How does mindfulness work?
People who practice mindfulness learn to become familiar with their own ‘habits of mind’. Through regular practice they begin to notice how they often react rather than respond. They become more familiar with their body-mind connection and they learn to cultivate a kinder, more compassionate response to their own experience. To help them do this they may spend some time every day practising some mindfulness practices such as the body scan, sitting meditation, mindful movement and mindful eating.
Why do people talk about ‘practising’ mindfulness?
Training to be mindful is only the start. Even very experienced practitioners of mindfulness refer to it as a ‘practice’. It takes practice, lots of practice, to stay fully in the present. A regular meditation practice is considered very important in cultivating and sustaining mindfulness.
How can I learn mindfulness?
MBCT and MBSR are ‘programmes’ that have been developed particularly in health and mental health settings to teach mindfulness. They are both grounded in Buddhist traditions of mindfulness and have attracted a lot of clinical research but it is important to emphasise that there are many other ways to learn mindfulness, including participating in retreats, listening to cds and reading books on mindfulness.
We recommend that if you are considering doing any course in Mindfulness that you check what training the teacher has had and ensure that he or she adheres to ethical guidelines.
What does compassion have to do with mindfulness?
How we relate and respond to our own experiences in life is an important aspect of mindfulness. Many of us are extremely hard on ourselves. When we stop and become still we may be shocked by how savage and cruel we actually are towards our selves. It can be easy to then blame ourselves for having such ‘terrible’ thoughts. It is so important that we become aware of such thoughts as compassionately as we possibly can so that we can let them be rather than arguing against them. With a mindful awareness we learn that thoughts are just thoughts and no matter how awful they are, thoughts do not make us terrible people. Compassion-focused mindfulness emphasises the necessity of each of us learning to treat ourselves kindly. Research is now discovering just how important self-compassion is and how everyone benefits when we treat ourselves and others compassionately.
Is there any evidence that mindfulness works?
Yes. There are many reputable studies to show that mindfulness is effective in reducing levels of stress, anxiety, depression, anger and worry. People who practise mindfulness on a regular basis have been found to be better able to regulate their sense of wellbeing due to greater emotional awareness, understanding and acceptance (e.g. Holzel et al 2010; Vangel, 2011; Baer et al., 2008; Lau et al., 2006; Brown, Ryan et al., 2007).
Many research studies have demonstrated that there can actually be changes in the brain structure of people who practise mindfulness meaning that they are better able to respond to stressors.
How can I find out more about mindfulness?
One of the best ways of learning about mindfulness is to experience it. Therefore we recommend that you give yourself time to watch and experience Jon Kabat Zinn in the lecture he gave at Google in 2007.