Many research studies have been done that prove the effectiveness of mindfulness training, improving health and wellbeing across a wide range of problems. A variety of mindfulness courses have now been developed worldwide. One of these is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) which was used originally for patients suffering from depression, combining mindfulness-based stress reduction with elements of Cognitive Therapy.
Research studies show that MBCT halves the rate of relapse in patients who have had three or more episodes of depression and it is recommended in the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines.
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So what is mindfulness? It is a skill that we all have, and, like any skill, it takes practice. It involves learning to bring our attention to our experience moment-by-moment, in a kind and non-judgmental way so that we can be aware of what is really happening in our bodies, our minds and emotions and our environments. For example, as you have been reading this article you may have become completely absorbed. Now try to bring your full attention to what you are experiencing so that you are aware of the words on the page, of the feel and maybe the smell of the paper, your hands holding the yoga, how you are sitting and perhaps the sounds you can hear and the feel of air against your skin. What else did you notice? This is being mindful. Are you normally aware of these things or do you sit without noticing? From this you can see that mindfulness has the potential to enrich our experience of even the most mundane aspects of our lives and that all we need to do is to pay attention.
You will notice that much of what you are experiencing comes from your body, your senses. I came to mindfulness through yoga, which put me in touch with my body for the first time in my life. Until then I had experienced life.
Often, when we are experiencing difficulties in our lives or in a low mood, we get caught up in rumination and spiral downwards in increasingly desperate thoughts and emotions. Developments in Cognitive Neuroscience have shown that mindfulness meditation can interrupt these negative patterns, and we can develop the ability to clearly see that we are buying into a “story of our own creation and step back from it, which can prevent it from driving our lives.
Over the eight-weeks of a mindfulness course, we investigate our experience in great detail. This can help us to enjoy many aspects of our lives more fully. It also gives us a way of becoming more aware of difficult feelings and unhelpful thought patterns and the skills to work with them with kindness and gentleness. Participants are given CDs that guide them through the mindfulness practices so that they can begin to become familiar with what arises in their hearts and minds day-by-day. They are encouraged to find a way of using these practices that is relevant to their own lives so that they can continue to take care of themselves after the course is over and be able to live more sanely with whatever life brings very much through my thoughts and emotions. Yoga helped me to be more present in my body, and this gave the opportunity to see how little I took care of it. So it may be that as you sit here, you might notice that you are awkwardly positioned and you could adjust your posture to make yourself more comfortable. So paying attention can help us make wiser choices about what we do.
However, mindfulness is not just about our bodies. Our mind is also one of our senses. As you sit here, you can be aware of your reactions to what you are reading – do you like it or do you find yourself criticising parts of it or feeling bored? Or, has your mind wandered to something else completely such as the argument you had with a friend, or planning your next holiday? Mostly, below our level of consciousness, our minds go through this process constantly; but by paying attention to our thoughts and feelings we are able to respond to them differently. We begin to notice what is on our mind” and whether it is useful for us to be preoccupied with the past or the future, when right now we could be simply be relaxing and enjoying our yoga.