Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body approach to life that helps people to relate differently to experiences. It involves paying attention to thoughts, feelings and body sensations in a way that can increase our awareness, manage difficult experiences, and make wise choices.
Though rooted in ancient traditions of meditation, mindfulness has become the subject of increasing scientific attention in recent years, as a rapidly-expanding body of research is suggesting it can help people manage a range of physical and mental health problems, as well as promoting well-being generally. Research has consistently shown that programmes based on mindfulness can help people reduce their levels of stress.
Mindfulness programmes which teach simple meditation practices have also been shown to significantly reduce relapse rates among people prone to depression, as well as helping people manage a range of other health conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, HIV, cancer, and sleep problems. It has been shown to improve immune system response, speed healing and induce brain changes associated with increased positive mood.
Mindfulness seems to be helpful for mangaing anger issues, addictive behaviours, eating disorders, as well as improving creativity. Neuroscientific studies have shown that practising mindfulness appears to increase activation in the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain more associated with positive emotions and which is generally less active in people who are depressed.
In research I led at the Mental Health Foundation, we found that 72% of GPs believed that it would be helpful for their patients with mental health problems to learn mindfulness skills, and 68% thought it would be useful for their patients in general.
However, it's not only people with a particular health problem who can benefit - mindfulness can help reduce stress and improve functioning in a whole range of life situations (eg in education, the workplace, at home) and help anyone live a happier, healthier, more engaged life. Research has shown that more mindful people have greater awareness, understanding and acceptance of their emotions, and recover from bad moods more quickly. They also enjoy more satisfying relationships. Some examples of the research on mindfulness.
Watch a video of Professor Mark Williams of Oxford University (author of the foreword to The Mindful Manifesto) talking about rising stress levels and how mindfulness can help people manage stress: