As you’re struggling to get the shopping done, meet that deadline and clean the bathroom, is “Find Inner Peace” just not ever going to make it to the top of your To Do list? Can mindfulness actually help, or is it just a loopy fad that will soon be sent off to storage to sit next to the step aerobics videos?
Mindfulness is very much a buzz word at the moment. We can buy mindful colouring books, we are exhorted to work mindfully, eat mindfully, parent mindfully, play sport mindfully, enjoy Christmas mindfully, drink wine mindfully (yes, seriously, I’ve seen a course for it)…but what actually is this mindfulness thing people keep going on about?
At Bilantia, we think that there is enough evidence of the benefits of mindfulness that it is worth everyone having a bit of nosey around to see if it could be a helpful approach for them to help better manage stress and find a better balance in their lives.
So, what is mindfulness then?
Mindfulness is a way of being and not a cognitive concept – so is by its very meaning difficult to define in language. It is much like trying to describe being happy or being sad or being calm. It is best understood through doing and experiencing. Which is not very helpful for a blog post…
So if we were to give an intellectual description, ultimately its simply being aware – aware of your thoughts, your sensations, your emotions, your sense of being. Jon Kabat Zinn (more on him in a bit) defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.
It’s that simple. And yet, when we come to practice mindfulness we find out that it is not so very simple after all. In fact, we find out that being us is in fact a very complex thing and there is A LOT going on, once you become aware of it. But then we can also find that sometimes there are moments of real simplicity in being us. The point of being mindful is that we are actually truly aware of what is happening. We can therefore fully experience life.
The thing is, of course, that sometimes life can be pretty unpleasant. Horrible things happen. We can feel bad. Who wants to “sit in their awareness” of feeling bad? And that’s a fair point. Distraction is a well documented and established psychological tool for emotional regulation.
But we can’t always distract ourselves, and distracting ourselves does not tend to help find long term resolution strategies for dealing with horrible things. By giving us the skill of being fully aware of what is going on in all aspects of ourselves, we can have the space and insight to respond to life’s challenges (and good things!) in a more informed and conscious way.
All this stuff is happening in you anyway – “being mindful” about it is simply paying attention to that and being more fully aware of it.
Okay, that sounds great I want some! Where can I buy myself some mindfulness?
Ah, if only. In the mindfulness world, it is all about having a mindfulness ‘practice’ – because it is life long, conscious, constant work to train ourselves to be mindful.
Which of course can sound overwhelming to a newbie. Which is why the work that Jon Kabat Zinn has done is so extraordinary and oh so helpful to people who want to find a way into exploring mindfulness.
Jon Kabat Zinn is a medical doctor in the United States who used his extensive personal experience in mindfulness to develop a practical and evidence based way to teach secular mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. This was originally developed for patients suffering from chronic pain which medical interventions was not able to alleviate. It has now been developed into an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course that is taught with a consistent syllabus and approach throughout the world.
In the UK, Jon Kabat Zinn’s work has been built on by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale to develop a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Based Therapy (MBCT) 8 week course. This is similar to the MBSR course, but has a different focus on anxiety and depression and draws on the principles of Cognitive Based Therapy (CBT) (see our blog post on CBT if you want more information on that approach) . This has been developed out of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre at the University of Oxford.
There is now a formal and rigorous method of accreditation for teaching the MBSR and MBCT courses, which is lead by the University of Oxford and the University of Bangor.
So, basically what you need to take out of this is that a rigorous evidence based way to teach mindfulness has been developed by leading academic institutions – so it is not a fruit loopy woo woo concept at all.
We recommend that the very best introduction is to attend an MBSR or MBCT 8 week course taught by an accredited mindfulness teacher. In some areas, the NHS is now sending people suffering mental health challenges to Mindfulness courses, so it might be worth checking with your local GP practice if you are able to access that service in your area.
Great! I’m booking a course right now! So after the 8 weeks all my problems will be sorted then?
Once again, the pesky complexity of life and the nature of being human gets in the way. As said, cultivating mindfulness is a life long practice – it is not a skill learnt in 8 weeks but must continue to be practised.
Being mindful also does not mean that you do not have to take other active steps to manage aspects of your life to better manage your stress. For example, your job may be a significant source of stress in your life – mindfulness may help you to become better aware of how and why it stresses you and how you can respond to that. But you still need to actively consider different options, strategies and changes and make decisions about them
It also might turn out that mindfulness simply isn’t for you. The reality is that even many of the people who find these courses helpful do not go on to have a daily meditation practice for the rest of their lives. Which is totally fine and doesn’t condemn them to a life of unfulfilled misery – just as a daily meditation practice doesn’t guarantee you a life of fulfilment and joy.
At Bilantia, our approach is that there is a not One Approach. It’s all about finding what works for you. We do think, though, that given the significant evidence on the benefits of mindfulness (stay tuned for a blog post which looks at this evidence in more detail) it is definitely worth giving mindfulness a go.
If you are not sure how mindfulness can help you and/or you would like to explore how you could use mindfulness in different areas of your life to better manage your stress and create better balance in your life we would be absolutely delighted to discuss if we can support you to do this – click here to see some of the services we can help you with. Please reach out and call us on 0798 480 5351 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have consulting rooms in Brighton and London and can consult online to anywhere in the world.
Nicole Shinnick is the Founder, Managing Director and a Lead Consultant at Bilantia. She is a Certified Mindfulness Based Awareness Coach and currently completing a Masters in the Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health at King’s College London.