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Background to Mindfulness

The origins of mindfulness can be found in ancient meditation practices. Mindfulness is non-religious and its philosophies are central to many traditional meditative practices. In the late 1970's meditation was starting to gain recognition within the medical community. Jon Kabat-Zin (a key figure in the development of Mindfulness) brought together Ancient Buddhist and Yogic teaching to create a new and unique stress reduction program known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Since the creation of the MBRS Program, It has been successfully implemented in hospitals and clinic around the world. Countless people benefited from this program which helped then respond  more effectively to depression, anxiety, chronic pain, psoriasis and insomnia

Science behind Mindfulness

Dr. Michael Baime (founder of Penn Program for Mindfulness, 1992) looked extensively at the effects of mindfulness and other similar practices. Comparative brain scans during meditation (and without medication) were very revealing; the results showed that meditation goes beyond just having an effect on the mind, it actually changes the way in which the brain functions. Generally the brain deteriorates as we grow older; Studies by Sarah Lazar (Harvard Neuroscientist) found something remarkable; the outer surface of the brain of people who meditate regularly  was similar to non-meditators who were 20 years younger.  Interestingly, recent research suggests that regular medication (for as little as 8 weeks) can alter brain structures. 

Benefits of regular Mindfulness practice

 In one study of healthy people, one group were taught how to mindfully focus their attention on their breathing .
After 3 months, the group that practiced the controlled breathing approach showing the following:

  •   44% decrease in psychological distress
  •   46% decrease in illnesses such as colds and headaches
  •   24% decrease in the stress response to everyday challenges
  •   The second group who did not additional breathing exercises showed no changes

  In extensive studies (ie over 1000) showed the following benefits of mindful breathing:

  •   Calms the stress response (e.g. think more rationally )
  •   Strengthens attention (i.e. focus on daily tasks)
  •   Promotes better sleep (i.e. feel more rested and alert)
  •   Strengthens self-awareness (thoughts, feelings and actions)

All data from '!0 Mindful Mindful Minutes' by Goldie Hawn

Understanding Stress - friend or foe?

Stress is part of everyday living and Can be experienced physical and / or   psychological level. We all feel stressed to some degree however constant and increasing challenges of fast paced world (i.e. domestic and work) means that there is an ever-increasing demand on our time and energy; This can impact on our relationships, friendships and work. Unexpected changes to our daily routine (e.g. births, deaths, illnesses, job uncertainly etc) can add to these demands and lead to overload in our ability to manage stress effectively. 

Our stress response is protective, natural, automatic and fast. In stressful situations we usually respond in one of the following ways: fight the challenge, flee from the threat or freeze (in the hope that the danger might simply pass by and not 'see' us. 

In modern day living the body's natural response to stress has had to adapt to non-life threatening situations e.g. high volumes of work, demanding parental responsibility, spacial-awareness issues, conflicts at work and home are but to name a few. In these situations the body's stress mechanism becomes over stimulated and responds by releasing hormones (e.g. Adrenaline and Cortisol) to prepare the body for action. Where Adrenaline levels remain high we might find it difficult to switch-off and relax. Elevated Cortisol levels can suppress the immune system and deplete Serotonin levels (neither of which are helpful to anyone). 

National Institue for Clinical Excellence (NICE)

Since 2004, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has approved Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as a clinically proven treatment for the recurrent depression; this approach Includes mindfulness meditation. MBCT has been shown to reduce the relapse rates by 43%. Research indicates that mindfulness is especially helpful for vulnerable groups who are more likely to relapse.