Mindfulness is trending at the moment with several apps, therapeutic approaches and wellbeing services providing mindfulness-based something or other. But where did it come from, what it is it, and does it even work?
The concept of mindfulness is derived from Buddhist meditation practices.
“Buddhist meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. By engaging with a particular meditation practice you learn the patterns and habits of your mind, and the practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being.” (thebuddhistcentre.com)
It is important to note that Western therapeutic mindfulness is not Buddhism (Rosch, 2015). It does use techniques borrowed from Buddhism but utilises them in a different way and to attain different goals. What we know of modern western mindfulness is often credited to is Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the late 1970s. This form of mindfulness has been commonly used in clinical psychology with personality disorders, depression, anxiety, and pain. A 2015 meta-analysis (research that reviews all available research on a topic) found evidence to support the utility of mindfulness to address cognitive and emotional reactivity, rumination and worry and some evidence it may be useful to increase self-compassion and psychological flexibility (Gu , Strauss, Bond, & Cavanagh, 2015).
What does this mean?
Western modern mindfulness heavily borrows techniques from Buddhism and research indicates that these techniques are useful when dealing with issues such as anxiety and depression. This is why your therapist will likely recommend it to you to try.
Tips for mindfulness:
- Use an app. When starting out, it is really useful to use a guided meditation app like Headspace, which explains the process and talks you through it.
- Keep it short. You only need to practice 3-5 mins of this at the start. This will make it easier to build a routine and ensure it does not become a chore.
- Practice. Mindfulness is a practice, not a one off cure. You will have to PRACTICE.
- Find a style that suits you. The Headspace ‘basics’ 10 sessions are a good start because they help you understand the process of mindfulness clearly. There are an array of guided meditation approaches out there for you to choose from, one of my favourites is by Dr. Candice Nicole (2nd video).
Rosch, Eleanor. (2015). The Emperor’s Clothes: A Look Behind the Western Mindfulness Mystique. 271-292. 10.1007/978-1-4939-2263-5_19.
Gu J, Strauss C, Bond R, Cavanagh K. (2015). How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies. Clin Psychol Rev 2015:37:1-12.