In our latest blog, Associate osteopath Anastasia Trinder explores mindfulness and the role it can play in improving our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
Mindfulness is a state of awareness, openness and focus, which can bring enormous psychological and physical benefits.
Recent studies have shown that as people meditate parts of the brain associated with happiness, empathy and compassion become stronger and more active (Williams & Penman, 2011). The benefits of daily practice can be seen after a period of eight weeks (Williams et al, 2007). The activity on these areas of the brain can be measured by an MRI brain scanner after looking at activity in different parts of their brain.
Davidson and Kabat-Zinn (2003) explored the effect of mindfulness on mental and physical health of biotech workers in a randomized controlled trial. After eight-weeks of mindfulness meditation, the test subjects not only became happier, less anxious, more energized and engaged with their work, but also their immune system became stronger. This was measured by the concentration of antibodies after a flu jab. Those who achieved the greatest increase in the left-sided brain activation, showed the biggest boost to their immune systems (Davidson et al, 2003).
Furthermore, the physical structure of the brain itself can change in people who have meditated for several years. The changes are most evident in the part of the brain which helps us feel connected and compassionate towards ourselves and others (Craig, 2004; Lazar et al, 2005).
Many clinical trials have shown that these positive changes in the brain can have an impact on our general well-being, physical health and happiness. Research at the University of North Carolina showed that loving-kindness meditation increased positive emotions and sense of purpose. After nine weeks of meditations, participants had fewer feelings of isolation and alienation; they also reported decreased symptoms caused by headaches, chest pain, congestion and weakness (Fredrickson et al, 2008). Increases in positive mood and wellbeing are linked to greater observation and awareness of daily activities. By contrast, decreases in negative mood are related to greater acceptance of painful thoughts, emotions and feelings without judgement (Shroevers & Brandsma, 2010).
Mindfulness and depression
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was developed to reduce the chances of suffering depression (Williams & Kuyken, 2012). A systematic review of six randomized controlled trials suggests that MBCT can significantly reduce the rates of depressive relapse of recurrence compared with usual care or placebo (Piet & Hougaard, 2011). National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends MBCT for those with a history of three or more episodes of depression in their Guidelines for Management of Depression (NICE, 2018).
Incorporating mindfulness into everyday life
Mindfulness can be incorporated into everyday life by using the following reminder: “Notice (where is the feeling), Breathe (gently breath into the feeling), Expand (see if you open up around the feeling), Allow (even if you don’t like the feeling, just allow it to be there)” whenever patients notice any kind of discomfort. Each stage can last about 10 seconds.