Where does mindfulness come from?
adult learning theory
wisdom traditions as secular practices
How come it's so popular?
Well, the 'What is Mindfulness' page helps to answer this. Essentially Jon Kabat Zinn (now an Emeritus Professor of Medicine) developed it from the origins mentioned in the previous column. The first trials were successful and there have subsequently been tens of thousands of research studies including Randomised Control Trials and Cochrane reviews (i.e. the highest standards in contemporary research). Perhaps most importantly, as more people practice it for themselves, word spreads.
Can you give more details on the research base?
Tests, trials and extensive neuro-imaging repeatedly demonstrate how regular mindfulness practice enhances the brain's and body's ability to regulate itself in relation to physical health and emotional wellbeing. This leads to measurable changes in the amount of antibodies available in the body's immune system which help to protect against and counter disease. In addition the physical structure of the brain changes in ways which can even be measured with a ruler on a scan as the cortical thickness of neural pathways evolves. The enhancement of various cognitive functions is also easily illustrated with before and after neuroimages which show various parts of the brain 'lighting up' more as a reflection of how they are being enhanced. Further scans illustrate how these enhancements can continue to be actively present, even when people are not formally practicing mindfulness!
what happens in a class or on a course?
The courses provided by Mindful Edinburgh, draw from the origins mentioned above and involve their application (eg cognitive science) in the details of the practices. Guidance is offered, however this guidance includes repeated reassurances to only adopt (or adapt) the guidance if it feels right for you. There is no judgement about whether you do or don't follow the guidance.
For more information do scroll to the end of the course information page by clicking here
What's the role of the teacher/facilitator?
Well, sometimes there is teaching, and other times it could be said that the role is simply about facilitation of learning. We could go further and say that actually, when we are practicing together the role is that of co-creating. If the teacher is being fully present with people and the environment, then ultimately what arises in that moment together becomes the practice. After all, mindfulness is said to be about noticing what happens in the present moment.
For more information about Mindful Edinburgh teaching and facilitation you can click here
is it religious?
No. Mindful Edinburgh offers mindfulness training which is free of any religious contexts. The origins of mindfulness as mentioned above are drawn upon, and the techniques offered are grounded in science, 'art' and ethics. Religious terms or references are neither used nor made during sessions with Mindful Edinburgh. This makes the courses suitable for people of all religions or none, and everyone is welcome!
For a discussion of the differences between mindfulness and meditation just click here
Based on previous reading or experience of mindfulness I’m expecting the course to involve me feeling more relaxed or stopping my thoughts. Is this true?
Feeling more relaxed is perhaps the most common experience that people describe when practising on the course. Over time people also describe changes in thoughts or thinking processes, or at least in how we relate to thoughts. These experiences may be described by participants as subtle or profound. However, when we are actually practising mindfulness we do not tend to set out with the goal of being more relaxed or of changing our thoughts. Here’s why.
One of the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness is 'beginners mind'. This can be particularly tricky for people participating in the course with prior experience of mindfulness or meditation. Indeed as I have personally transitioned between different meditation and mindfulness practices over the years I have also noticed this in myself. 'Beginners mind' could be described as being fresh and open to each moment as it arises and comes into being. As such 'beginners mind' is generally considered to be central to practicing even if we have been practising for decades.
Something which is mentioned with people a few times in the early weeks in particular, is the invitation to 'let go' of striving / grasping to get more relaxed or to get rid of thinking. While striving for these results may or may not work temporarily, eventually it tends to result in people feeling less relaxed (or more tense or more frustrated) or thinking even more! It is suggested that one of the reasons this can occur is because we end up over-engaging in Discrepancy Based Monitoring - this is a cognitive process (or thinking style) which comes about from us disliking what is happening in the present, wanting to experience something which we decide would be better, and then spending our time monitoring the discrepancy between the two. (Perhaps this is something that we might like to explore a little for ourselves to see what happens?)
For now (or while on the course) therefore, the general principle being encouraged seems to be to just adopt the (audio) guidance offered if it feels ok, or adapt it, or don't adopt it if it doesn't feel ok. If we bring 'openness' and 'beginners mind' to this, we may find that each time we practice feels different or perhaps even has elements of uniqueness compared with the previous occasion. This certainly involves gradually cultivating other attitudinal qualities like 'patience' and 'trust' in and with ourselves. This doesn't however need to involve lots of effort. Central to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction approach is that the guidance (in the sessions and in the audio) 'embodies' and conveys these attitudes implicitly or effortlessly. Perhaps we can invite in some curiosity here, and explore what our experience is of the audio guidance each time we practice?