What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness provides us with effective techniques to combat the stresses and strains of our everyday, 21st century lives. Mindfulness helps us cope with the external pressures of our work and family commitments and it can also help us when we feel overwhelmed by our internal thoughts and feelings. With some simple mindfulness skills, we can learn to bring our attention into the present, to what is actually happening around us in any given moment and away from our worries, about either the past or the future.

Mindfulness teaches us to focus our awareness on what is happening ‘in the now’, rather than being ‘caught up’ in our thoughts and allowing the present moments to slip past, unnoticed. Mindfulness techniques can be practised anywhere, at any time; simple exercises that bring you into the present, so that you feel calmer, more content.

What does Mindfulness consist of?

What will you learn when you come to the ‘Time to be Mindful’ sessions of Mindfulness in Guildford, Surrey?

When you attend the Time to be Mindful’ Mindfulness sessions in Merrow, Guildford, you will learn the following Mindfulness practices – sometimes also called exercises, or meditations.

Breath Aware
– Reconnect with our breathing –

Body Scan
– Reconnect with our bodies –

Thought Aware
– Feel less overwhelmed –

Feelings Aware
– Allow emotions time to pass –

Senses Aware
– Stay in the present moment –

Facing Difficulties
– Cope better with difficult circumstances –

Bringing it all Together
– Feeling calm and mindful –

For a more detailed explanation of each of these Mindfulness practices please see the home page.

What are the benefits of Mindfulness?

Research* shows that if we practise Mindfulness, there are real physical, psychological and emotional benefits, which include:

  1. Feel calmer, more content
  2. Less worry about the past (rumination)
  3. Less anxiety about the future (catastrophising)
  4. Improved concentration
  5. Improved working memory – the ability to focus on a task
  6. Less emotional reactivity
  7. Better able to cope with persistent pain or discomfort

Reference*: Davies, D.M., & Hayes, J. A., (2011) What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research. Psychotherapy. Vol 48, No 2, pp 189 – 208.

The New Economics Foundation – a UK based think-tank, which researches the nation’s well-being and advises the British Government accordingly, advocates Noticing, (Mindfulness), along with socialising; learning new things; physical exercise and kindness, as one of the five-a-day activities that promote mental well-being.

The New Economics Foundation’s Five-a-Day check list for mental well-being:

  1. Connect – socialise
  2. Keep learning new things
  3. Exercise – look after our bodies
  4. Give – be kind to others
  5. Notice – Mindfulness


Where does Mindfulness come from?

The origins of Mindfulness lie in Buddhism, but the Buddhist teachings were adapted and secularised 40 years ago by an American, Jon Kabat-Zinn – a molecular biologist, who also practised meditation. Kabat-Zinn’s first studies showed that Mindfulness helped those with chronic pain.

Reference: Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., Burncy, R., & Sellers, W. (1986) ‘Four-year follow-up of a meditation-based program for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Treatment outcomes and compliance’. The Clincial Journal of Pain. 2 (3), p 159.

Kabat-Zinn then developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme – an 8 week programme of weekly sessions in which he taught a range of Mindfulness exercises – breath, body and thought aware. Several studies have shown that the MBSR programme significally reduces stress.

Reference: Kabat-Zinn, J., (2001) Full Catastrophe Living. Piatkus.

Following on from Kabat-Zinn’s work in USA, John Teasdale and Mark Williams from Cambridge University and Zindel Segal from Toronto, developed Mindfulness for their work with depression and Williams, Teasdale and Segal adapted Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR programme to focus on people with depression. This programme, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), retained all the main elements of MBSR, but incorporated some aspects of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and addressed the problems of ‘negative thinking’ and rumination, which are often symptoms of depression. Williams, Teasdale and Segal conducted a three centre trial in Bangor (Williams), Cambridge (Teasdale) and Toronto (Segal). Results of the trial showed that those who attended an 8 week course of Mindfulness were less likely to suffer a relapse of their depression than those who received conventional management. Moreover, those who attended the Mindfulness sessions maintained their improvement for a year after the study. A second trial in 2004 showed even better results and consequently MBCT received endorsement from National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK, which recommended that Mindfulness should be offered on the NHS as a treatment for people who have suffered two or more episodes of depression.

References: Segal, Z. V.,Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale.J. D., Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: a new approach to preventing relapse (Guildford Press, 2002); Williams, J. M. G.,Teasdale, J.D., & Kabat-Zinn, J., The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (Guildford Press, 2007).

Mindfulness continues to evolve and is now found in education, taught in many schools; in the corporate world of business organisations, as well as in various health care settings.

How do we know Mindfulness works?

Developments in recent technology, specifically in functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI ), allows researchers to see which part of the brain is active when we are carrying out certain functions. This information allows neuroscientists to map the brain and see which region ‘ lights up’ when we perform certain activities, such as learning a new language, solving a maths problem, or thinking about someone we know. From their research with fMRI, neuroscientists can show that our brains change according to what we do in our lives and this process is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity works in much the same way as exercising muscles: if muscles are weak and we work them, they get bigger and stronger. In the same way, studies using fMRI, show evidence of neuroplasticity and we now know that qualities like attention, empathy and joy can be developed in the same way as our muscles. By training ourselves to think and act differently, we can change ways of thinking and behaving that we thought were fixed.

At the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, Professor Richard Davidson has been investigating the neuroscience of meditation and well-being for 20 years. His findings suggest that practising meditation produces significant changes in the brain and that these changes are associated with the development of a greater sense of well-being. Using encephalogram (EEG) recordings, Davidson recorded how content, or unhappy, a person was. If a person was upset, angry or anxious, he found that there was more electrical activity in and around the amygdala – the area associated with the ‘flight and fight’ response, sometimes referred to as the ‘fear centre’, and also in the right pre-frontal cortex. If people were feeling happier, there was more activity in the left pre-frontal cortex and less activity in the amygdala and right pre-frontal cortex. Davidson did a study whereby he took EEG readings from a group of office workers before and after a two month course of Mindfulness meditation. After two months of practising Mindfulness, the workers felt less stressed, more content and the readings from their brains had also changed – there was more activity in the left pre-frontal cortex.

Reference: Davidson, R.J. (2004), ‘What does the pre-frontal cortex “do” in affect: Perspectives on frontal EEG asymmetry research’. Biological Pyschology, 67, pp 219-33.

Another study, by Dr Sara Lazar, found that a key part of the limbic system, the amygdala, the brain’s ‘fear centre’, was found to decrease in size in subjects who practised Mindfulness.

Reference: Lazar et al., (2005), ‘Meditation Experience is Associated with Increased Cortical Thickness’, NeuroReport,16, pp 1893-7.>/span>

Mindfulness in brief

Mindfulness is a secular, non- denominational programme of simple exercises or practices, which if practised regularly, can help us feel calmer, more content and less overwhelmed by our thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness can help us improve our relationships at home and at work; it can increase our concentration and ability to focus. Mindfulness can be practised at any time, anywhere and is suitable for all ages – we can all benefit in some way from learning to be more present, more mindful.

Rachel Crookenden runs Mindfulness courses on a regular basis.

To book your place on a course, please get in touch.