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Stop. Be here right now.

Mindful, age-old Buddhist teachings help us slow down, writes Shanthini Naidoo.

Our fast-paced lives tend not to be good for us. Stress has a huge impact on our society. Many of our physical ailments are stress-related - whether we suffer from heart disease, depression, headaches or high blood pressure.

And so the age-old, but recently trending topic of mindfulness presents itself. At its most basic, mindfulness is "being here, right now".

After years struggling with the ongoing trauma of depression and rising doses of antidepressants, Kathy Andrews, 48, found out about mindfulness therapy. Since taking a course more than two years ago, she has yet to suffer a relapse and has been able to cut down on her treatment.

"My depression comes from getting overwhelmed with hard feelings, whether it's pain or frustration or irritability. Now I don't feel overwhelmed by everything."

"Mindfulness means learning how to recognise what's going on internally and externally."

Dr Simon Whitesman, a medical doctor practising mind and body medicine and stress management and psychologist Linda Kantor - who trained under American expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, are behind the Institute for Mindfulness. They say mindfulness is a skill that can be achieved through training. They use the programme, which has adopted mindfulness to create Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which helps with healing through mindfulness meditation.

"It is defined in a simple way: pay attention, on purpose, in the here and now, with curiosity and non-judgement," says Whitesman.

Based on thousand-year-old Buddhist tenets, mindfulness leans towards meditation. But Kantor said it is also a state of mind that develops, all the time. It is not an action, but a constant awareness, particularly of your mind and body.

Alarm bells start ringing in this busy mind. How can a person be conscious of something without doing it and thinking about it, or stopping everything else to do it?

"Your mind is seldom where you are. We are constantly analysing, rehashing the past, thinking of the future and not living in the present," she says.

Kantor is describing what many of us consider as skill - multitasking. Whitesman says human beings are not neurologically wired to multitask, and it eventually sends the mind and body into chaos.

"When we wake up in the morning and shower, the mind is on getting to work. In the car, we're already thinking about the 10am meeting. Are you noticing what is happening in your body? Multitasking creates fatigue, tightness and does not allow us to cultivate attention," says Kantor.

The doctors say constant multitasking ultimately causes stress, anxiety, pain and illness. The eight-week programme includes yoga, meditation, reading and listening to CD's "to teach daily mindfulness practice for working with the ups and downs of daily life".

Whitesman warns that being on autopilot, being "absent" becomes distressing for the body-mind balance as a whole. "It could take days, months or years, but it is the environment in which ill health will arrive," he says.

Additional reporting The Times, London

 
Stress is caused by being "here" but wanting to be "there". It is a split that tears you apart inside.

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

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