Mindfulness can be defined as:

Mindful meditation is a way of training the mind to be in the present moment. Learning to be fully present is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice. It's a wonderful experience to turn down the mental clutter and find inner peace. It's about learning how to get the most from each moment and quite simply mindfulness makes you happier and healthier.

Sometimes the present moment isn’t an easy place to be – like when you are labouring to birth your baby. We practice meditation to learn how to be present with things as they are, however they are, even when they are challenging.

‘When we spend more time in the present, life becomes richer, more interesting and certainly less stressful.’

If you begin to really pay attention you will soon discover that the mind is primarily caught up in thinking about the past or thinking about the future. When we are lost in these thoughts we are not fully in our life in the present moment.

Mindfulness helps to naturally slow down a negative and worrying mind. It helps to take a step back from mental clutter and gives space for 'you time'.

Cultivating mindfulness involves an interactive, mind-body based training that enables us to change the way we think and feel about our experiences, especially those which are stressful. Because mindfulness practices help us see more clearly the patterns of the mind, it helps to halt the escalation of negative thinking that might compound pain or depressed mood.

 

The Evidence

There is strong evidence for the positive impact of Mindfulness on a wide range of mental and physical health conditions, on social emotional skills and wellbeing, and on learning and cognition. Mindfulness has been shown to address physical health problems directly, and is effective in reducing pain, high blood pressure, and improving the symptoms of physical conditions such as psoriasis and fibromyalgia.

Studies have found that people who learn mindfulness are less likely to get anxious or depressed and more likely to experience positive changes in wellbeing (Teasdale et al, 2000; Kuyken et al, 2008; Godfrin and Van Heeringen, 2010; Hofmann et al, 2010; Green and Bieling, 2012).

Mindfulness has been shown to have an impact too on intellectual skills, improving sustained attention, visuospatial memory, working memory, and concentration (Jha et al, 2007; Chambers et al, 2008; Zeidon et al, 2010).

Mindfulness-Based approaches in health care began in the USA with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering, and very successful programme, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (1990; 2003). An adaptation of this programme, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was later developed and is now a recognised treatment option in reducing the recurrence in depression and offered within the structure of the NHS (NICE, 2009).

A new study published in May 2017, shows that antenatal classes with mindfulness training improves childbirth experiences and reduces the symptoms of depression both during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.

Benefits of preparing for Childbirth with Mindfulness Training: a randomised controlled trial with active comparison:
https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-017-1319-3
 

The Brain

Brain imaging studies on adults are showing that Mindfulness Meditation reliably and profoundly alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thoughts and feeling. It produces greater blood flow too, and a thickening of, the central cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration (Davidson, 2008). Although the most striking changes are observable in long term meditators, brain changes are clearly observable in people who have only been meditating for eight weeks for an average of half an hour a day.

In these subjects, imaging showed increased grey matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant reported reductions in stress were also correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdale, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress (Hazel et al, 2011)

 

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