You’ve probably heard the term and you might have the gist… but what really is the benefit of mindfulness? Where did it come from? What does it mean to be truly mindful? Well it’s a hot topic right now; everyone from psychologists to your new-age niece seems to be throwing the term around.
Although it has gained popularity it western psychology in the last 40 years, mindfulness actually has its roots in Buddhism and has been practiced for thousands of years. It is a technique embedded in focusing in the present moment. The general aim is to be present in the now and not to consider the past or future or to pass a specific judgment i.e. to label something as good or bad. It is a technique that can be practiced as a meditation and also applied to everyday situations in order to improve focus and limit worrying and ruminating thought. Mindfulness allows you to take in the entirety of a situation, slowing down your thoughts and your nervous system and becoming aware of your body, mind and environment.
A common mindfulness technique involves sitting and observing ones breath or repeated mantra, allowing thoughts to come and go, flowing like a gentle stream. The objective is to let these thoughts be and to not attach to them, eventually positioning oneself as the conscious observer of thought and not the entity thinking each thought. This same process can be applied in more everyday situations, such as savoring food or a nice view, being aware of smells, colors and feelings and even trying to take a photograph in your head. This awareness can allow you to notice things that you wouldn’t normally and see the world through a naive lens or as if you are seeing everything for the first time.
A study performed in January by the Georgetown University in Washington DC tested 89 patients with generalized anxiety disorder, one of the most common forms of anxiety and mental illness. The cohort was subjected to a ‘stress-test’ before being divided into two groups, one of which received an eight-week Stress management education course, and the other a mindfulness based stress reduction course of the same duration. Following their treatments, the subjects performed a stress test, with their behavior and stress related hormones ACTH and inflammatory proteins measured. The stress management group surprisingly saw an increase in stress queues after their second test, whereas the group that practiced mindfulness experienced a significant drop in these stress markers.
The lead author of the study, Georgetown University Medical centre department of Psychiatry’s Elizabeth A. Hoge stated: “Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress.”
Hoge and her colleagues reported that the group that undertook mindfulness experienced a significant reduction in self reported stress and wellbeing compared to the control group. This study stands as solid evidence that mindfulness meditation is a tool to combat anxiety. Professor hope aims to pursue studies in mindfulness related treatments for other psychiatric conditions as an alternative to drug therapy.
Check our page for upcoming workshops and meditations to help practice mindfulness.