The invited speaker at the October Science of Health seminar was Dr Paramabandhu Groves. The topic?
Mindfulness: research and practice: how we know it works
What is mindfulness? It is a translation of ‘sati’ – awareness, paying attention moment by moment, intentionally and with compassion. In the 1970’s mindfulness was demonstrated to reduce pain and stress by two thirds, to increase self respect and empathy, and to raise the immune system (Full Catastrophic Living by Jon Kanat Zinn). This effect continued even after 4 years and even if people practised in a less formalised way. Further studies showed similar results in managing depression using mindfulness combined with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Particularly since 2010 and the publication of the government report, Mindful Nation UK, mindfulness has been promoted as improving mental and physical health and has been rolled out in primary and secondary care.
Key aspects of mindfulness:
1 : Stopping, or coming to ourselves
2 : Increasing awareness
3 : Moving attention around as we choose, for example from oneself to others, from the brain to the body, to different areas of the body
4 : Changing relationship to the content of experience: being present.
Your body IS. IS your mind? Becoming more aware of our present thoughts and the feelings attached to them, we can break dysfunctional habits and patterns. Much of the time we are on automatic pilot. If that automatic pilot tends to negative and resentful rather than positive thoughts, our well being will be eroded, leading to catastrophic thinking. Mindfulness provides a pause to enable us to connect, observe our thoughts, and become aware.
Body scanning or moving the attention round the body is a mindfulness technique enabling us to observe our thoughts, let them go and pull attention back to bodily sensations. The mind’s job is to think and pay attention to every detail. Body scanning trains us to be more present, not to think so much and to break out of the automatic pilot avoiding a lot of avoidable suffering.
Mindfulness or compassion based therapy enables us to accept even painful experience rather than drowning in it, or blocking it. We turn towards the experience, being interested in where emotions and sensations are located in the body and how these change as we hold them with kindness. This is counterintuitive since the natural reaction is to block, feel blame, be upset or angry. CBT and mindfulness takes the client straight to experiencing the thought and to recognise that thoughts are not facts. They are like buses which should be allowed to pass until you find one you want to catch. Feelings want to be felt, feel them with awareness but don’t get stuck.
Be able to be solitary without being lonely.