What’s the deal with Mindfulness?
It may seem as though Mindfulness has sprung onto the scene out of nowhere over the past year or so, and absolutely everyone is talking about it, but essentially it’s a very very old practice re-branded for a modern age. It originated with the Buddhist monks, but in more recent years the techniques have been formalised by western medicine and called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a Meditation practice that uses sensations in the body as a focal point. We are simply paying attention to the breath, the movement of the body and the sensations that are already within us. This means you don’t need any special equipment, soundtrack or even the capability to sit cross legged on the floor (even if you think it does look cooler).
Here is the West we can struggle with the concept of meditation being more than a just a pursuit for those with a penchant for tie-dye clothes… But Mindfulness is an approachable, non-esoteric, easy to get on board with a method of meditation. Using the breath as a focal point enables you to cultivate a sense of stability, an anchor to keep us in the present moment.
My brain dislikes the present moment, it always has. It’s always running off here there any everywhere… shopping list… write that “To Do” list… must do some washing…. Wait, what? Savasana (the end relaxation in a yoga class) used to be prime time for my brain to do a runner, and I would walk out of class frustrated with a brain that was just as busy as when I went in.
Paying attention seems simple right? But it’s remarkably hard to do. Especially in our modern task-focused lives, we don’t know how to pay full attention to what we are doing, so we miss whole swathes of our lives – remember the other day when you got all the way home from work without really remembering anything about your journey? - And we also get caught so easily in over-thinking that sometimes is hard to work out where you started, and what the problem even is anymore...
Mindfulness meditation gives us the opportunity to push all this back a little bit, clear the decks so to speak, and move forward with a slightly clearer mind.
Why Mindfulness? Because it works, that why! It works so well that Oxford University (that’s right OXFORD university) now offers a degree in MBCT. There’s all kinds of scientific evidence now to support what those Buddhist monks knew thousands of years ago; that meditation works!
Over the last 30 years, academic research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and physical medicine have documented the wide-ranging benefits of learning to meditate. Scientific research has been showing how useful meditation is for reducing stress, anxiety and depression and helping people manage a wide range of physical conditions.
Studies have found…
- changes in those areas of the brain associated with decision-making, attention and empathy in people who regularly practice Mindfulness meditation;
- that meditation increases the area of the brain linked to regulating emotion, and that it improves people’s attention, job performance, productivity and satisfaction;
- that meditation increases blood flow, reduces blood pressure, and protects people at risk of developing hypertension: it also reduces the risk and severity of cardiovascular disease, and the risk of dying from it.
But mindfulness isn’t only useful if you’re feeling stressed or have a mental health problem – it can help any of us enjoy a more wakeful, healthier, happier life.
Here is particularly interesting and informative TED talk by Andy Puddicombe, the creator of the Headspace App (which, by the way, I heartily recommend) on Mindfulness and what it can do for all of us: