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Mindfulness, coaching and psychotherapy

Mindfulness helps us to attend to what we are feeling, thinking and experiencing in the moment. Through mindfulness practice we cultivate a non judgmental alertness to the present moment, learning to gently guide our attention back to our immediate experience when we notice it has been pulled away by thoughts or distractions.

In this short video mindfulness trainer Dr Patrizia Collard talks about the benefit of learning mindfulness for coaches and psychotherapists. At the end of the talk there is a short guided mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness Improves Well-being

A recent study by Melissa A. Rosenkranz, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin Madison has show that mindfulness can benefit people with arthritis, inflammatory bowl disease, psoriasis and asthma. The result of a study of particpants on an eight week Mindfulness Based  Stress Reduction Programme (MBSR) were published in the January 2013 issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. A comparison was made between participants on an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) and an 8-week active control health enhancement program (HEP) that included walking, balance, agility, core strength, nutritional education, and music therapy in 49 community volunteers randomly assigned to 1 of the 2 groups.

Commenting on the study Dr. Rosenkranz said, “The MBSR group had significantly smaller postintervention inflammatory responses (which cause chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma,) compared to the HEP group.”

MBSR orrginated as a programme for patients with chronic pain but prior to this research there had not been any studies designed to control for other therapeutic mechanisms, such as supportive social interaction, expert instruction, or learning new skills.

Commenting on the research Dr. Rosenkranz said, “Key points would be that MBSR may be beneficial to those with chronic inflammatory conditions by changing the way they relate to their condition and their symptoms, and in so doing, may reduce emotional neural reactivity and the contribution of this reactivity to further symptom expression. Our data suggest that those with conditions which have a neurogenic inflammatory component (eg, psoriasis, dermatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma) may benefit more, in terms of decreased inflammatory potential, from this type of intervention.”

Mindfulness Meditation Course Reduces Loneliness in the Elderly

A seperate study published in July 2012 in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity showed that a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program significantly reduced loneliness and expression of proinflammatory genes in older adults compared with participants in a wait-list control group. “Our work presents the first evidence showing that a psychological intervention that decreases loneliness also reduces proinflammatory gene expression,” senior author Steven W. Cole, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) said, “If this is borne out by further research, MBSR could be a valuable tool to improve the quality of life for many elderly.”

MBSR programs, which teach individuals to be attentive to the present and not dwell in the past or project into the future, have been shown to improve social relationship functioning in couples, but thisis the first study to observe whether MBSR can reduce loneliness. Feeling lonely is a significant risk factor for morbidity and mortality in older adults and is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, AD, and all-cause mortality.

To test whether an 8-week MBSR program reduced loneliness, the researchers conducted a small, randomized trial in 40 healthy adults aged 55 to 85 years who were assigned to either a mindfulness meditation group or a control group that did not meditate. There were no significant differences between the 2 groups at baseline. The meditation group attended weekly 2-hour meetings in which the participants learned the techniques of mindfulness, including awareness and breathing techniques. They also practiced mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes each day at home and attended a single day-long retreat.

The study’s primary outcome measure was a reduction in loneliness as measured by the 20-item composite UCLA-R Loneliness Scale at the beginning and end of the study period.  At study conclusion participants reported a reduced sense of loneliness; in comparison, their counterparts in the wait-list group reported small increases in loneliness.

Study investigator Michael R. Irwin, MD, professor of psychiatry, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, said in a statement.”While this was a small sample, the results were very encouraging. It adds to a growing body of research that is showing the positive benefits of a variety of meditative techniques, including tai chi and yoga”.

He added that the growing research efforts in this area “move us beyond simply connecting the mind and genome and identify simple practices that an individual can harness to improve human health.”

Meditation Flash Mob in Trafalgar Square

Last year I had heard that there was going to be a meditation flash mob in Trafalgar Square so  I went with a few friends on a sunny Summer afternoon and arrived a little before the start time.  It was a typical London scene in this busy public space: tourists posing for photos by the fountains as the locals hurried past to get to their next activity, buses and traffic circling around the square and pigeons everywhere! Then as the clock struck the hour something different happened  Slowly at first a circle of seated figures formed in the center of the square. Then with gentle speed the circle spread until over a hundred people were sitting in silent meditation. As we sat there people still passed by, some took photos, others asked with curiosity “What are they doing”, some laughed whilst others who hadn’t know about the event sat down and joined in the silence. After 20 minutes the sound of a bell rang around the square and the circle started to dissolve, dispersing as quickly as it had begun, melting into the crowd that once again took command of the square.

The event symbolized for me the power of meditation to bring stillness even in the busiest of situations and most unsettled times of one’s life. We didn’t shout at the passers by, telling them to be quiet and to stop and be calm. We sat, including whatever noise was there in the practice of resting attention on the flow of the breath. In the same way when we sit to meditate we learn to notice thoughts without trying to stop them or get pulled into  them. Instead one learns to let thoughts go through the mind like clouds passing through a clear blue sky. This attitude of acceptance and inclusion make it possible to find peace without having to do battle with the mind.

Trying to force the mind to be quiet is impossible:try telling yourself not to think of pink elephants….hard not to see them isn’t it! Its the same if we sit and think “I mustn’t think”, our focus is on trying not to think and so we notice thoughts. Mindfulness meditation is an antidote to the need to control, perfect and understand – which may just lead to increased worry and agitation as the mind turns over a thought again and again, unable to find an answer and yet unwilling to let it go. It is not about turning off or disassociating ourselves from what is there  Instead we learn to bring gentle attention to what is in our experience without needing to analyse or control it. We feel it fully, noticing how a thought effects us physically in the body and then this physical sensation is included in the meditation , often leading to the thought or worry dissolving as we continue to return our attention to the sensation of the breath every time we notice it has been pulled away. The result can be an ability to stay calm when in the midst of an angry crowd of thoughts, using the breath to find a foot hold when slipping down the mountain face of worry or anxiety.

A few minutes of mindful breathing in the midst of a busy day can create a calm space in our life that helps us to return to our work refreshed and relaxed, making creative thought more likely and nourishing oneself during the course of a demanding work schedule. So whilst may not want to sit with the pigeons in Trafalgar Square finding a few minutes each day to bring a calm, gentle and patient attention to your experience as you rest your attention on your breath may just help you to find some stillness in the midst of the crowd of thoughts and duties that so often jostle us and refuse to give us any respite.

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