen positive results in healing people with autoimmune diseases, psoriasis, mental illness and patients with leukaemia, to name but a few of these studies. Kabat-Zinn has trained people from all walks of life in the art of mindfulness, from high powered CEO’s and judges to prison inmates and children. Kabat-Zinn has received many prestigious awards in recognition of his scientific studies and work over the years and has written many books on the subject of mindfulness.
Image credit from Flickr user "The Mindful Professional"MBSR MBSR is used in over 200 hospitals and clinics around the world as a way of promoting healing, both physically and psychologically. MBSR uses a combination of meditation, yoga and body awareness to help promote a healthy body and mind. The Palouse Mindfulness website gives free online courses for those interested in MBSR. They say the eight week course will “increase your ability to
- Cope with stress, pain and the challenges of everyday life
- Deal with disturbing events with grace and composure
- Be fully present and live in this moment”
MINDFULNESS AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO ANTIDEPRESSANTS
MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) is a branch of MBSR which has been developed to help people with depression and extreme unhappiness. It uses the same techniques as MBSR but concentrates heavily on recognising particular modes of the mind which are part of depression. Once these modes are recognised, MBCT shows you how to develop a new relationship with them, thus preventing depression and the inevitable downward spiral. The Lancet has recently published promising results of a two year study which compared the effects of MBCT and antidepressants on patients who suffered from recurring depression.
The results showed that MBCT has the same effect as antidepressants. William Kuyken, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University said, “Depression is a recurrent disorder. Without ongoing treatment, as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point.” Co-author of this paper, Professor Richard Byng from Plymouth University said, “Currently, maintenance antidepressant medication is the key treatment for preventing relapse.
However, there are many people who, for a number of reasons, are unable to keep on a course of medication. Moreover, many people do not wish to remain on medication for indefinite periods, or cannot tolerate the side effects.” Professor Kuyken added, “Whilst this study doesn’t show that mindfulness based cognitive therapy works any better than maintenance antidepressant medication in reducing the rate of relapse in depression, we believe these results suggest a new choice for the millions of people with recurrent depression on repeat prescriptions.”
MINDFULNESS IN THE CLASSROOM
It is known that half of mental disorders begin by the age of fifteen and 75% before the age of 24. With this in mind, forward thinking schools around the globe are introducing mindfulness to children in an attempt to promote excellent mental health from a young age. .b (pronounced ‘dot be’) is a range of courses put together by a non profit organisation called Mindfulness in Schools Project. Their aim is to train teachers and parents in the art of mindfulness so they in turn can pass on this skill to their students or children. .b courses are available in the UK, Australia and the USA.
Mindfulness courses in schools have shown to increase students’ attention span, reduce stress, build empathy, increase self control and have greater respect for their peers and their teachers. Teachers found that children with ADHD were particularly receptive to the benefits of mindfulness and their attention span improved considerably. It has been found that mindfulness in the classroom not only helps reduce stress and depression, it also improves brain function so children achieve more academically
MINDFULNESS FOR PARENTS
We all lead exceptionally busy lives. We work, we exercise, we take the kids to school, we take them to piano lessons and then we go home, cook the dinner, wash up, bath the kids and put them to bed. Life is so hectic that we frequently forget to actually spend time with our children doing absolutely nothing but enjoying them. Practicing mindfulness allows us, as parents, to enjoy each little step in our children’s journeys through life. Instead of being irritated that the kids want to talk to you about the latest Disney movie while you are trying to send emails, savour these moments.
When they reach their teenage years, they may not want to talk to you at all! Encourage your children to spend time enjoying the natural things of life, such as walks in a park or the countryside, instead of plonking them in front of the TV so you can get your chores done. Remember, children are like sponges and they will mirror your behaviour. Treat them with respect and love and they will treat others in the same fashion. Show them that hard work pays off but that relaxation and fun are also a vital part of life and they will grow up to become balanced, happy, fulfilled adults. A mindful parent is compassionate and non-judgemental. A parent who practices mindfulness is more aware of his/her emotions and thoughts and is therefore more in tune with those of his/her child. A mindful parent will not overreact to a situation but will stand back and analyse it before deciding on what action to take.
The Australian Childhood Foundation suggests before reacting to a situation, you stop, breathe, quieten your thoughts and calmly ask yourself the following:-
- What is happening with my child at this moment?
- What does my child feel?
- What does my child need?
- What am I feeling?
- What do I need?
Raymond Weil, MD, says that “Practising regular mindful breathing can be calming and energising and even help with stress related health problems, ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.” When we are stressed or frightened, we tend to either hold our breath or breathe shallowly. Deep abdominal breathing, where we fully inflate our lungs, promotes healing. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and allow your diaphragm to drop so your abdominal area is fully inflated.
No, you won’t have a flat stomach! Then gently let go of the air, either through your nose or mouth. When you are comfortable with the technique, then you could introduce visualisations – perhaps a mountain scene. Mantras are also great for keeping your mind focused and free of random thoughts. Here's a video on TED featuring Andy Puddicombe talking about mindfulness in 10 minutes:
There are many apps out there to guide you through meditation and help you to stay in the moment. Many are free or just cost a few dollars, here are a few of our favourites:-
- Smiling Mind – this app is designed especially for the young. Four different age groups are catered for, 7-11, 12-15, 16-22 and adult. This is one of the few apps that are kiddie friendly and backed by Psychology experts.
- The Mindfulness App – available through iTunes. This app can be used by beginners and experienced practitioners of mindfulness and has 16 guided mindfulness meditations. Meditations can last from 3 to 30 minutes depending on how much time you have available.
- Breathe2Relax – this app teaches you the art of relaxation through deep breathing.
- Buddhist Meditation Trainer – this app is for those who really want to immerse themselves in meditational practices. It constantly challenges you to longer and deeper meditation sessions.
- Headspace – this app was designed by a former Buddhist monk who wants meditation to be accessible to all. It has 10 minute easy to follow sessions which are great for the beginner.