There has been a lot of interest in the media recently about Mindfulness, which is being described as “the ultimate antidote to modern living”. Tutor Julie Stannard explains what mindfulness is and why the courses are so beneficial.
So what is mindfulness?
The Oxford University Mindfulness Centre, describes mindfulness as “…an integrative, mind-body based training that enables people to change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences”. The course has its roots in both ancient meditation practices and recent neuro-scientific advances and is now offered in hospitals, schools, businesses and to governments (including M.P’s at Westminster!) worldwide.
How does it help me?
Mindfulness enables you to develop a sense of calm however intense a thought, feeling or sensation, which in turn increases your confidence and resilience in responding to difficulty. Your problems may not disappear but your ability to deal with them is greatly improved.
People who have completed Mindfulness programmes have reported lasting benefits including increased enthusiasm and energy, greater self confidence, finding it easier to relax and being better able to handle stressful situations.
Nicola was an attendee on one of my Mindfulness courses and experienced dramatic positive effects upon completing the 8 weekly sessions. She had been suffering with rheumatoid arthritis for 4 years and taking strong medication including painkillers. A year on from taking the course Nicola said ‘I’m on less medication, no painkillers and enjoying life thanks to mindfulness. I started meditating daily and being mindful of my actions and surroundings and within eight weeks I had been able to control my pain with breathing and meditation.’
A very interesting insight into the effects of Mindfulness came from Transport for London (Tfl) back in 2004. Tfl offered 6 week stress reduction workshops to their 20’000 staff who met their criteria. The course, which included Mindfulness techniques, resulted in a 71% decrease in work absences caused by stress, anxiety and depression.
There is proof from the scientists as well! Studies have shown that there are actually changes in areas of the brain associated with decision making, attention, emotion and empathy in people practicing Mindfulness regularly. There is evidence that Mindfulness can improve people’s job performance and productivity as well as overall satisfaction. Furthermore it has been shown that meditation increases blood flow, reduces blood pressure, and protects people at risk of developing hypertension: it also reduces the risk and severity of cardiovascular disease, and the risk of dying from it.
Professor Mark Williams at Oxford University and his colleagues have further adapted Mindfulness for the treatment of depression and developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). This combines the approaches of Mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy and introduces mindfulness skills that offer a different way of relating to experience, that questions our thinking and helps prevent the consolidation of negative thought patterns and rumination into a downward spiral. Clinical trials have shown the course to be at least as effective as anti-depressants without any harmful side effects. MBCT is now recommended in the guidelines of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a treatment for depression. The Mental Health Foundation (www.bemindful.co.uk) has also launched a campaign to increase awareness of mindfulness-based courses.
The 8 Week Course
Aim: The aim of the course is to help us develop the skill of being aware of our experiences so that we can learn to respond more skilfully to situations as they arise rather than reacting automatically.
Format: This Mindfulness course is an 8 week experiential learning programme and consists of weekly 2 hour sessions and one whole day session (at a weekend) with up to 12 people working as a group. During the course we will learn how to develop mindfulness through "formal" mindfulness practices, including lying (body-scan), sitting, stretching and gentle movement and also "informal" practices, where we bring mindful attention to our everyday experience. The learning process is facilitated through reflection about our experience, and in discussion in both large and smaller groups. You do not need to have any experience of mindfulness to come on the course.
Home practice: Developing mindfulness takes practice and participants are invited to spend around 30-45 minutes of practice each day between classes to help establish the skills that are being learned. This is supported by CDs and a course manual. The course tutor can be contacted between classes to help with any difficulties that might arise.
Who is the course for? Everyone can benefit from mindfulness. We all have times when we experience stress, difficulty or illness and whilst the issue may not change, the way in which we deal with it can shift, making it feel easier. Becoming more aware and accepting of our thoughts and feelings means we are in a better place to make wise choices, and deal with difficulties more effectively. The course can therefore benefit anyone who is at a point where they are willing to look at a new approach to dealing with stress and difficulty.
For further information about upcoming courses please contact Julie by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 01892 664883 or 07794538517.
Julie Stannard is a trained Mindfulness teacher.