“Mindfulness” has been a term used in mental health management for well over a decade. Mindfulness meditation and Mindfulness based cognitive therapy are just a couple of it’s guises. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the therapy in the US. He has brought training workshops to Australia and so there has been a reasonably strong Mindfulness presence in this country for quite some time. Dr Craig Hassed of Monash University is our local expert and I was lucky enough to be involved with him in a joint presentation earlier this year. Mindfulness therapy has been used to treat stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and many other psychological problems. The availability of mindfulness apps and websites have made it more accessible to the public than ever before.
Mindfulness meditation has been proven to have active effects which are visible using brain scans! The most recent of these studies – Desbordes (2012 Frontiers of Neuroscience) examined the amygdala in subjects exposed to images of a positive, negative or neutral nature. The amygdala is a part of the brain strongly linked to emotional responses. Functional brain imaging showed that subjects in the study who were taught mindfulness meditation had a decrease in amygdala response compared to a control group and this continued in the non-meditative state. So meditation can probably promote enduring changes in emotional function.
Peer reviewed journals continue to publish papers that identify Mindfulness therapies as beneficial to patients with psychological difficulties. In 2011 Chiesa and Serretti published a systematic review and meta analysis of Mindfulness based cognitive therapy in the journal Psychiatric Research. They examined the data of multiple papers investigating Mindfulness therapy and identified the following:
adding Mindfulness reduced relapses of depression in those prone to multiple episodes,
Mindfulness reduced relapse rates of depression in those that gradually ceased antidepressants to match those that stayed on antidepressants,
Mindfulness helps decrease and diminish residual depressive symptoms and anxiety symptoms.
So how can Mindfulness become part of your life? Getting instruction and guidance from a trained therapist/psychologist is the obvious answer.
But what if you don’t have the time for such a thing right now. You have some problems but they are not that bad to require seeing anyone about it. Or maybe you just want to try something different to enrich life. Or you would like something to assist you and your therapist so that you can make better progress between sessions.
There are a number of potential sources of information and guidance on the internet or via Apps. Many do charge for these services. A Free site that is available is Smiling Mind. It also modifies the delivery of its service depending on the age of its users – yes it even tailors a service to young children! I found their app very easy to use. It takes no time at all to get into the meditation process and there is a gentle progression from very basic body scanning to more complex meditation regarding thoughts and emotions. There is a handy collection of daily activity suggestions that help introduce mindfulness into other aspects of life. This helps strengthen the skills that you are developing. As with any good therapy tool if you can find a way to practice more during the day then the process slips easily into being your new natural “way of being”, so these daily activities promote this growth.
Mindfulness therapies have been available for many years and have a wide application in the mental health field. Thorough research has identified its positive strengths as a therapeutic tool and modern imaging is showing its effects on our brains. New technology has meant that Mindfulness and meditation can now be available to all for free. All that is required is the will to try.