Re-blogged from MindPhysique
Mindfulness meditation has gone totally mainstream in recent years. Its popularity could inspire or irritate you, but the results of practice will always surprise you and could usher in some refreshing changes.
Why the boom?
There are plenty of options available when it comes to meditation: Transcendental (mantra-based), Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga…so why the mindfulness boom? The answer is found in its mental and physical benefits.
There is growing evidence of mindfulness’s efficacy in treating a range of mental health conditions. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 mental ill-health will have become the biggest burden of disease in developed countries. And enthusiasm for mindfulness as an alternative to anti-depressants is increasing, with mindfulness training being shown to reduce by a third the chances of relapse in to depression.
The Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group in the UK recently published its recommendations that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy be commissioned in the National Health Service for adults at risk of recurrent depression and that funding for the training of MBCT teachers increase significantly.
Although practiced for over four thousand years in the East, the current wave of mindfulness in the West was initiated by Jon Kabatt-Zinn’s work on pain in the 1980s. Kabatt-Zinn found that by focusing on pain rather than trying to escape from it, mindfulness was as successful as any other method in relieving symptoms.
Since then research has found that mindfulness has aided recovery and relief from anxiety, insomnia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and a raft of physical issues thought to have a psychological basis, from sexual anxiety to chronic pain. It supports the nervous and immune systems and brain development by boosting neuroplasticity. In addition to mainstream health care and psychology, the benefits of mindfulness are now being discovered across society, in education, business, the military and beyond.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is paying non-judgemental attention to the present moment, to one’s body, thoughts and emotions. In Mindfulness Meditation, distracting thoughts, sounds and physical sensations are gently acknowledged and the meditator returns to focusing on their body or breath. Consistent practice allows the meditator space from the workings of their mind and practitioners find that their awareness switches from what should be to what is.
Practicing Mindfulness Meditation can alter our physiology as negative cognitions become more peripheral and acting on emotions can shift from being a compulsion to a choice.
Mindfulness is now so popular that if you’re a contrarian like me, your instinct is probably to give it a wide berth. When I was told by a doctor to undertake an eight week mindfulness course, I agreed but I was snobbish and reluctant, believing that my two years of practicing Transcendental Meditation had equipped me with something much deeper, and more authentic. I saw Mindfulness as a fad, despite my Doc’s credentials.
In that way, I am a typical Westerner. I want immediate results from the ‘product’ I’m consuming. In fact, by demanding miraculous results and not engaging fully, mindfulness can exacerbate long-established cycles of anxiety and stress in the form of another ‘failure’ in life.
There has been plenty of criticism of so-called ‘McMindfulness’, pushed by those offering their training course as the hit that will finally resolve your long-standing relationship problems, stabilise your business or secure you that job.
In fact, Mindfulness might help you meet your goals but it isn’t a panacea. It’s an opportunity to open to new possibilities and ways of living. Neither is it wishy washy; the qualities that help are determination and discipline. It takes time, energy and a commitment to ones well-being. On my second go round with mindfulness practice I embraced it more wholeheartedly.
I worked my course through the best-selling book on Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, ‘Finding Peace in a Frantic World’. Over eight weeks, I undertook a series of short guided meditations, ranging from a body scan and stretches to sitting with difficult thoughts. Alongside the meditations are ‘Habit Releasers’ designed to challenge ingrained habits and stimulate curiosity. I found that it was no problem to adapt mindfulness to my life, complementing and deepening my transcendental meditation.
Whether you take up Mindfulness for a specific health reason, to achieve a specific goal, or to more generally enhance your well-being, experts say you will find it life changing. Mindfulness practice will have a broad impact, even if you are aiming to address specific issues.
My specific issue was chronic fatigue, but mindfulness has improved my focus on work; my awareness of how my body’s condition; my breathing; my ability to listen to others; my awareness of my emotional state; my confidence that the present moment offers me all that I need. Fully aware of how I am and what’s going on, I am able to take advantage of my own inner guru and make clear-headed decisions.
Additionally, ordinary, everyday places and things have taken on newfound richness. And the peccadillos of myself and others bother me less when held in mindful awareness.
Mindfulness practice is a true education in the workings of the mind and our inner nature. To hold oneself in loving awareness and acceptance is not to be missed. It is an invitation to the unknown and unexpected, an opportunity to experience new depths of freedom.
By Tom Charles
Original article published at MindPhysique – see here