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Mindfulness and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction


There is a growing trend in society towards being mindful. But what does this actually mean? And what is the evidence for it in health or daily living?


Mindfulness, more recently, comes from a scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn. He defines it as, "The awareness that arises from paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally."


In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn began to standardise and study the effects of an 8 week course on patients in a hospital setting to see if there were any benefits, and published his work in 1982. They "packaged" the course as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Since then, a growing number of randomised controlled trials have been conducted to test its effects in a wide variety of settings: hospitals, communities, work places, and chronic pain centres. The results are promising, especially for areas of chronic pain/chronic low back pain, but, like any intervention, they need to be considered in the context of an individual's circumstances.


The program is 8 weeks in duration. It includes 2.5 hours of class time per week, as well as a suggested daily practice of 45 minutes. Each week during the class time, a teacher introduces a new type of meditation and/or mental exercises. Participants then practice in a group setting and discuss their subjective, internal experience. They are meant to continue to practice at home throughout the week. And, like any other exercise, there is a gradual adaptation over time. Also, like exercise, it can be difficult to maintain the habit.


Those who work with chronic pain are particularly interested in this technique because it includes exercises that help individuals manage their painful conditions. Unfortunately pain is not going anywhere. People with chronic pain likely have the condition indefinitely, and our treatments for them are not very good. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the gold standards for pain management; however, it can be expensive and difficult to get in to a practitioner. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is a good skill for individuals to explore, however, it too can be difficult for individuals to access a suitably qualified teacher. And, since mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword, there are lots of coaches, teachers and sophists who are offering a version of mindfulness that may not be suitably tested.


In Australia, one option is to seek a course from Openground.com.au, which has a high level of professionalisation of the MBSR course. As a disclosure, I've taken an Openground course, and now am undergoing a 2 year process to teach the program through the Mindfulness Training Institute. I've been a meditator for about 20 years and find it really beneficial.


There are so many ways for individuals to work with their mind, which really is the location of our suffering. For example, sometimes there are circumstances where we benefit from really honing like a LASER in on an area that seems painful. Can we become curious about it? Are there different sensations in the area? Is it throbbing? Diffuse? Achey? Edgy? Sharp? Does it change?


And at other times, it may be important to broaden our awareness, like an open container, and seeing that we don't have to only identify with the area of pain. Do we contain other areas that do not have pain? Are we able to soften around the painful spot? Can we breath into it?


There is a vast palate to choose from when we are dealing with our internal world. And, since we all have this internal world, it's high time we learn some skills to navigate it.


Fortunately, we live in a time where there are a variety of schools of meditation and mental training, which is even more accessible due to modern technologies. And yet, there is still an element of discernment when it comes to finding the right type of practitioner for you. How do you locate them? What is their training? Is their technique evidence based and suitable for you?


You will need to trust your own discernment. However, a growing body of scientific evidence also helps point the way. Some resources are shared below.


Sources:





Online and in person training with Openground: https://www.openground.com.au/


Mindfulness Training Institute Australia and New Zealand : https://www.mtia.org.au/




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