What is mindfulness?
The Oxford dictionary definition is:
“The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”
So why are Gwyneth Paltrow and Jonny Wilkinson interested in it?
There is a lot of evidence that mindfulness practice can
- reduce pain;
- improve sleep;
- reduce the impact that stress has on the mind and body;
- improve concentration; and
- increase happiness.
So a lot of people are interested in at least one of those things for themselves.
How did you discover the practice of mindfulness?
I read a book to understand the science behind it and get familiar with the available evidence for its benefits (Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Piatkus 2013). I then went on an introductory course run by Shehzad Malik (mindful-monkey.com) and followed a six-week guided meditation programme of 45 mins per day, six days per week using Kabat-Zinn’s book and his Guided Mindfulness Meditation CD.
How difficult was it to begin with?
In some ways the guided meditation part was easy, all I had to do was sit with the CD and pay attention. In other ways it was tricky, my mind kept wandering off as human minds do. During one particular practice (the “body scan”) I would always fall asleep and I wondered whether I was getting any benefit from doing it. However, I found that this six week guided practice gave me a good grounding that allowed me to develop my mindfulness in everyday life.
What difference has it made for you?
The first thing I noticed was that my memory functioned more effectively. Instead of remembering that I “should have” brought something with me five minutes after leaving home, the item would pop into my mind in the moments before I left, so I had time to pick it up and bring it with me.
I no longer feel frustrated by short delays (in traffic, in a queue, waiting for someone) and I take the opportunity to use one of the practices that I have become familiar with.
I notice the difference most in conversations. I am better and more often able to take a “third position” where part of my brain can observe myself and others from outside myself and gain a different perspective than the one I have from inside me looking out.
A friend of mine believes that my reactions are quicker and I am better at catching things – but this hasn’t been scientifically proven!
I currently use guided meditation podcasts (such as marc.ucla.edu/meditation-at-the-hammer) which vary in length from 3 min to 30 min to fit in with the time I have available, such as while food is cooking or when I am a few minutes early for an appointment. I also practice while cleaning my teeth and washing up.
And what about the sleeping?
I have always slept well so mindfulness didn’t have any space to improve my sleep quality. However, the learning from falling asleep during every “body scan” has incentivised me to change my bedtime routine and I am now hardly ever tired.
Do you use mindfulness techniques within your work as a therapist?
The adoption of the “third position” fits well with my therapy training and supports my focus on the client within a therapy session. Part of the way I work is to try to help clients increase their awareness of their thoughts and feelings so this fits nicely too.
How do you see mindfulness benefiting clients, particularly those who experience anxiety and depression?
Some of my clients have discovered the benefits of mindfulness for themselves while others have tried it and it hasn’t made sense to them at the time. It can be helpful for people suffering from anxiety or depression as it can help them put their habitual thoughts into perspective. People suffering from panic attacks can find it particularly helpful in understanding their body sensations and giving them back a sense of control.
What do you feel are some of the contributory factors for needing mindfulness
Like drinking plenty of water, having sufficient sleep and taking regular exercise, I see mindfulness as helpful to everyone. It seems to be especially helpful to people who feel bombarded by the number of things coming at them in the modern world and who want to reduce the amount of stress that this induces in them.
How can I find out more?
Check out the NHS guide to mindfulness:https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/