What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness practice has not only entered the mainstream but has also become an integral part of our cultural landscape. From media coverage to its increasing popularity in schools, businesses, and the NHS, mindfulness meditation seems to be everywhere. But what is mindfulness, and why has it gained such widespread recognition? 

The term "mindfulness" is derived from ancient traditions and defines the development of receptive, present-moment awareness. However, in the modern scientific world, mindfulness takes on various meanings, including its role as a mental trait, often combined with other therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

The simplest definition of mindfulness is: Paying attention, on purpose with curiosity and care.

Paying attention is the key because (as we learn when we begin to explore how our minds operate from moment to moment through mindfulness practice) whatever we pay attention to shapes our experience and in literally every sense, what we experience IS our life.

“Your attention is always bound up in something, we largely become what we pay attention to. We are building our minds in each moment. We're building habits and desires and worries and expectations and prejudices and insights, and mindfulness is just the ability to notice this process with clarity and to then prioritize what you pay attention to. Why not pay attention to those things that make you a better person why not free your attention from all of the trivial things that are clamouring for it”  Sam Harris

Modern mindfulness practices are non-secular and are compatible with any belief system. There are some beautiful traditions across many religions, including Buddhism that can enhance or deepen your practice but that doesn't mean that MBCT requires any special regalia. You can practice mindfulness on a chair at your work desk as effectively as you can on a cushion in a meditation studio. There are no special conditions, only the practice.

What mindfulness ISN'T

Mindfulness isn't an escape from or a means of blocking troublesome thoughts, it's a means of working more skillfully with them. It isn't simply a relaxation technique (although a greater sense of ease and wellbeing is a powerful side effect of regular practice), it's a psychological toolkit for a better quality of life.

What is MBCT?

The particular flavour of mindfulness we teach and infuse into our various courses and retreats is called MBCT: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.

The “Mindfulness-Based” part focuses on a variety of evidence-based meditative and contemplative practices that allow us to work more skillfully with the more challenging weather patterns in the mind that can emerge during the ups and downs of everyday life.

The “Cognitive Therapy” element is derived from another but more modern evidence-based psychological therapy called CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). This helps us to work with and develop our relationship towards our thoughts and how our thoughts tend to lead to emotions that can in turn lead to impulses and actions. In psychology, this is known as the ‘thought/action loop’. Cognitive = the thinking bit - Behaviour = the actions we take.

MBCT combines these two approaches to help you develop a toolkit for dealing with the often overwhelming challenges of everyday life. However, the benefits of any mindfulness intervention are only as good as the evidence-based science supporting it along with our own anecdotal experience.

So what does the science say?

The evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness-based interventions is substantial and growing. Psychological and neurological sciences agree that the impact on the quality of our lives, the regulation of a variety of mental health challenges and the very make-up of our grey matter is significant. Here’s an overview of some of what we understand already:

The benefits of mindfulness

Stress Reduction: Numerous studies have shown that mindfulness practices can effectively reduce stress levels, offering individuals a valuable tool to manage daily stressors.

Improved Mental Health: Research suggests that mindfulness-based interventions can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression and enhance overall psychological well-being. The latest research suggests that a consistent mindfulness practice is at least as effective as anti-depressant medication.

Enhanced Focus and Concentration: Regular mindfulness practice has been linked to improved attention and concentration, which can be beneficial for work and daily tasks.

Better Emotional Regulation: Mindfulness can help individuals better understand and manage their emotions, leading to more effective emotional regulation and response to challenging situations, responding skilfully rather than reacting unskilfully. 

Pain Management: Some studies have found that mindfulness techniques can be effective in pain management, offering relief for chronic pain conditions.

Enhanced Relationships: Mindfulness practices may lead to improved interpersonal relationships by fostering better communication and empathy.

Improved Sleep Quality: Individuals who engage in mindfulness meditation often report improved sleep quality and better sleep patterns. Sleep is the cornerstone of a healthy body and mind so this is significant.

Coping with Addiction: Mindfulness-based interventions have shown promise in helping individuals cope with addiction and substance abuse issues.

Boosted Overall Well-Being: Practicing mindfulness is associated with an increased sense of overall well-being, life satisfaction, and a positive outlook on life.

Neuroplasticity: Emerging research suggests that mindfulness can change the brain's structure and function, promoting neuroplasticity and cognitive improvements.

It's important to note that the effectiveness of mindfulness-based practices may vary from person to person, and outcomes can depend on the consistency and commitment to the practice but what we do know is that mindfulness-based practices are backed by compelling scientific evidence and the research is only just beginning.

For an introduction to the world of Mindfulness join one of our Introducing Mindfulness online courses.

To take a deep dive into MBCT join one of our Mindfulness For Life online courses.