Mindfulness is defined as being in the moment and paying attention to yourself and your surroundings. It’s something that we are all guilty of not doing enough of and it’s no surprise in this high-speed, demanding society that we live in. The majority of our time is spent anticipating the future or lamenting the past, disconnected from what is actually being experienced. Deadlines, responsibilities, regrets… This seemingly endless bombardment from life can cause us to disassociate, which can manifest itself into a range of mental illnesses.
It appears counter-intuitive to propose the solution of slowing down, especially in a world where we are constantly pressured to go faster and do more. But this is essential to our wellbeing. Mindfulness allows us to re-align with our own sensations, thoughts and feelings. One of the key advocates of mindfulness as a therapeutic approach, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, describes mindfulness using the metaphor of the act of tuning an instrument before we begin to play it. Experiencing the moment recharges us and allows us to reconnect with our being so we can face life with a refreshed outlook.
Mindfulness is deep rooted in ancient Buddhist principles and has been practised for many centuries. However, spirituality is not necessary for its practice, and its effectiveness against a range of clinical problems such as stress, anxiety, depression and even physical illnesses has been empirically demonstrated in recent decades. For example, a study conducted by Hoffman et al. (2010) found that mindfulness is successful in treating anxiety and mood disorders. The effectiveness of mindfulness has also shown up on EEG and fMRI brain activity readings, with these methods showing that people who practice mindfulness have greater activation in the brain area associated with positive associations.
The two main mindfulness based clinical therapies used by practitioners are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for the treatment of stress and chronic pain and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to alleviate anxiety and depression. Each of these approaches use a combination of deep-breathing, meditation and yoga to calm psychological and physiological processes, which contributes to holistic wellbeing.
Although mindfulness does not seek to actively change the environment, it allows us to control our perspective and accept matters which may instead cause great discomfort. Ultimately, mindfulness is empowering with its focus on the here and now.
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