What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is basically Buddhist meditation used to help people psychologically. It arises from the researched observation that meditation has a positive effect on mental health: 10 minutes a day has been shown to improve people’s mood and ability to cope with difficult situations.

Mindfulness meditations all involve slowing down and focusing – taking time out of your life to put things that you need to do aside and spend time in contemplation. Some meditations involve immersing yourself in an image such as a calm lake, a detailed and systematic ‘scan’ of the body, or walking with awareness of every move and sensation. These mediations support people being present, non-judgemental and moving away from difficult thought patterns, such as self-blame or compulsive worrying about the future, and focusing in detail on everyday activities.

Increasingly, mindfulness practice is used in partnership with other therapeutic methods, for example cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and research has shown good success in treating depression. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are increasingly popular types of therapy.

Research using MRI scans to look at responses in the brain has shown that there is a physical basis for the changes people experience through mindfulness. In 2013, a review of 209 studies with more than 12000 participants concluded that mindfulness is an effective treatment for psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and stress. Other research has shown that those who practice mindfulness have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. MBCT claims that it  leads to an average 44% reduction in relapse rates with people prone to depression. Changes start to be seen in the brains of meditators after just days of practice.

One of the most powerful conclusions arising from these studies, which applies to psychotherapy and counselling in general, is that our brains can change; we are not stuck forever with our old habits, behaviours and thought patterns, though sometimes it might feel that way.

Who benefits from mindfulness?

The prevalence of anxiety, depression and stress-related issues in society is, in part, a consequence our busy modern lives. Mindfulness has been proven to be effective in helping people to become aware of how they are doing things, to slow down and to feel present and grounded in their daily lives and thereby alleviating some of the negative psychological impacts of the conditions of our times. Mindfulness is also an effective aid for the psychological effects of physical conditions such as chronic pain and chronic fatigue; it can also benefit those suffering from insomnia. Arising from the research it seems likely that many people, whether or not they are depressed and anxious, would benefit from some form of meditation practice.

Relevant associations

The Mindfulness Association



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Last updated on September 16 2015