“Mindfulness is the development of the ability to pay deliberate attention to our experience from moment to moment, to what is going on in our mind, body and day to day life and doing this without judgement.”
On 5th January 2010, “The Daily Mail” carried a report that “Patients with depression should be routinely given £300 meditation courses on the NHS, doctors’ claim”. The article said that Mindfulness techniques used by Buddhist monks could produce ‘massive savings’ by halving the risk of depression coming back and that “only one in 20 family doctors are prescribing such treatment”, according to a report by the Mental Health Foundation charity.
More than 100 studies have shown that areas of the brain linked to controlling emotion are bigger in those who have meditated regularly for five years. This means they have a greater volume of grey matter to process information. The report then quoted Dr Andrew McCulloch, the Mental Health Foundation’s chief executive, as saying that ‘mindfulness’ therapies were much cheaper than treating the condition with drugs.
‘This would have huge knock-on benefits both socially and economically, making it a sensible treatment to be making available, even at a time when money is short within the NHS,’ he added. ‘Our report found that three-quarters of GPs have prescribed medication to people with long-term depression believing another treatment would have been more appropriate.’
He said NHS guidelines already recommend eight-week meditation-style courses which cost £300 for recurrent depression, but provision is patchy and should be extended.
• Teach people practical skills that can help with daily and ongoing life challenges and physical and psychological health problems;
• Bring about an awareness of the benefits of correct breathing;
• Teaches us a way in which we can get “back in touch” with the experience of being alive;
• Help to halt the escalation of these negative thoughts and teaches us to focus on the present moment, rather than reliving the past or pre-living the future;
• Mindfulness practice helps us to see more clearly the patterns of the mind; and to learn how recognise when our mood is beginning to go down and deal with issues much earlier than before;
• Help us develop our willingness to experience emotions and our capacity to be open to even painful emotions;
• Help people discover that even difficult and unwanted thoughts and feelings can be held in awareness, and even seen from a completely different perspective, which enables hope and empathy to the suffering we are experiencing.
Numerous studies have shown that using relaxation techniques regularly can:
• Decrease the likelihood of heart attack and stroke, and can significantly reduce the incidence of a second heart attack;
• Protect you from mental health problems;
• Improves your immune system function;
• Aid memory, concentration levels and learning;
• Improve your coping skills and makes you feel better.
There has been so much research carried out into the benefits of relaxation, that it’s impossible to do more than skim the surface here. Stroking a pet has also been found to be beneficial.
The main points are:
• Relaxation lowers blood pressure in many people and so decreases the likelihood of stroke and heart attack;
• Relaxation gives a ‘break’ from things and lowers activity within the limbic system of the brain, the emotional centre;
• The brain has a regular need for more pronounced right-hemispheric activity. Relaxation helps meet this need.
Jon Kabat Zinn developed the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) eight-week programme in the US in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Research shows that MBSR is enormously empowering for patients with chronic pain, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and gastrointestinal disorders, as well as for psychological problems such as anxiety and panic. Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy grew from this work.
Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale adapted the MBSR program so it could be used especially for people who had suffered repeated bouts of depression in their lives.
The UK National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recently endorsed MBCT as an effective treatment for prevention of relapse. Research has shown that people who have been clinically depressed 3 or more times (sometimes for twenty years or more) find that taking the program and learning these skills helps to reduce considerably their chances that depression will return.