What is Mindfulness and self-compassion
What is mindfulness really all about?
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment and learning to live well in that moment whatever it may bring. Being more aware of pleasant experiences, of the natural world; of our families and friends; of our favourite pastimes brings obvious benefits. But bringing awareness to our unpleasant or difficult experiences also brings benefits as mindfulness gives us a space and the skills to respond wisely.
A natural skill
Mindfulness is a natural way of being which we have all experienced. Children easily fall into a mindful state when they are fully absorbed in what they are doing and some people are lucky enough to retain this capacity. For many people, however, the world presents multiple stresses and multiple distractions which fill our mind with endless chatter and worries so that we lose this skill of being absorbed and may lose the sense of satisfaction that usually comes with it.
Present moment awareness
We may feel that our mind cannot settle or that life has lost its colour. We may feel overwhelmed or constantly anxious. We may feel ground down by negative thoughts – the relentless voice of the inner critic or the re-playing and pre-playing of difficult situations. By learning to attend to the present moment, and particularly to attend to our bodies and our thoughts in that moment, we can begin to recognise our own habits and patterns of thought. Through learning to approach our difficulties with kindness and without judgement we can develop a more flexible and creative response to them. The skills to do this can be learned through simple techniques and practices which, like any new skill, improve with practice. Over time, these techniques create new patterns within our brains which enhance our sense of wellbeing and make us more resilient and equipped to deal with life’s challenges.
How is it learned?
Mindfulness is developed through formal and informal practices. Typically the formal practice will involve sitting, lying or moving meditations and informally by applying the learning and insights from these meditations to our everyday lives.
Is it religious?
The meditations are adapted from ancient wisdom traditions, particularly Buddhism. Mindfulness is, however, not a religion. It is a secular practice removed from its original cultural and religious roots. For some people, however, it may be experienced as a spiritual practice, particularly if you are accustomed to understanding the world in this way. For others it will be experienced in terms of training the brain.
Is it for me?
Mindfulness is suitable for everyone but can be particularly helpful in improving anxiety, stress and poor sleep. An 8 week mindfulness course is recommended by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) to treat recurrent bouts of depression. There are a few life situations in which learning mindfulness is not recommended (for example if you have recently had a traumatic experience or a bereavement). We always welcome a conversation prior to booking a course if you are not sure.
How has modern mindfulness developed?
Mindfulness as we now describe it has emerged in university and medical settings and therefore the programmes have been developed through ongoing rigorous research. The first programme began in the United States with Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s working with patients suffering chronic pain. His work led to the MBSR programme (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction). This work was adapted in the1990s in the UK by Mark Williams, Zindel Segal and John Teasdale at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre for people suffering recurrent bouts of depression. This work led to the MBCT programme (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy). There are now many diverse programmes which have been developed using mindfulness as the core skill. These include, for example, mindfulness based parenting and childbirth; mindfulness based compassionate living; mindfulness based relapse prevention or mindfulness in schools or the workplace.
What is self-compassion?
The three key components of self-compassion are Mindfulness, a sense of Common Humanity, and Self-Kindness. Mindfulness opens us to the present moment so we can be more present with our experience, Common Humanity enables us to understand that we are not alone in our experience, and Self-Kindness helps us to respond to ourselves in constructive ways much as we might to a loved one. Like mindfulness, self-compassion has its roots in Buddhist practices but it has been developed into an 8 week MSC programme by the compassion teacher and psycho-therapist Chris Germer and the self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff.
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