Your don't have to meditate to be mindful

Over the last 20 years, mindfulness has become an increasingly important concept in psychology. The term and idea come from Buddhist teaching and meditation, although the original term (Pali: sati, Sanskrit: smti) is better translated as ‘recollection’. Contemporary scientific interest in mindfulness emerged from the work of Jon Kabbat-Zinn, who began working with mindfulness meditation in a Massachusetts clinic in 1979. Initially his focus was on pain and symptom management, but it soon broadened out to a much wider range of applications, including preventing depression relapse, anxiety, heart disease and managing cancer treatments.

Kabbat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness is

paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally’ (1994)

Marlatt and Kristeler define it as

bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment to moment basis’ (1999)

Although Bishop, Segal et al (2004) have sought to clarify two dimensions of mindfulness:

i. self regulation of attention on immediate experience

ii. orientation of curiosity, openness and acceptance to it

This definition emphasizes the fact that noticing is often not enough in itself to effect helpful change, the emotional tone or attitude is also important.

Dr Richard Davidson of Wisconsin University has carried out wide-ranging research into the effects of meditation, including the benefits it brings to immune response, mood, energy levels, etc. as well as measuring the changes in brain chemistry and function that accompany these. Most recently, research has shown that meditation also results in physical changes to the brain in as little as eight weeks.

Californian professor, Dr Paul Ekman undertook research on people’s sensitivity to ‘micro expressions’ and found that meditators were the only group to consistently score higher on recognition of these. This means that meditators are better judges than police officers and other professionals of, for example, whether somebody is lying or not.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (pioneered by Segal, Williams and Teasdale) is now recommended by NICE as the most beneficial treatment for those suffering multiple episodes of depression. Similar work is now being done in the use of mindfulness for recovery from addiction, and management of stress (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – MBSR.

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