What is Mindfulness and what is it not?
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention to the present moment, with compassion and open-hearted curiosity. Through mindfulness, we learn to live in the present moment instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.Mindfulness has its roots in early Buddhism. In the 1970s, a group of Westerners who had spent some time in Asia, returned and began to teach mindfulness meditation in the West. In 1979, one of them, the molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he adapted the Buddhist teachings on mindfulness to develop his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Since then, many studies have shown the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions in the clinical field, especially in treating chronic pain and recurrent depression.With new research possibilities, especially in neuroscience, mindfulness has become a highly investigated field in the last years. Initiatives such as the Mind & Life Institute, where neuroscientists like Tania Singer or Richard Davidson exchange ideas with the Dalai Lama, promote the dialogue between Western science, philosophy and contemplative traditions. Although research on the mechanisms of mindfulness is only at its beginning, a growing number of studies suggest that mindfulness equips us with resources for staying healthy and creative in the 21st century. 

Organizations such as Google and academic institutions such as Harvard Business School have recognized the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Programs that have been developed out of MBSR/MBCT are now being taught around the world to employees, managers, health professionals, pupils and students.

 

Despite current hype, mindfulness is no wonder pill and offers no quick fix. It only develops its full potential when continually practiced and integrated into all aspects of our lives.

What are the effects of mindfulness?
When we practice mindfulness, we become more aware of our feelings, bodily signals, thoughts and impulses. We find it easier to regulate our emotions and face challenges which leads to more inner balance and happiness. At the same time, increased focus and self-awareness make us feel more alive and more connected to the world and people around us. High levels of mindfulness have been shown to be associated with higher levels of emotional intelligence and social competence.

 

Studies in neuroscience have shown that openly and curiously turning towards what is happening in every moment can have a fundamental impact on our brain structure. The following parts of the brain appear to be particularly affected by mindfulness meditation:

  • The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) that plays a major role in self-regulation. The ACC is active whenever we focus our attention, inhibit our reflexes and switch strategies. The ACC also plays an important role in learning from our experience. All these skills have shown to be above average in individuals who meditate.
  • The hippocampus that seems to be important for resilience, and the brain areas related to pain tolerance.
  • The insula, a part of the brain that is integral to introspection (body awareness) and a sense of connectedness to self and others. Brain imaging has shown that the insula becomes energized and strengthened during meditation.
How can I develop mindfulness?
All human beings are born with a certain level of mindfulness. In addition, mindfulness can be developed through regular and systematic practice. One way to strengthen our mind is through meditation. In mindfulness meditation, we learn to pay attention, with openness, curiosity and compassion, to whatever evolves inside or around us from moment to moment. Neuroscientific studies show that a few weeks of mindfulness meditation (10 to 40 minutes daily) can bring changes in those areas of our brain that are responsible for focus, inner flexibility and resilience. However, mindfulness cannot only be cultivated on the meditation cushion but in all daily situations whether in a supermarket queue, in conversations and meetings, in emails and even in situations of conflict and stress. Thus mindfulness can become a practice that eventually embraces all aspects of life and builds a solid basis for inner freedom, clarity and peace.
What is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)?
MBCT was developed in 2002 by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale to address the specific needs of people who suffer from recurrent depression. The program, which is based on MBSR and includes elements from cognitive therapy, has shown to be as effective as antidepressants and is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), UK as a preferred treatment for depressive relapse.

 

Moreover, it has been shown that what keeps depression alive – negative thoughts and rumination – can, to a certain degree, be found in all human beings, especially in times when we are stressed. It is our busy mind that is constantly analyzing, comparing, judging, planning and remembering that keeps us awake at night and prevents us from living our lives to the full. In MBCT we learn to better understand our minds, so we won’t be driven so much by our autopilot and unhelpful thoughts. MBCT-based courses are aimed at anyone who would like to bring more delight and composure to their lives. In England, adaptations of MBCT are taught in organizations, schools, universities and even in the British Parliament.

Can mindfulness be taught in companies and organizations?
Many organizations and companies have discovered the benefits of mindfulness. Studies have shown that mindfulness courses can have a positive impact on stress-related absences, burnout, self-efficacy, communication and cooperation. In a mindfulness course, managers and employees learn how to

  • Use their attention more efficiently
  • Regulate their emotions
  • Create inner space for new ideas and solutions
  • Deal in a novel way with challenging situations
  • Be present in communication
  • Develop compassion for themselves and others

 

Mindfulness courses can go up to 25 participants. Because of their 8-week format, mindfulness programs can be remarkably effective.

I don't have the time to participate in an eight-week course
If you would like to do a mindfulness course but don’t find the time to participate in an eight-week course you can:

  • Book individual sessions that fit your personal time schedule. Just send me a note and we will arrange a telephone conversation.
  • Learn from Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Dan Penman that allows you to practice wherever you are at your own pace. In addition, you can sign up for one of the mindfulness days I regularly offer.
  • Take an online course with an app like Headspace that provide programs of guided meditation.

 

Perhaps we can never really find the perfect moment to begin practicing mindfulness. Sometimes we simply have to make a deliberate decision to do something for ourselves and our wellbeing – and then we will also find the time.

Books and articles
Mindfulness in general:

  • All books by Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of MBSR)
  • Danny Penman: Mindfulness for Creativity, 2015
  • Miguel Farias & Catherine Wikholm: The Buddha Pill. Can Meditation Change You?, 2015
  • Nigel Wellings: Why Can’t I Meditate? 2015
  • Ellen Langer: Mindfulness (Mindfulness without Meditation), 2014 (25th Anniversary Edition)
  • Mark Williams & Danny Penman: Mindfulness. A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, 2011 (MBCT)
  • Gunaratana: Mindfulness in Plain English, 2011

 

Mindfulness at the workplace:

  • David Gelles: Mindful Work, 2015
  • Janice Marturano: Finding the Space to Lead, 2014
  • Sharon Salzberg: Real Happiness at Work, 2014
  • Daniel Goleman, Focus, The Hidden Driver of Excellence, 2013
  • Chade-Meng Tan: Search Inside Yourself (the Google mindfulness-program), 2012

 

You can find more articles and videos about mindfulness on our platform themindfulness.net. Become a member and join the discussion!