Welcome to the April edition of Forrest Rambles. Today I’m going to be looking at Mindfulness as this is a really popular topic at the moment, and it’s recommended by NICE Guidelines as an effective treatment for recurrent depression.
I’ve been interested in meditation for about twenty years now, and practice mindfulness on a daily basis as part of my ‘self-care’ routine. Whilst mindfulness is different to the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which I provide for anxiety and depression, there are a lot of overlaps.
Let’s begin by getting to grips with what is meant by the term Mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn sums it up really well with this definition:
‘Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way; on purpose,
in the present moment and non-judgmentally’
The word ‘attention’ is really important here. I’m sure, like me, you will find that your attention gets pulled in lots of different directions; thinking about things that have happened in the past, things we need to get done, worries about the future. Then there’s the way communication affects our attention. Thanks to mobile phones we can be contacted anywhere at any time, and we constantly have notifications alerting us to text messages, Facebook updates and so on. No wonder we are all struggling to pay attention to what is going on in the present moment!
That’s what mindfulness is all about – being here, now and without judging or analysing what is happening, or how we are feeling.
We don’t have to sit cross legged on a mat and light incense to practice mindfulness, you can be mindful of anything – your breath, something you’re eating, doing the ironing, or going for a walk or run.
So, take a minute now to practice some mindfulness. Simply become aware of how your feet feel right now. Notice the pressure points as they make contact with the floor. Where do you feel that most? Wiggle your toes around a little and notice how this feels. There you go, that’s mindfulness!
There has been a lot of scientific research which shows that meditation can help with problems such as anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability. Furthermore, memory can improve, reaction times become faster and mental and physical stamina increase.
In terms of our physical health, research has suggested that meditation and mindfulness can improve control of blood sugar in type II diabetes, and that it improves quality of life for people experiencing chronic pain and conditions such as fibromyalgia.
One of the fascinating things about practicing mindfulness is that it actually changes the structure of your brain – something called neuroplasticity.
The amygdala is a region of the brain which is involved in our body’s response to stress, fear and emotion. MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the amygdala appears to shrink, and its connections with other parts of the brain weaken. Whilst this is happening, another part of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex (which is associated with functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making) becomes thicker and better connected to other parts of the brain. This suggests that our stress responses could be replaced by more thoughtful ones.
If you are interested in finding out more about mindfulness there are lots of resources available online, through apps, books, or you may like to attend a local course. Ruby Wax is an interesting person to follow on social media and her books are a great read. I’ve also often used the popular ‘Headspace’ app which is presented by Andy Puddicombe. A good book covering a self-led eight-week programme is ‘Mindfulness – a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman from Oxford University.