We deliver a half-day Awareness course, a one-day Understanding of Mental Health in the Workplace, and a two-day L3 Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace. There is more information available on the website.
Throughout our courses, we suggest mindfulness as a means of self-help for many mental health issues. However, mindfulness is not a term, nor indeed a practice, common to many of us. Those who do take it up as regular practice were initially drawn to it to reduce negative experiences with an aspiration to become calmer and to regulate emotions more effectively. Others were keen to enhance their sense of well-being, to become more fulfilled, more self-aware with a better ability to focus and concentrate. A few have taken it up since they associate it with religious or spiritual cultivation, especially that of Buddhism.
So where to begin? Jon Kabat-Zinn (born Jon Kabat, June 5, 1944) is an American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He suggests “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Kabat-Zinn J: Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 2003; 10:144–156 [Google Scholar]
According to the University of Minnesota, in general, there are three key characteristics of mindfulness:
- Intention to cultivate awareness (and return to it again and again)
- Attention to what is occurring in the present moment (simply observing thoughts, feelings, sensations as they arise)
- Attitude that is non-judgmental, curious, and kind
https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu › what-mindfulness
We shall explore some mindfulness practices later in this piece. Firstly, let us look at some preconceptions of the practice and remove some uncertainty from our thoughts regarding this form of suggested self-help.
It could be suggested that there are five schools of thought connected with mindfulness. The science, the Monk, the Ninja, the Zombie, and the Hippie. Each of these holds preconceptions as to what mindfulness is, which will either draw people to the practice or indeed deter them.
In modern science mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) include meditation (sitting, lying, walking) both guided and unguided, and body scans. A further important aspect of MBIs is a group-based exploration of individual experiences, referred to as inquiry. During the group discussions, participants share their personal experiences of difficulty and success in practicing mindfulness. Through this discussion, participants learn from one another.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) tends to target specific conditions or vulnerabilities using MBIs whereas Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has a more generic application and is applied to stress arising from a variety of life events including physical or mental illness.
One of the most immediate connections that people make is between mindfulness and the Buddhist monk. There is a sense that mindfulness emerges from Buddhist traditions and its practice is always associated with the Buddhist monk. Mindfulness does have its origins within Buddhism however it has evolved throughout modern times. Preconceptions consider that it is oriental or Asian based and essentially a religious practice and that Buddha was the original therapist. It is also thought that to meditate properly you have to sit in a certain position, chant, and burn incense whilst under a tree or on a mountain. Whilst these may help some they may also make others anxious.
Another perceived connection is that with the Ninja Warrior and martial arts. It is thought that mindfulness involves a disciplined control over attention, awareness, and the emotional state. It requires actions to be in the service of the greater good and not for personal desires or for the ego. A further preconception is that in modern-day life we chase possessions and indulge our emotions and are therefore simply failing to act with discipline, attention, and awareness. It is thought that the warrior teaches us to cultivate our minds and bodies through meditation, yoga, and martial arts so that we can become masters of ourselves.
The Zombie association with mindfulness is what can frighten some about the practice. It is seen as abandoning rationality, reasoning, and critical judgement. It is assumed that the practice induces a person to become automated and going through motions without any emotional engagement and unable to act for their own benefit.
The hippie is often considered the definitive representation of a person who practices mindfulness, often thought of as someone who is often against capitalism and materialism. It is thought they practice a self-transformation and have abandoned human society and conventional conceptions of self-hood. This could be a dream for some but a nightmare for others.
The above are preconceptions and associations connected with mindfulness. In truth, it is what works for you. A forty-minute body scan, a 3 step breathing exercise, 8 minutes mindful walking exercise, or guided meditation – what do your mind and body require to help ease itself. We are looking to remove the dis-ease, to refocus, and find our inner strength to face the stresses of modern living.
In MBCT, the three-minute breathing space is a central element that aims to incorporate what is learned in the formal meditation practices in everyday life. The exercise consists of three steps: becoming aware of thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations; then bringing attention to the breath, and finally expanding the attention to the body.
A body scan enables us to focus on and identify our body’s needs. By sitting or lying quietly notice the breath and how it is entering and leaving the body. Take the breath to the feet and notice the sensations experienced there. Follow the breath as it flows to each part of your body working your way up to the head. In doing this we become aware of any discomfort or pain that needs attention whilst also regulating the breath and reducing the dis-ease within both mind and body.
The mindful walking exercise simply means walking while being aware of each step and breath. It can be practiced anywhere, whether you are alone in nature or with others in a crowd. Walk a little slower than normal so that you can focus on your walking and breathing. It brings our awareness to the movement and the sensations of our walking. Start standing with a mini body scan starting with head working down to your feet noticing any sensations. Notice the space around you. Move your right foot breathing in as you lift and out as you place it down; move your left foot breathing in as you lift and down as you place it down. Walk with the rhythm of your breath being aware of the motion and your surroundings. As you become more accustomed to this exercise you can speed it up a little and maybe practice it more informally; on your walk to work perhaps.
There are many, many resources on the internet regarding mindfulness and meditation. It depends on the needs of your mind and body and your personal preference. Sometimes the sound of rain in the background of guided meditation can be really soothing at others it can be a complete annoyance. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect immediate results. The gradual introduction of your practice into your lifestyle will deliver benefits in many areas. You may initially prefer a guided meditation and as you become more familiar with your needs you may prefer to practice on your own; going back to a guide whenever you feel the need.
Returning to the science then, mindfulness has been proven to help those who experience stress, anxiety, and depression. It also helps reduce the feeling of dis-ease within the self and offers a coping mechanism for many of the mental health issues we may experience.
This has been a snapshot whistle-stop tour of my understanding of mindfulness. Follow your own path and do what is right for you and your needs. There is so much information available to us and I hope this has been the first step on your mindfulness journey.
For further information on Mental Health Awareness why not take our half-day course? You will explore the symptoms of some mental health issues and how you can either help yourself or support others who may be struggling. We also offer the L2 Understanding Mental Health in the Workplace and L3 Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace.
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