Mindfulness is an innate ability of the mind to be aware of the present moment (events, experiences, thoughts, emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations), by paying attention on purpose, non-judgementally and with curiosity.

 

Cultivating mindful awareness enables one to recognize habitual thinking patterns, create the space to step out of the negative patterns, access inner resources to cope with stressful and difficult situations and lead a more fulfilling and peaceful life. 

 

Mindfulness will not make your problems go away, but it will change your attitude and perception of how you see your problems, such that they no longer become problems for you. 

 

Though typically labelled as ‘practices’, as one is imbued with mindfulness, it gradually unfolds as a way of life, not just a state of mind.

 

History of Mindfulness

Although mindfulness has its roots in ancient meditation practices, the therapeutic practice of Mindfulness found its way into the healthcare setting in the 1970's, thanks to Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues at Massachusetts Medical School, USA, who developed a secular eight-week course in mindfulness to help people with serious health conditions such as chronic pain, psoriasis, cancer and heart diseases. The course, named Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is now being taught all over the world, including to relatively healthy population who wish to better deal with stress, maintain or increase their overall health and wellbeing, and learn mindfulness. 


In 2002, three psychologists - Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal - adapted the MBSR course for people who had suffered from depression, as a way to prevent relapse and then tested it in clinical trials. The course is named Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It was found in several clinical trials that MBCT reduces the likelihood of relapse of depression from between 70-80% to between 30-40%, which is at least as good as using anti-depressants for preventing the relapse of depression. MBCT has been recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) for the prevention of relapse in recurrent depression since 2004.

Adaptation of Mindfulness in other Settings

Beyond the healthcare setting, Mindfulness training has now been adapted for schools, the workplace as well as social care settings (such as prisons), to suit the specific population's learning needs and settings. 

 

Workplace-based or classroom-based training programs tend to be shorter, ‘low-dosage’ programs designed for the population with little time but need it just as much to relieve stress, improve concentration, awareness, productivity, mental resilience and overall well-being in their daily lives.

 

Recent research studies done on workplace populations have shown that shortened mindfulness program can replicate the results of traditionally delivered eight-week program. Shortened programs are also relatively more feasible and cost effective to be implemented during regular office hours (with the support of the companies).

 

The application of Mindfulness, being a state of mind, however, can be of practical value to anyone who needs to find peace in this frantic world. 

 

The benefits of Mindfulness have been documented in a growing body of medical and psychological research journals since 30 to 40 years ago.

 

Some of these benefits include:

  • Reduce stress

  • Reduce rumination (worrying)

  • Reduce anxiety and depression symptoms (through reducing amygdala activity)

  • Improve working memory                     

  • Improve cognitive flexibility

  • Improve self-awareness (through recognizing habitual patterns of thinking, mood and feelings)

  • Improve compassion towards selves and others

  • Improve emotional regulation

  • Improve ethical behavior

  • Improve relationship satisfaction

  • Improve wellbeing

 

From the workplace perspective, mindfulness enhances leadership and helps team players become more creative, set and achieve their goals, communicate well and resolve conflict.

 

Other benefits include:

  • Reduce costs of staff absenteeism and turnover

  • Improve cognitive function - (i.e. better concentration, memory and learning ability and decision making)

  • Improve productivity (from increased information processing speed, decreased task effort and increased ability to manage distractions)

  • Improve self-resilience, sleep quality and reduced burnout

  • Enhance employer/employee and client relationships

  • Improve employee engagement and enhance employee job and life satisfaction

From neuro-scientific and physiological perspective, studies found that regular mindfulness practice:

 

  • Drives neuroplasticity (i.e. brain structure and function) changes that reflect well-being, such as emotional balance, compassion, genuine happiness, as well as potential buffering of stressful and traumatic experience when it does occur. (Lutz, Dunne, and Davidson 2007)

  • Increases activity of the left hippocampus,  the area of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotional regulation (Hölzel et al, 2011)

  • Results in thicker regions in frontal cortex (responsible for reasoning and decision making), and well as thicker insula  (involved in sensing internal sensations and critical structure in the perception of emotional feelings). As the cortex and insula normally start deteriorating after age twenty, mindfulness meditation might help make up some of the losses due to aging. (Lazar, 2005)

  • Causes less activation of the amygdala, a part of the brain that is responsible for processing fear and aggression. (Brefczynski-Lewis et al. 2007)

  • Increases immunity functioning (Davidson et al, 2003) and decreased sympathetic nervous system activation (Limm et al, 2011)

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