Mindfulness has its origins in Eastern traditions, especially Buddhism, but the Western world has adapted it for use in more secular settings (Nagy & Baer, 2017). Mindfulness can be defined as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgement” (Davis & Hayes, 2011) or be considered “a universal human capacity proposed to foster clear thinking and open-heartedness” (Ludwig & Kabat-Zinn, 2008). The original role of mindfulness, from its Buddhist origins, was to nurture compassion and relieve suffering.
There have been numerous studies on meditation and mindfulness on a range of well-being outcomes.
Davis & Hayes (2011) conducted a review of psychology-related research into the benefits of mindfulness, acknowledging its similarities to other psychotherapy-related constructs. Mindfulness is similar to mentalisation, that is, the ability to understand oneself and others in terms of their needs, reasons, thoughts, feelings, wishes and desires (Allen & Fonagy, 2006); mindfulness may even enable to process of mentalisation to occur (Wallin, 2007). Finally, Siegel (2009) has proposed a neurological basis for the link between insight and mindfulness. Davis & Hayes (2011) identified a number of affective benefits including emotion regulation, interpersonal benefits and other intrapersonal benefits, including enhancing functions associated with the brain’s pre-frontal lobe.
Kabat-Zinn (1982) reported decreased pain in patients with chronic pain after participating in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Similarly, Speca, Carlson, Goodey, & Angen (2000) reported a reduction in Total Mood Disturbance and Symptoms of Stress in cancer patients who participated in a mindfulness meditation-based stress-reduction program. The existing research seems to indicate mindfulness as being beneficial not only to a general sense of wellbeing, but of possible benefit in medical and clinical contexts.
The studies shown above seem to indicate a a range of positive results from practising mindfulness; but just how do you practise it?
One of the most common ways to practise mindfulness is meditation. If you’re just starting out, there are apps and YouTube videos to assist you with guided meditation.
Personally, I aim to engage in meditation and mindfulness when I first wake up, and just before I get to bed. The process is very similar.
Straight after waking up, I find somewhere quiet to sit down. Legs crossed, arms relaxed, with hands resting on my legs. Personally, I don’t do the thumb-and-finger in a circle thing, but if it works for you, go for it.
Start by closing your eyes, and concentrating on breathing. I can usually get my breathing down to three inhale-exhale cycles in a minute. Don’t try to “stop thinking”, or “quiet your mind.” The more you try, the more you’ll start thinking about what you’re thinking. Just keep breathing, recognise the fact that you are thinking, then go back to concentrating on your breathing. Concentrate on the sensations of your breathing
The amount of time you spend doesn’t matter so much as the frequency with which you do it. Just like resistance training, four one-hour sessions a week is better than one four hour session.
When it comes to bed time, the set up is similar, except I’m laying down. Legs and arms relaxed, palms facing upwards. Eyes closed, with slow, controlled breathing. Because I want this to assist me with getting to sleep, I concentrate more on my body than I did during the morning’s session. Starting with my left arm, I slowly flex, then relax the muscles, concentrating on the sensation of the muscles relaxing. I move down to my left leg, from the quad, down the the calf. I move on to the right leg, then right arm, then my core. After relaxing the body, I stick with the breathing until I fall asleep.