Mindfulness is the awareness that arises when you pay attention, non-judgmentally, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment.
(Jon Kabat-Zinn Full Catastrophe Living, Piaktus:London 1996)
Mindfulness is based on ancient Buddhist teachings and has,over the past 50 years or so, been subjected to much western scientific study and more recently neuroscientific research has deepened our understanding of how brain function and indeed brian structure can be modified by mindfulness practices.
We recommend two books, amongst others if readers are interested in the links between ancient wisdom and modern psychology and the scientific research associated with mindfulness respectively.
There are several myths around mindfulness and it is helpful to be aware of some of them
Some people may wonder, why mindfulness? Mindfulness has its origins in ancient Buddhist teachings. Having said that, there has been much scientific research that has been undertaken since Jon Kabat Zinn and other pioneers first envisioned that mindfulness may have a role in modern living.
Mindfulness now has a strong evidence base backed by neuroscientific research. Mindfulness practices have been shown to be beneficial in the management of stress, anxiety, low mood, depression, performance and sleep disturbance.
Mindfulnes is a personal practice that can be used in most situations. It is easily accessible once you have had some training and practice. It is now a lot more socially acceptable. In fact, it underlies a lot of therapeutic approaches in the mental health services. Mental health problems are at an all-time high.
According to the charity, Mind, in England, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week. Mindfulness is a form of self-care that empowers us with practices with which we can learn to look after ourselves. Mindfulness is compatible with most other positive coping strategies that people may have found useful.
Meditation is simply a set of practices in awareness. The main meditation practices which can help us become more mindful in our lives are
There are many different types of meditation but the ones above are the ones that are related to mindfulness.
There is no definite prescriptive duration of meditation that is recommended. Most of the high quality research that has been carried out included people who mediated for 20-40 minutes a day.
When starting to meditate, it may be difficult to sit for long periods of time and any duration would be a good start, even a minute, with an intention to gradually increase the duration to at least 10-20 minutes a day.
Mindfulness meditation practices include paying attention to either the breath or parts of the body that act as an anchor in the present moment.
When the attention is anchored in such a way, it helps to quieten the mind, which has a tendency to go from past to the future, the so-called monkey mind swinging from branch to branch.
It is important to ensure that you are warm and comfortable when practising meditation and also that you will not be disturbed. Ensuring that you are not hungry or thirsty also helps to reduce distractions.
Altered Traits is a book written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davison, which systematically analysis the evidence base for mindfulness. This book is available on Amazon and other retailers.
The NCCIH website displays a variety of studies that have been done on the health benefits of meditation and mindfulness.
(NCCIH and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide tools to help you understand the basics and terminology of scientific research so you can make well-informed decisions about your health)
They state "Meditation and mindfulness practices may have a variety of health benefits and may help people improve the quality of their lives. Recent studies have investigated if meditation or mindfulness helps people manage anxiety, stress, depression, pain, or symptoms related to withdrawal from nicotine, alcohol, or opioids.
Other studies have looked at the effects of meditation or mindfulness on weight control or sleep quality.
However, much of the research on these topics has been preliminary or not scientifically rigorous. Because the studies examined many different types of meditation and mindfulness practices, and the effects of those practices are hard to measure, results from the studies have been difficult to analyze and may have been interpreted too optimistically".
The American Mindfulness Research Association has links to the key meta-analyses 2018-2021.
Here are links to some key meta-analyses in 2020-2021
Heckenberg, R. A., Eddy, P., Kent, S., & Wright, B. J. (n.d.). Do workplace-based mindfulness meditation programs improve physiological indices of stress? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. [link]
Intarakamhang, U., Macaskill, A., & Prasittichok, P. (2020). Mindfulness interventions reduce blood pressure in patients with non-communicable diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Heliyon, 6(4), e03834.
Querstret, D. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for psychological health and wellbeing in non-clinical samples: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Stress Management.
Suleiman-Martos, N., Gomez-Urquiza, J. L., Aguayo-Estremera, R., Cañadas-De La Fuente, G. A., De La Fuente-Solana, E. I., & Albendín-García, L. (2020). The effect of mindfulness training on burnout syndrome in nursing: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jan.14318
Thimm, J. C., & Johnsen, T. J. (2020). Time trends in the effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A meta-analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.
Victorson, D. E., Sauer, C. M., Wolters, L., Maletich, C., Lukoff, K., & Sufrin, N. (2020). Meta-analysis of Technology-Enabled Mindfulness-Based Programs for Negative Affect and Mindful Awareness. Mindfulness. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01373-y
Vonderlin, R., Biermann, M., Bohus, M., & Lyssenko, L. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Programs in the Workplace: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Mindfulness. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01328-3
Wasson, R. S., Barratt, C., & OBrien, W. H. (2020). Effects of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Self-compassion in Health Care Professionals: A Meta-analysis. Mindfulness. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01342-5
Zhou, X., Guo, J., Lu, G., Chen, C., Xie, Z., Liu, J., & Zhang, C. (2020). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on anxiety symptoms in young people: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research.