What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment.
Practising the Pilates Method has a useful role to play in encouraging us to be mindful thanks to its emphasis on focusing the mind, on coordinating the movements of different parts of the body simultaneously, on timing those movements with the breath, and being aware of how the body feels when we move.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance – paying attention to our habitual thoughts, our feelings and emotional patterns without judging them, or believing that there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to think or feel in a particular moment. Being able to observe rather than react to those patterns can help to manage stress and enhance our sense of wellbeing.
When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than revisiting the past, or imagining what might happen in the future.
Though it has its roots in Buddhist meditation, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the mainstream in recent years, in part through the work of Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme and Professor Mark Williams from Oxford University’s Cognitive Therapy Centre.
Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn is internationally-known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher, and has been engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society for many years. He is the founding director of its renowned Stress Reduction Clinic and Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Here’s what he has to say about mindfulness…
Professor Mark Williams is one of the main contributors to Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy research on depression. Here are his thoughts on mindfulness…
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the positive effects of mindfulness:
- Mindfulness meditation has been shown to positively affect how the brain works and even its structure.
- People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.
- More than 100 studies have shown changes in brainwave activity during meditation and researchers have found that areas of the brain linked to emotional regulation are larger in people who have meditated regularly for five years.
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy can, on average, reduce the risk of relapse by more than 40% for people who experience recurrent depression.
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been developed and studied since the 1970s for its impact on mental health, producing reductions in anxiety (by 58%) and stress (40%)
(Source: The Mental Health Foundation)
I’ll be incorporating some guided meditations at the end of some of my Pilates classes to broaden the scope of our mindfulness practice.