I got introduced to mindfulness when I was followed after suffering from an unexpected stroke (some kind of PTSD prevention). Before that, I would never have thought it was for me, and laughed at my wife when she suggested it. Now I consider it should be introduced in all schools at a very young age. In general, in our hyper active lives, I consider every day should start and end with “some” sort of relaxation exercise (be it mindfulness, tai-chi, yoga … ).

Today when we think about mindfulness, we think “meditation”. Yet, if you asked different meditators, each would probably refer to different meanings.

Mindfulness has been growing in popularity in the west as a way to switch off from stresses of modern life.

Meditation is a large umbrella term that encompasses the practice of reaching ultimate consciousness and concentration or acknowledge the mind and, in a way, self-regulate it. It can involve a lot of techniques or practices to reach this heightened level of consciousness. 

Mindfulness as we most know it is a type of meditation. One that is more approachable probably, and has become very popular in the Western world as a way to switch off from stresses of modern life, especially with the raise of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and meditation apps like Headspace which suit our busy life. 

“Ancient meditation focused on spiritual growth and transcending emotions to live in a calm present state. After being introduced to the West in the 20th century, meditation was realigned to match the goals of a modern, secular society — and it was soon used as a way to reduce stress and improve healthy living, similar to the Western world’s version of yoga”.

Refence: https://www.medicaldaily.com/mindfulness-meditation-differences-377346

What is Mindfulness?

Perhaps the most widely quoted definition comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of MBSR:

“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Basically being mindful is being aware, present. Most of us walk around unaware of our surrounding, stuck into our thought or on our phones. Mindfulness is about observation without criticism, being compassionate with yourself. Mindfulness helps you recognize negative thoughts as they arise, let them stay for a while and then watch them evaporate. 

“In mindfulness, we start seeing the world as it is, not as we expect it to be”

Mark Williams

Mindfulness is the type of meditation where you bring your full mind to an object, or to your breath. We leave in a busy world, full of distraction, and we have forgotten what it is to be present.

On average, American consumers now check their smartphones 52 times each day.

U.S. edition of the 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey from Deloitte

You can practice Mindfulness through meditations (such as Body scan, Breathing meditation), or through every day’s life, paying more attention to the food you eat, your surroundings, sounds and smells So in summary Mindfulness is about being present, noticing things, and meditation is a way to achieve it. 

As Mark Williams nicely put it in his book

“Everyday life offers endless opportunities for you to stop, to focus, to remind yourself to be fully aware and present to what is happening right now”

MINDFULNESS, Mark Williams & Danny Penman

Mindfulness is recommended as a treatment for people with mental ill-health as well as those who want to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

There are also different sorts of mindfulness meditation which can help people in different ways. Evidence shows compelling support for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which helps people to cope with stress, and for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is designed to help people with recurring depression. They provide a flexible set of skills to manage mental health and support wellbeing.

Mindfulness & Health Benefits

In 1979, Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, started the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society to treat chronically ill patients. This jumpstarted the notion and trend of employing mindfulness as a way to live a healthier life. MBSR, as we know it today, was born!  

MBSR may be the most widely practiced form of mindfulness anywhere, taught in hospitals, clinics, school and businesses.

When unhappiness or stress kicks in, rather than taking it personally, you learn to treat them as black cloud in the sky. Some of the recognized benefits of mindfulness include 

  • Reducing Anxiety, Depression and Irritability
  • Reduction in Chronic Stress
  • Boosting Immune system

MBSR strengthen the brain’s ability to focus on one thing and ignore distraction.

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to affect how the brain works and even its structure. People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.

Mindfulness meditation alters neurophysiological characteristics that are linked to anxiety and depression

Mindfulness meditation training is associated with changes in resting-state brain activity, according to new research conducted with elementary school students

Journal of psychology, record/2019-38081-001

This research in particular examined the impact of a mindfulness meditation training program on 66 elementary school students. The mindfulness meditation program occurred in class for 15 minutes once per day for 10 weeks.

Jones and her colleagues found that self-reported depression scores declined after the mindfulness meditation training program. Using electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings, the researchers also found that the program was associated with alterations in brainwave activity.

Eric W. Dolan, psypost.org

More than 100 studies have shown changes in brain wave activity during meditation and researchers have found that areas of the brain linked to emotional regulation are larger in people who have meditated regularly for five years. The evidence for different types of mindfulness is promising and research has grown in recent years.

Research into individuals with “problematic” levels of stress found significant improvement in perceived levels of stress over the course. The findings of this research were consistent with other studies showing that changes in mindfulness “precede changes in perceived stress”

RA Baer et al, “Weekly change in mindfulness and perceived stress in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program”, 2012

In Conclusion

Mindfulness is the most widely research type of meditation, with hundreds of researches. Benefits on stress and focus are undeniable.

MBSR training in particular has been shown to reduce the reactivity of the amygdala (the brain’s radar for threats) which is what regulates your emotional response as a lot other research (as mentioned above).

What is also interesting to notice is that research on long-term meditator group showed both this reduced reactivity in the amygdala plus strengthening of the connection between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala.

I personally see no down side in practicing Mindfulness or Meditation. It has helped me to start the day calmer before rushing into madness, and reading about scientific evidence reinforced my belief. I personally at this stage would benefit from more formal meditation training. Beware of the apps, yes they are better than nothing, but I doubt you will unlock a fraction of what meditation can offer with them. They are great introduction and suit our lifestyle.

Mindfulness practice is all about consistency, and building it into your lifestyle. I practice it every morning for 20min and I can’t recommend it enough .

Get Started

  • APPS –  Apps can be a good way to introduce to mindfulness in general. The likes of headspace (most popular), but also more recent ones like Happify (not just mindfulness app) have grown in popularity and helped to make it more accessible. This is good if you are in a mode of discovery, but not in immediate need of interventions
  • MBSR training – today you can find courses. MBSR is actually its own curriculum in universities (that includes UCD in Dublin, Ireland). But Mark Williams 8 week course (book below) is what I used and is a perfect introduction with short daily practices.
  • Jon Kabat – Dive in with the master, the creator, and his CD meditation which you can buy and download on his site. This will give you access to more variety and longest meditations.

Reference articles

BOOKS

An 8 weeks program which will get you started on MBSR, with daily practice. This is all you need to self-start and for me is THE reference book.
Meditation and meditation effects have been studied for more than 40 years with thousands of studies, but not all of the same quality. Deep dive into science-facts about meditation with 2 long term meditators and neuroscientists. This is a bible!