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Mindfulness

Adapted from Buddhist meditation techniques, mindfulness-based therapies have become very popular in the UK,  and are one of the 5 Steps to Wellbeing recommended by the NHS.

Anyone can use mindfulness to reduce stress and improve wellbeing, but studies have also found it can be effective in treating a range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as helping prevent substance-misuse relapses.

Sounds great, but what IS mindfulness?

We all find ourselves moving through life on auto-pilot at times – how many times have you travelled a familiar route, and found at the end you have no memory of the journey?

Our thoughts do the same, moving in familiar patterns – sometimes patterns that aren’t very good for us, that take us down the same paths over and over to a place where we feel bad, without really knowing how we ended up there.

Mindfulness is a way of focusing on being fully present in the moment, and not letting our thoughts carry us off. In mindfulness we pay attention to the now – to our breathing, or the sounds we hear, or the feel of the ground beneath our feet – and to our thoughts as they happen, without judgement. It is a form of meditation, and it can help us learn what our thought patterns are, and figure out how we end up where we do. This can help us take the wheel and drive for ourselves.

Why not try a simple mindfulness exercise right now?

Making sure you’re sitting comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe in through your nose for a count of 3, then slowly out through your mouth for a count of 6. Continue breathing like this, and pay attention to the sensation of breathing, how your lungs feel as they expand and contract, the feel of air passing in through your nose and out through your mouth. You will find other thoughts moving in every so often – notice them, and then gently redirect your mind back to your breathing.

You can do this for as long or short a time as you’re comfortable with, but a minute might be a good place to start.

OK, I might be interested in trying mindfulness. What next?

There are two kinds of courses available in Brighton, or you could explore the wide range of self help resources available.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a structured course that brings together mindfulness meditation and yoga, and is intended for anyone who would like to reduce their stress levels. The course is usually around 8 weeks long, with additional practice at home between sessions.

One to one MBSR courses are available free at Southdown Recovery College – you can apply by filling out a registration form. You can also search for a practitioner online at bemindful.co.uk, or it may be worth checking your local community centre, although prices can vary a lot.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

MBCT combines mindfulness meditations with cognitive behavioural therapy, and is intended to help prevent relapse into depression.

MBCT courses are available from:
Southdown Recovery College – free of charge, you can apply by filling out a registration form.
NHS Wellbeing Service – free of charge, you can ask your GP to refer you, or you can use the referral form on the website.

You can also search for a practitioner online at bemindful.co.uk, or it may be worth checking your local community centre, although prices can vary a lot.

If you’d rather try mindfulness at home, this help sheet provided by the NHS describes some simple exercises for beginners, and there are also a lot of websites out there like this one with ideas for mindfulness exercises.

Alternatively, you might like to try guided meditations. These can be found online as sound files and videos like the one below. In guided meditation a calm voice talks you through the exercise, helping you stay focussed, and they sometimes feature peaceful music or sounds like rain in the background.

If you’re always glued to your phone or tablet, then maybe you’d like to try a mindfulness app like HeadspaceConscious or Smiling Mind (which has exercises aimed at young people as well as adults).

Body Scan

You may come across the term body scan when looking for mindfulness exercises online. Body scan meditations focus on noticing how your body feels, region by region. These can be as short as 3 minutes, or up to an hour or more. You can also find body scans specifically for use at night time, to help you get to sleep.

Useful links

NHS Choices – information about mindfulness
National Mind – A Diary of Mindfulness – one blogger’s experiences taking a mindfulness course
bemindful.co.uk – information about mindfulness, and an online MBCT course (costing £60)
Mental Health Awareness Week – information about mindfulness, and mindfulness events taking place in your area this mental health awareness week (11-17 May 2015)