Put your mind at rest: why Google, the NHS and MPs use mindfulness

Mindfulness-based classes among engineers at Intel. Photograph © Intel Free Press on Flickr

In a number of sectors that Qa Research specialises in – health, education, business – mindfulness seems to be having a moment. As the Christmas frenzy begins, can the technique help to reduce stress and boost wellbeing? Kay Silversides has the answers

What is it?

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of focussing the mind in the present moment. Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation originates in Buddhist meditation over two and a half thousand years ago…

Why is it relevant now?

The evidence for mindfulness as a healthcare intervention is growing. Mindfulness techniques have been recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence for the prevention of relapse in recurrent depression.

But even for those who are not depressed the nature of our increasingly technology driven lives means that in the face of endless emails and Tweets it can be very difficult to switch off, our minds can become very full and our concentration can suffer.

So for those of you who are uncomfortable with the idea of meditation and are not keen on incense and tie-dye you will be reassured to learn that mindfulness meditation techniques are being used by a range of different people in different settings…

Does it work?

Clinical evidence as to the benefits of using mindfulness techniques is increasing.

A study of six clinical trials involving almost 600 people, published in Clinical Psychology Review, concluded that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy reduced the risk of relapse for patients who had suffered depression by 43% compared with people who received treatment as usual.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has published a number of articles on the science of mindfulness.

So convinced is he of the proven benefits of the techniques that he founded the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.

In the UK, The Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, part of Bangor University, has several research programmes into the application and outcomes of these techniques.

At work

Google have embraced the idea of mindfulness so much that they have appointed their own head of mindfulness training; Harvard Business School also includes mindfulness principles in its leadership programmes to enhance concentration and decision-making skills.

Closer to home, mindfulness techniques are being used with NHS and Transport For London staff, and MPs and peers have taken part in weekly mindfulness sessions in parliament. The topic was also discussed in a recent All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics – http://parliamentarywellbeinggroup.org.uk/

In schools

Schools are ideal candidates for mindfulness and the improvements in concentration it can bring. The Mindfulness in Schools Project works with pupils and teachers to develop mindfulness techniques that help to improve behaviour in the classroom, calm exam nerves, and enhance attainment.

For the lonely and people with dementia

Mindfulness has many health applications and given our recent research in these areas we were very interested to learn that people experiencing loneliness and those living with dementia can also benefit.

A 2012 study led by Carnegie Mellon University offered the first evidence that mindfulness meditation can help to reduce feelings of loneliness in older adults.

Researchers in Boston have also found that stress reduction through meditation may aid in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

So, how do I do it?

As a starter you could try a simple one minute meditation. Find a quiet place and focus your attention on your breath.

If your mind wanders (as it naturally does!), bring your concentration back to your breath, continue to breathe, counting the breaths, and bringing your mind back to the present each time it wanders.

There are lots of apps out there to help you do this. So, go on, find somewhere quiet and get comfy…