What
  is 
Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a simple and very powerful practice of training our attention. It’s simple in that it’s really just about paying attention to what’s happening here and now (i.e. sensations, thoughts, and emotions) in a non-judgemental way. It’s powerful because it can interrupt the habit of getting lost in thoughts, mostly about the future or past, which often generates more stress on top of the real pressures of everyday life. 

Evidence-Based
 Results 

Over the last 30 years, academic research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and physical medicine have documented the wide-ranging benefits of learning to meditate, particularly in an 8-week mindfulness course format.

With practice, mindfulness can serve as the perfect antidote to healing stress that can sometimes undermine our health, performance and quality of life, and can provide a sensation of relaxation. Indeed the evidence has shown that it can be an effective aid in the treatment of many mental and physical health issues, as well as generally improving our performance, relationships, and well-being.

Click on the topics below to read more about the related evidence-based research:

Mindfulness for Bad Habits

Mindfulness fosters a non-judgmental, compassionate approach toward ourselves and our experiences. The practice of mindfulness increases awareness of triggers, habitual patterns, and automatic reactions to triggers (such as smoking, overeating, and alcohol or drug consumption). It supports the ability to pause, observe present experience, and gain access to a range of healthier and less impulsive choices.

A large group of smokers (20 cigarettes/day) received mindfulness training and showed a greater rate of reduction in cigarette use during treatment and maintained these gains during follow-up.

Overweight or obese individuals undertook a mindfulness-based intervention (MB-EAT) and showed improvement on a range of variables, including weight loss, binge eating and psychological distress.

A mindfulness-based relapse prevention programme (MBRP previously shown to be efficacious for reduction of substance use) was used to teach alternative responses to emotional discomfort and lessen the conditioned response of craving in the presence of depressive symptoms.

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Mindfulness Meditation for Depression

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends mindfulness as a method of relapse prevention in recurrent depression. Research has in fact shown that mindfulness can reduce the risk of future clinical depression by 50% in people who have already been depressed several times; its effectiveness comparable to that of antidepressant medications. New evidence supporting the use of mindfulness for people experiencing a current episode of anxiety and depression is currently being developed.

A total of 150 participants with mild to moderate depressive symptoms were randomly assigned to a mindfulness-based intervention or to a waiting list control group. Significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and experiential avoidance, and improvements in mindfulness and emotional- and psychological mental health occurred for the group that received the mindfulness-based intervention.

This study randomly assigned 84 patients in remission from major depression to one of three groups: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), standard care (continuation of their medication for 18 months), and placebo. Results showed that MBCT offers protection against relapse/recurrence on a par with that of maintenance antidepressant pharmacotherapy.

The study showed improvements in depression, anxiety, ‘purpose in life’, and ‘self-growth’ in a group of older people with recurrent and/or chronic depression after attending a mindfulness course.

Focus/Attention

Mindfulness involves cultivating the capacity to ‘attend to’ the situation at hand in ways that are purposeful and well-balanced. Across a range of contexts, mindfulness has been shown to improve sustained attention, learning, and performance. Research on the application of mindfulness to job performance recognized that mindfulness enhances cognitive flexibility and promotes executive functioning – qualities instrumental to performance across a range of tasks. Practicing mindfulness exercises in addition to physical training also improves mental and physical performance in sports.

In a sample of 60 participants, mindfulness training produced improvements in visual discrimination, increases in perceptual sensitivity and improved vigilance, making it easier to sustain voluntary attention and focus while resisting distraction.

MBSR intervention increased gray matter density in the brain regions associated with learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective thinking.

This study on long distance runners highlighted a significant increase in state mindfulness and trait awareness and decreases in sport-related worries, personal standards perfectionism, and parental criticism.

The authors found support for a positive relationship between workplace mindfulness and job performance after controlling for the influence of three dimensions of work engagement on performance (vigor, dedication, and absorption). They also found a negative relationship between workplace mindfulness and turnover intention.

Pain & Illness

Mindfulness contributes to physical wellbeing and is an effective complementary practice while undergoing treatment for a wide variety of medical conditions. These include cancer, chronic pain, asthma, diabetes, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, and hypertension. Mindfulness was initially adopted to help people deal with the psychological stress related to having long-term or terminal conditions. Further studies have also shown positive effects in the immune system, cardiovascular system, and endocrine system.

Fifty-one patients with chronic pain underwent a 10-week mindfulness-based programme. Results showed a 33% reduction of pain in more than 50% of the patients. Results were confirmed at a 6-month follow-up.

This randomised-controlled trial explored the biological processes associated with mindfulness meditation. It was found that meditation increased positive effects and boosted the immune system of subjects in the meditation group compared with those in the wait-list control group.

MBSR programme participation was associated with enhanced quality of life and decreased stress symptoms. Altered cortisol, and immune patterns consistent with less stress and mood disturbance, and decreased blood pressure were recorded at a follow-up in 41 patients with breast or prostate cancer.

Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety

Mindfulness meditation training has proven to be effective in reducing the symptoms and perpetuating factors of a variety of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety. The typical mental attitudes linked to mindfulness practice and meditation exercises (i.e. acting with awareness, non-judging of experience, and non-reactivity) increase the ability to cope with negative life events, reduce self-focused attention and negative self-beliefs that are closely linked to anxiety.

This seminal study explored the effectiveness of an MBSR programme for 28 participants with anxiety disorders (anxiety disorder and panic disorder). Repeated measures documented significant reductions in anxiety and depression scores after treatment for 20 of the subjects. Changes were maintained at a 3-month follow-up.

The authors studied the impact of a brief meditation induction for new meditators on their responses to a series of emotionally arousing images. Participants in the meditation group reported less overall reactivity and negative affect, and were more likely to tolerate the full collection of negative images.

This study demonstrated, through neuroimaging, a decrease in negative emotion experience, reduced amygdala activity, and increased activity in brain regions implicated in attentional deployment in participants with Social Anxiety Disorder.

Creativity

Creativity is not a rare gift, but rather an integral part of everyone’s makeup. In fact, mindfulness training enables more intuitive, productive and creative responses to new challenges. When we are mindful, we are open to surprise, oriented in the present moment, sensitive to context, and better able to achieve insightful problem solving.

This study investigates the effects of meditation on creativity in 19 healthy adults. It was found that meditation supports a style of thinking that allows new ideas to be generated.

This study involving 157 participants (across two research studies) showed a positive relation between mindful awareness and insight problem solving and creativity. In both studies, individuals with greater trait mindful awareness were better able to solve insight problems, which requires overcoming habitual responses derived from prior experience.

The authors found direct evidence for the role of meditation in producing insight (problem-solving). The results implied that it was the watchfulness or mindful and alert state during meditation, rather than relaxation, that actually contributed to insight.

Stress

Stress is a normal response to life events, but beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing damage to the body, mood, productivity and quality of life. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the physiological and psychological reactions to stress including excessive arousal and emotional reactivity. Regular practice affects the brain’s neural pathways, and in particular it moderates the activation of the amygdala, the brain structure crucial in stress responses, making mindfulness meditators more resilient to stress.

The study used anatomical MR images to identify the effects on the amygdala of an 8-week MBSR intervention. The intervention significantly reduced perceived stress and neuroplastic changes in the amygdala, associated with improvements in psychological states, were reported.

Those training in mindfulness stayed on task longer and made fewer task switches. They also reported less negative emotions after task performance, as compared with the other two control groups.

The authors performed a comprehensive review of health-related studies related to MBSR. Twenty reports met the inclusion criteria and the review suggested that MBSR may help a broad range of individuals cope with their clinical and non-clinical problems.

Relationships

Mindfulness enables people to bring more attention to relationships and to better appreciate their time with others. People who practice mindfulness are able to express themselves better, are less reactive to relationship conflicts, and less likely to think negatively of their partners as a result of conflict. Mindfulness promotes empathy and a more skillful use of our emotional repertoire in marital relationships and parenting.

This study identified that elements of mindfulness were positively associated with expressing oneself in various social situations. A greater tendency for mindful observation was also associated with empathy, better identification and description of feelings, more body satisfaction, less social anxiety, and less distress contagion.

This study on married couples found that emotion skills and mindfulness are both related to marital adjustment. Mindfulness was associated with superior emotions skill in the domains of empathy, improved ability to identify and communicate emotions, and the skillful handling of anger.

A Mindfulness-Enhanced Strengthening Families Program (MSFP) was found effective in improving multiple dimensions of parenting, including interpersonal mindfulness in parenting, parent-youth relationship quality, youth behaviour management, and parent well-being.


The 8-Week
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
(MBSR) Course

While there are many ways to learn mindfulness, we recommend the 8-week course format as the starting point, as it is the most widely-researched and evidence-based approach. The 8-week format is also an opportunity to make a commitment to showing up and building a regular practice over a series of weeks. It takes this kind of repetition over time to form new patterns of thinking and habits. You will also find that learning to mediate in a group with others and under the guidance of an experienced mindfulness teacher will provide you with a good source of insight and support.

Our 8-week course is based on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme, originally developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s, and includes components of the related Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programme that explicitly address the negative thought patterns that can perpetuate stress and lead to depression and anxiety.

This fundamental course explores the essential mindfulness meditation exercises and helps cultivate new skillful ways of dealing with what goes on in our bodies, minds and lives. In addition to the meditation exercises there is information (and discussion) on healing stress, relaxation, stress management, and how to apply mindfulness to interpersonal communication.

Beyond the course, living a mindful life means applying these mindfulness skills to each part of our daily lives. Check out our blog for everyday mindfulness tips and visit our mindfulness courses list for more courses and workshops on how mindfulness can be incorporated into different parts of our lives.

You can view upcoming 8-week mindfulness course start dates on our calendar here.

The Mindfulness Test