Over at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, in the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry, there’s a revolution rippling out into the world.
It’s a silent revolution, all about being still, in the present moment, being mindful as a way to tackle depression. But it’s known about all over the world because it’s enhancing human potential by combining modern science with ancient wisdom.
What’s more, it’s proven to work!
OMC Director Professor Mark Williams and his team in the Psychiatry department are world-leaders in the field of research into the prevention of depression through mindfulness. Together they have developed Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, based on the mindfulness techniques of Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic, university of Massachusetts Medical Center. MBCT is eight weeks of classes in mindfulness training, to prevent serious recurrent depression. It involves body scan guided meditations, yoga and stretching to focus the mind on the body and the breath. Simple, but incredibly effective.
In trials the MBCT programme shows that ‘in patients with three or more previous episodes of depression, MBCT reduces the recurrence rate over a year by 44 %, compared with usual care, and is as effective as maintenance antidepressants in preventing new episodes of depression.’ (more…)
We all know Ruby Wax is a massive fan, very vocal in her support of the OMC method of mindfulness training, because she knows from experience that it really works. “Mindfulness has really helped me with my depression, she says. ‘Now, when the onslaught of depression starts, I can see it through a different lens. Mindfulness is unbelievable: you can really feel the difference, your heart rate slows down and the cortisol just drains away. Everyone is talking about it – neuroscientists, therapists – why wouldn’t you want to try it? It’s like finding the greatest elixir.’
What is mindfulness?
As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are – Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life (piatkus : Amazon) … ‘Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice, which has profound relevance for our present-day lives…it has everything to do with waking up and living in harmony with oneself and the world. It has to do with examining who we are, with questioning our view of the world and our place in it, and with cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment that we are alive. Most of all, it has to do with being in touch. Sages, yogis and Zen masters have been exploring this territory systematically for thousands of years; in the process they have learned something…profoundly beneficial to the West, to counterbalance our cultural orientation toward controlling and subduing nature, rather than honouring that we are an intimate part of it. Their collective experience suggests that investigating inwardly our own nature as beings and particularly the nature of our own minds, through careful and systematic self-observation, we may be able to live lives of greater satisfaction, harmony and wisdom.
Mindfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck, back into touch with our own wisdom and vitality.
The key to this path…is an appreciation for the present moment and the cultivation of an intimate relationship with it, through a continual attending to it with care and discernment. It is about stopping and being present, that is all. When we commit ourselves to paying attention in an open way, without falling prey to our own likes and dislikes, opinions and prejudices, projections and expectations, new possibilities open up and we have a chance to free ourselves from the straitjacket of unconsciousness.’
Techniques for mindfulness
1 Being mindful can just be something as simple as taking a few minutes to focus solely on your breathing, as shown by Professor Mark Williams in this clip:
2 Or as Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests: try stepping into ‘being’ mode for a minute. Think of yourself as an eternal witness, as timeless. Just watch this moment, without trying to change it at all. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you hear?’ ‘Set aside five or ten minutes everyday for just being. Sit down and watch the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present. Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking mind will drift here and there, but bring your attention back to the breath, in all its vividness, every time the mind wanders. Keep your posture erect but not stiff. Think of yourself as a mountain. ‘ (Wherever You Go, There You Are)
You can bring mindfulness into anything you are doing.
3 Try mindful walking – slowing down a bit and bringing your awareness into your body. Appreciate that you can walk and perceive how miraculous it is. Sense the ground underneath each foot, the breeze on your skin, how your body moves.
4 Mindful eating is another good practice. Sit quietly and focus on the colour and texture of the food you are eating, how each bite tastes and feels in your mouth, be mindful of swallowing. Feel gratitude for the earth, plants and people that provided the food for you. When you drink water, really feel the coolness and how your mouth and tongue feel when the water touches them.
We all need to bring ourselves back into mindful awareness of the present moment, which brings clarity, peace and happiness to your life.
COMING SOON: Interviews with Professor Mark Williams of the OMC and Dr Danny Penman, who both wrote ‘Mindfulness – A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ (Piatkus)
Note : Previously published on openbeyond.com