Mindfulness training, the benefits, the research and free resources for starting a daily practice

Fiona O'Donnell
By Fiona O'Donnell
Fiona has a Psychology Masters in Mindfulness Based Approaches and teaches mindfulness at The Mindfulness Centre - mindfulness.ie. Fiona has completed a number of intensive retreats worldwide as part of her training

A Lust for Life invited me to prepare a 4 week online mindfulness course which I’m happy to say will be launching this Sunday evening at 8pm. Keep an eye on A Lust for Life for the coming 4 consecutive Sunday evenings to view all 4 weeks, which I hope will assist you in developing your own practice. Read here as to why this is so important from the perspective of A Lust for Life’s founder, Niall Breslin. The below is an introductory outline of the basics to kick-start this process.

What is mindfulness?

We are hearing so much about mindfulness at the moment, but what is it and does it really work? Well according to evidence based scientific research from the last 30 years, doing an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course has an impact on our mental health, our experience of pain, brain function and general well-being.

Research shows the average person is on autopilot 47% of the time – our attention is absorbed in our wandering minds and we are not really ‘present’ in our own lives (Harvard Gazette, 2010). Mindfulness is a way of becoming more aware of what is happening right now.

‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose in the present moment and without judgement’ Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990).

Mindfulness is a type of mental training which allows us to cultivate awareness. In mindfulness we learn skills which support us in developing the quality of attention, and the capacity to come back, again and again, to this present moment with curiosity, compassion and patience. Being with this present moment and whatever is arising is quite different to our usual modes of day dreaming, worrying, planning and preoccupations. We are often unaware of the current of our thinking but it can have a big impact on how we live our lives, interpret events and respond to what is happening around us (Segal, Williams and Teasdale (2013).

“The present is the only time that any of us have to be alive – to know anything – to perceive – to learn – to act – to change – to heal.” Karat-Zinn (1996)

Mindfulness research findings

Mindfulness programmes are also being used to treat or support the treatment of: addiction, cancer, eating disorders, chronic pain, anxiety, suicide, borderline personality disorder, relationship enhancement in couples and many other areas. There is a growing problem of depression and anxiety worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that by 2020, depression will be the second biggest health issue globally.

Zylowski et al., (2007) argue that Mindfulness meditation “has emerged as a new approach for stress reduction and an important innovation in treating psychiatric disorders”. Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness prevents depression and also positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day stress, irritability and anxiety.

Studies show regular meditators have improved attention, memory and faster reaction times. And even affects hypertension, the immune system, cancer and chronic pain (Williams, 2011). Recent developments in neuroscience regarding the plasticity of the brain reveal that with mindfulness training the brain can change! Biotech workers did an 8 week MBSR course and there was a change in their brain – the left prefrontal cortex showed more activity after the 8 week course. The left side effects happiness and good mood, whereas the right prefrontal cortex has an effect on sad mood (Davidson 2012).

Daily mindfulness tips
  • When you first wake up in the morning before you get out of bed, bring your attention to your breathing. Observe 5 mindful breaths.
  • Throughout the day – take a few moments to bring your attention to your breathing. Observe 5 mindful breaths.
  • Whenever you eat or drink something, take a minute and breathe. Look at your food and realise that the food was connected to something which nourished its growth. Can you see the sunlight, the rain, the earth, the farmer, the trucker in your food? Pay attention as you eat, consciously consuming this food for your physical health. Bring awareness to seeing your food, smelling your food, tasting your food, chewing your food, and swallowing your food.
  • Bring awareness to listening and talking. When listening, can you listen without agreeing or disagreeing, liking or disliking or planning what you will say when it is your turn? When talking, can you say what you need to say without overstating or understating? Can you notice how your mind and body feel?
  • Whenever you are waiting in a queue, use this time to notice standing and breathing. Feel the contact of your feet on the floor and how your body feels. Bring attention to the rising and falling of your abdomen. Are you feeling impatient?
  • Before you go to sleep at night, take a few minutes and bring your attention to your breathing. Observe 5 mindful breaths.

(Adapted from Saki Santorelli, EdD, University of Massachusetts Medical School)

Befriend who you are

Loving-kindness toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. It means that we can still be crazy, we can still be angry. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whatever we are right now, just as we are. That’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest. – Pema Chodron, ‘We Can Still Be Crazy’

For free daily meditations, click on the links below:

1. For Breath and Body (10 mins)

2. For Body Scan (13 mins)

3. For Mountain Meditation (15 mins)

For more information about 8 Week MBSR/MBCT Courses and Free Meditation
Resources please visit The Mindfulness Centre mindfulness.ie

REFERENCES:

Bradt, S. (2010), Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York, NY: Delta.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday
life. New York: Hyperion.
Meleo-Meyer, F., Kabat-Zinn, J. & Santorelli, S. (2009). Mindfulness-
Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Curriculum Guide. Unpublished Manuscript
Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G., & Teasdale, J.D. (2002). Mindfulness–Based Cognitive
Therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. New York:
Guilford Press.
Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G., & Teasdale, J.D. (2013). Mindfulness–Based Cognitive
Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse (Second Edition).
London: The Guilford Press.
Zylowski et al., (2007) Mindfulness Mediation Training in Adults and Adolescents with
ADHD, A feasibility Study. Journal of Attention Disorders. Published: OnlineFirst

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