Mindfulness: What is it?
If you're more skilled at working with your thoughts, mind, moods and mental states then life goes better - for you, and everyone you're in contact with.
What is that skill? How can you get it?
Mindfulness training is one of the most effectiveness means available to gain this skill.
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention - in the present moment - to yourself, others and the world around you. Derived from the Buddhist and Indian meditative and yoga traditions it is now increasingly finding its way into secular contexts. Anyone can train in mindfulness and we now know that such training literally re-figures your brain and, for example, with people with depression, how we experience sadness.
Studies at a broad range of independent Universities, for example, have shown that after eight weeks of training there is a significant increase in brain grey matter concentration in areas associated with sustained attention, emotional regulation and perspective taking. The training also increases activity in your left prefrontal cortex - a predictor of happiness and well-being and it improves your immune response.
Mindfulness training gives you more awareness of your thoughts and feelings, and from this you gain insight into your emotions. It increases your level of attention and concentration. It's been shown to help with stress, anxiety, depression and addictive behaviours and it has a positive effect on issues like hypertension, heart disease and chronic pain. It has also been shown to raise one's level of emotional intelligence and improve relationships. Those completing a course of mindfulness training show significant improvements with respect to emotional intelligence, perceived stress and mental health compared to others.
These days even the police and the US Marines use it. A study carried out in the US Marine Corps found that those Marines who trained in mindfulness experienced improved mood and working memory. Under pressure, they were more capable of complex thought and problem solving and they had better control of their emotions. When Marines are on less of a hair-trigger, that makes for a better world for all of us.
Given the benefits on offer, it's hard to think of any reason not to give mindfulness training a go
Farb, N et al., Emotion © 2010 Minding One’s Emotions: Mindfulness Training Alters the Neural Expression of Sadness American Psychological Association, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 1, 25–33
The operational definition of mindfulness that Jon Kabat-Zinn has offered is the “awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally (Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2003 Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice). Non-judgmentally does not mean that there will not be plenty of judging and evaluating going on—of course there will be. Non-judgmental means to be aware of how judgmental the mind can be, and as best we can, not getting caught in it or recognizing when we are and not compounding our suffering by judging the judging.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness, June, 2017).
This means we can pause, consider the present moment and take more skillful action to reduce suffering, or to savour something good or pleasant.
The following pages explore mindfulness and self-compassion in various ways.
Copyright Thinking Healthy - John Julian