Mindfulness, as taught today, is a modern, non-religious practice that is accessible to everyone. While it has been developed in its current form for less than 50 years, the techniques can be found in ancient traditions, including Buddhism. More recently, Mindfulness has evolved with different branches dealing primarily with stress reduction, depression or pain management.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is sometimes referred to as the father or ‘godfather’ of modern, secular (non-religious) mindfulness. Around 40 years ago, Kabat-Zinn pioneered the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He taught patients with chronic pain to harness the fundamentals of mindfulness meditation as taught by the Buddha, but with the Buddhism taken out.
MBSR is now taught extensively throughout the world and there are hundreds of studies that demonstate its effectiveness in managing anxiety, stress and psychological and physical pain.
Around 15 years ago, colleagues at the University of Oxford, with others from Cambridge and elsewhere developed a new programme, based largely on the MBSR programme. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy was designed largely to help people to manage depression and has been shown to be at least as effective as medication and counselling in clinical trials. It is a preferred programme recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. MBCT focuses on the patterns of thoughts and feelings that arise and teaches us how to intervene to change our behaviours by responding thoughtfully rather than reacting automatically.
A number of other mindfulness interventions have been developed in recent years, including specific techniques for managing pain and ways of working effectively in schools and corporate settings.
The Mindfulness Now programme, as taught by Mindful Me, was developed by Central England College and is accredited by the British Psychological Association. It brings the best of MBSR and MBCT together into a new comprehensive programme, that includes a number of additional unique elements, including individual audio recordings and ‘The Gift’ which is a special time set aside for students to meditate, eat and exercise together while observing ‘noble silence’.
All mindfulness programmes have at their core the same underlying concepts of awareness in the present moment, being non-judgmental, using meditation to help achieve this heightened state of awareness, and bringing the learning from our practice into the real world to benefit ourselves and others.
Mindfulness is a gentle, safe, self-directed practice that anyone can learn. Nevertheless, it is a powerful and positive force that has the potential to change individual lives and to transform the world.