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The Art of Mindfulness

The Art of Mindfulness

How to live in the present – and change your world for the better.

We spend so much of our life doing things without actually paying attention. How often have you driven somewhere and not noticed the area you’re driving through? Or bumped into something and reprimanded yourself for being clumsy? Or been so busy making plan A, plan B and plan C that you lose sight of the joy in the now?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts and credited as being the ‘father’ of mindfulness, describes it as ‘much ado about almost nothing’.

‘All of us want to live more fully, more happily and more meaningfully,’ says Dr Simon Whitesman, chairman of the Institute for Mindfulness South Africa, ‘but if we’re lost in thought and are reactive and perennially running after something in the future, then becoming vivid in one’s experience is virtually impossible.’ Finding joy in the little things sounds simple in principle, but in our fast-paced, success-driven world, it requires focus. It requires a little bit of that discipline we use to schedule our lives as much as we do – to simply take a moment to breathe and be truly in the present without judgement or expectation.

‘Developing mindfulness is like developing fitness,’ says Dr Whitesman, ‘we need to put in the effort to develop the muscle.’ But we know how to do it, instinctively:

‘We all have moments of mindfulness even though we might not call it as such,’ he says. ‘We are all, at times, more present.’

 

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Live in the Here and Now

Live in the Here and Now

Mindfulness: it's about focusing on the present, not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow - and it's increasingly being used as treatment and therapy too.

A CARTOON shows two Buddhist monks sitting side by side. They're deep in meditation when the younger one opens an eye and gives the older, wiser one a questioning look.

"Nothing happens next. This is it," the older one responds.

The scenario perfectly sums up the increasingly popular practice of mindfulness - a way of living by consciously paying attention to present moment and not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow.

The practice, familiar to some who have encountered it in self-help books for instance is growing in popularity around the world. Businesses and hospitals use it; psychologists use it to treat patients and universities are beginning to take it seriously.

The University of Cape Town's (UCT) Graduate School of Business was one of the first business schools in the world to introduce it as part of one of its programmes. And research at UCT's Sports Science institute has shown it improves sports-people's cognitive functioning and concentration.

In SA there are mindfulness classes to ease the anxiety of pregnant women; clinical psychology incorporates it in cognitive behavioural therapy and it's used for medical conditions such as chronic pain, stress, anxiety and depression.

 

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Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a widely researched anti-stress programme worldwide, and is a growing part of mainstream medicine, writes Karen Koch

EXERCISING mindfulness is not just another instant magic bullet or self-help fad for remnants of the flower power, hippy generation. It is a technique that is a growing part of mainstream medicine - with over 200 training units affiliated with medical centres and hospitals around the world.

Even the US army is said to be illness-based stress reduction to arm marines mentally against psychological strain and reduce the likelihood of post-traumatic disorder from combat duties.

But what exactly is it?

Since its introduction, mindfulness-based stress reduction has become one of the most widely researched stress reduction programmes worldwide.

It was developed by psychologists at the University of Massachusetts, Medical Centre in 1979. It is described as essentially a way of "paying attention, in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, with acceptance'', according to one of its founders, Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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Mindfulness in Medicine

Mindfulness in Medicine

SIMON WHITESMAN, MB ChB

General Practitioner, Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, Cape Town

Simon is in general practice with a special interest in psychoneuroimmunology and mind-body medicine, working predominantly with stress-related disorders and chronic pain. He directs the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme at Cape Town Medi-Clinic, is founder of the Cape Town mind-body study group and is co-ordinating the formation of the Institute for Mindfulness in South Africa. He has been trained in MBSR at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness.

Mind-body medicine recognises, as one of its fundamental tenets, that the consciousness of both the patient and the clinician is relevant in an integral approach to understanding and treating illness. What is generally referred to as ‘subjectivity’, i.e. the first-person experience, is considered by many as an obstacle to a rational approach to medicine. However, the mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of the patient are being shown, through scientific rigour, to be clinically relevant in both the assessment of causality in illness on the one hand, and the engagement of internal resources in on-going management on the other. Moreover, many clinicians recognise that the doctor’s level of awareness, attitudes and beliefs will inform and influence the approach to treatment.

It is at the point of convergence of the consciousness of both doctor and patient and the scientific and evidence-based approaches, that mindfulness and mindfulness-based interventions are embedded in the practice of medicine.

 

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Mindfulness & MBSR: An Overview

Mindfulness & MBSR: An Overview

Mindfulness is simple in both concept and application: the capacity to attend, purposefully and non-judgmentally, to what we are experiencing in the here and now. However, while this is simple enough, it is by no means easy. Most of us are deeply lost in our thinking minds, are disconnected from our bodies and function out of habit. The consequence of this is the tendency to be out of touch with what is happening in the present and so either missing the moments, quite literally, or reacting to what we are thinking as opposed to what is actually happening. The consequence of this internal pull - our minds in one place, our bodies in another - is to be observed in the pervasive experience of stress, and its manifestations - physically, emotionally or behaviourally.

So how can mindfulness help? The more present we are, the more we are able to respond to what is in front of us, as opposed to mindlessly reacting out of habit. This means that we are more likely to make decisions and choices which are creative and congruent, and as such, are generally more orientated towards health. In psychological terms, the locus of control, or sense of being in control, moves towards our centre, as opposed to our feeling like a hapless victim of circumstance. Hence the caveat of stress management: it is not the stressor per se that is the problem but how we respond to it.

Because mindfulness is based in our awareness, it is always centered in us, and so whenever we are mindful we return to our centre of gravity, our very being, literally.

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Practicing mindfulness has been discovery of an inner security blanket - only sometimes accessible but always there... a consequence of stopping, experiencing the prickle of adrenalin, choosing a different response. Life is richer, not easier.

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