Introduction to Mindfulness
Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment with curiosity and acceptance in a nonjudgmental manner. Mindfulness allows us to shift our attention and notice internal experiences (thoughts, feelings, and body sensations) that may be triggered by daily stressors. We may spend a great deal of time in the past or worry excessively about the future. By not being fully engaged with what we are doing, we may miss important information and fail to acknowledge how we feel in the present moment. Other times, we tend to avoid discomfort and unpleasant events in order to have immediate, but temporary relief from stress. The practice of mindfulness can help us recognize how we react to stressors and how we can respond more appropriately to situations while moving closer to meaningful life goals.
Mindfulness-based interventions and their benefits
Kabat-Zinn (1990) developed an eight-week group program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that combines both formal and informal meditation practices. Program participants learn to integrate different mindfulness practices into their daily lives to help them experience mindful states without evoking judgment or elaboration. MBSR has been shown to improve psychological and physical well-being, reduce negative emotions, and help with pain management. Richard Davidson’s research demonstrated that eight weeks of MBSR results in significant brain and immune function changes.
The success of MBSR inspired the integration of mindfulness into Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), where treatment focuses on altering a person’s relationship with cognitive events rather than challenging the content of their thoughts. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been reported to reduce depression relapse rates by close to 50% in remitted patients and is now considered a preferred intervention for relapse prevention. In addition 3rd Wave Cognitive Behavioural Therapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) have incorporated the practice of mindfulness into individual based modalities.
Mindfulness-based interventions have been also shown to improve the ability to pay attention and to enhance information processing, executive functions, and metacognitions. By improving awareness, mindfulness allows for more flexibility in responding to situations and strengthens the ability to control thoughts. Consequently, the practice of mindfulness may lead to a more complete experience of the present moment and to the formation of more meaningful cognitive connections.