Mindfulness is the big thing these days. Google is awash with solutions to day to day this and that. Mindfulness can transform your life, make you more handsome, slimmer, unblock a drain and grow hair on a balding pate. Of course, I’ve made those claims up (no, really), though I wouldn’t be surprised if there is someone out there declaring such revelations. Mindfulness is claimed to help you be more relaxed and stress-free at work, less anxious and much more focused on what you do. Though what is the evidence for it all, does it work and what type of mindfulness can help you?
Origins of Mindfulness
There is no easy answer to the origins of mindfulness, but one solution is to trace the lineage from early Eastern religions to its modern more secular presence in Western science. The roots can be traced back to Hinduism and Buddhism, mindfulness also relates to yoga, and now has become popular in so many circles in the Western world. These days we have evidenced-based models such as cognitive behavioural mindfulness & less evidenced-based models that are more aligned with spiritual meditation. The spiritual aspect of mindfulness is all fine and dandy if you want to go down that route. Not everyone does of course, and that is where the cognitive behavioural models kind of work for them.
How does Mindfulness work?
Though how do people use mindfulness techniques? Clearly, neither technique is more or less successful just the model that works for an individual. Now then I have to declare my hand here, I subscribe to cognitive behavioural models of coaching and subsequently cognitive behavioural mindfulness. That said mindfulness is mindfulness and the premise is the same – to help people to relax. Try to be less anxious and to have less stress. Lastly to balance thinking, to be more at the moment by paying purposeful attention to the present.
Types of Mindfulness
There are two main mindfulness-based programmes. Both of which currently is building a significant evidence base to support their effectiveness. These are the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programme (MBSR) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Programme (MBCT) developed by Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Sigal. Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme in the early 70′s at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. This approach was initially thought as a programme to help sufferers of chronic pain and chronic medical conditions. Since its inception, MBSR has evolved into a common form of complementary medicine addressing a variety of health problems.
There’s increasing evidence that Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) could help to reduce our anxiety levels and teach us new ways to manage stress. The results of various clinical studies and research speak for themselves, highlighting benefits such as:
- A 70 per cent reduction in anxiety
- Fewer visits to your GP
- An ongoing reduction in anxiety three years after taking an MBSR course
- An increase in disease-fighting antibodies, suggesting improvements to the immune system
- Longer and better quality sleep, with fewer sleep disturbances
- A reduction in negative feelings like anger, tension and depression
- Improvements in physical conditions as varied as psoriasis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
So what’s the Evidence base?
The evidence in support of MBSR is so strong that almost three-quarters of GPs think it would be beneficial for all patients to learn mindfulness meditation skills (http://www.bemindful.co.uk/ – accessed 8/04/2014). Though there are some caveats to the unstoppable wave of mindfulness.
One is the lack of support for those individuals that uncover the dark side of mindfulness. A recently published article in the Guardian here in the UK suggests that the media inflates the positive effects of mindfulness and makes no reference to the possible consequences. Little research has been conducted into the reported issues of panic attacks, paranoia, delusions, confusion, mania and depression. Many mindfulness teachers are not trained to deal with the possible mental health fallout from mindfulness. Therefore the full-on experience of mindfulness may not be for everyone. The article highlights one of the major issues “There is currently no professionally accredited training for mindfulness teachers, and nothing to stop anyone calling themselves a mindfulness coach, though advocates are calling for that to change”.
So all that aside, how can we use mindfulness in our day-to-day busy lives. Having completed the training for Cognitive Behavioural Mindfulness to help my coaching clients focus upon stress at work and at home, I have a few quick and easy exercises to incorporate into your day-to-day life.
Incorporating Mindfulness into Day to Day Life
- Walking Meditation – this is not as easy as people can feel very self-conscious. However, feeling your feet on the ground as you walk and being quiet concentrating on your breath, can help to cultivate relaxed attention.
- Mindful Break – day-to-day activities at work can be time-consuming and stressful. For a few moments turn away from your workstation, close your eyes, clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Try to remain “in the moment” allow thoughts to flow into your mind and let them flow out, accept them and let them go. Bring yourself slowly back into the present and remember mindfulness is to help you to pay attention to the moment and not necessarily make sense of anything particular.
- Breathing – I remember when in training a great way to focus upon your breathing for mindfulness. Take your left or right foot, focus upon breathing in and up through your foot, leg, belly, chest and out through your head. Odd I know but really good relaxation. Try reversing the breathing – through your head and out through the sole of your foot.
- Get outside – try to do your walking meditation in an open green space if you have one. Feel the environment and the grass beneath your feet, rather than the day-to-day worries. Hear the birds, the rustling of the leaves and the breeze on your face and skin. This will allow you to enjoy the moment and the place you’re in rather than the “autopilot” nature of modern life.
Hopefully, there is something for you to build in a little bit of mindfulness into your busy life. Just taking a mindful minute before something you are anxious or nervous about (like an interview) will help you refocus and concentrate on your performance.
So there you are just a few tips to help you with a few mindfulness techniques that will not necessarily draw too much attention to what you are doing. As mindfulness expert, Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, says:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Don’t feel limited by these techniques feel free to mix and match to fit them into your life any way you can. However, please be aware of any negative issues that you may experience and seek professional support if needed.
Lastly, when you apply yourself almost anything can be done mindfully. Individually these steps may seem small, but you might be surprised at the effect they can have if managed properly.
Dawn Foster; The Guardian (23 January 2016 10.00 GMT) “Is Mindfulness Making us ill?”
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/23/is-mindfulness-making-us-ill (accessed 14/03/16)