Mindfulness has been used as an approach to working with experience for more than a thousand years. In recent years, research has shown that mindfulness practised regularly can help with a range of physical and emotional difficulties including chronic pain, anxiety and depression, as well as enhancing wellbeing.
Defined as ‘paying attention on purpose moment by moment without judging’ (Full Catastrophe Living, – Jon Kabat-Zinn), mindfulness is a natural capacity of our minds that we can all experience in moments when we are fully present in an open accepting way to what is happening. For much of the time, however, our usual experience is of being carried away by thoughts and feelings, memories or worries, living our life in our heads and reacting in automatic ways.
Mindfulness training enables us to develop our natural capacity for awareness and to notice without judging more of the thoughts, feelings and sensations that make up our lives day by day. It can increase our wellbeing through deepening our appreciation of our lives and also by helping us notice negative thoughts and feelings, enabling us to respond helpfully and protecting us from getting caught in anxious or depressive cycles.
Mindfulness training courses aim to bring about a different way of relating to our experience, especially difficult experiences we cannot easily change in order to see more clearly how best to respond. The 2 main kinds of secular courses for mindfulness training that have been developed in recent years are mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Both are taught over 8 weekly sessions each of between 2 to 2.5 hours.
MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the USA in the 1970s. MBCT is an integration of MBSR with aspects of cognitive behavioural therapy. It was developed by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale at the Universities of Cambridge and Toronto. MBSR and MBCT have been extensively researched and shown to be helpful for a wide range of physical and mental health conditions as well as for enhancing wellbeing.The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend MBCT as a treatment within the NHS.