MINDFULNESS AND SELF-COMPASSION
The State Of Affairs
Our minds seem to have a mind of their own. They often carry us away to things that have happened in the past or others that may or may not happen in the future. This leads to a state of partial numbness, a state of disconnectedness. The result: we react to situations without thinking, without considering the consequences of our behaviour. We operate on automatic pilot.
How Can Mindfulness Help?
Mindfulness, on the other hand, teaches us how to pay attention to our present moment experiences. These can include physical sensations (e.g., comfort, warmth or pain); thoughts (e.g., memories, worries or ruminations); and emotions (e.g., happiness, shame or regret). Based on Eastern ancient traditions and supported by solid scientific research, mindfulness opens us to our experiences (whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral). But it does not leave us at that. It systematically helps us cultivate a non-judgmental attitude and other innate qualities such as gratitude, acceptance, letting go, patience, kindness, and a beginner’s mind. It grounds us, brings our mind and body together, and helps us connect better with our external world. This lays solid foundations for tapping into our own capacity of learning, growing and healing. By time and with practice, we become more effective at responding to experiences. We are freed from suffering. We start living life to the full (Kabat-Zinn, 2003).
Since 2005, NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has been recommending mindfulness for use with people who have had depression, to prevent it recurring. Hospitals in the UK are using it, on the NHS (National Health Services), with staff and patients alike to treat depression, stress, anxiety, pain, migraines, and more. These include, but are not limited to, hospitals in Dorset, Somerset, Rotherham, Doncaster, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College hospitals.
What Does The Scientific Literature Have To Say About Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is practised with a non-striving approach. Our sole intention is that of savouring the present moment (incidentally, we call the present moment ‘present’ because it really is a gift!). Paradoxically, thousands of scientific research studies show that it can benefit our mental and physical health in many ways. For instance, the findings of a meta-analysis of 14 studies (254 participants) suggest that Mindfulness training can result in positive outcomes for healthcare workers and their clients, across a range of healthcare disciplines (Morgan, Simpson, & Smith, 2014). It can reduce health services utilization, anxiety, stress, and depression (Khoury et al., 2013) and has been positively associated with improved self-efficacy for managing chronic illnesses (McCubbin et al., 2014), and self-regulation (Lakey, Campbell, Brown, & Goodie, 2007; Levesque & Brown, 2007). Furthermore, its regular practice increases activation in areas of the brain associated with positive affect, and the volume of regions implicated in emotional regulation and self-control. It literally rewires deeply ingrained patterns of thought and action (Davidson et al., 2003; Hölzel et al., 2011; Luders, Toga, Lepore, & Gaser, 2009).
What Does Mindfulness Have To Do With Self-compassion?
Mindfulness is also positively associated with increases in compassion for self and others (Birnie, Speca, & Carlson, 2010; Jazaieri et al., 2013; Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova, 2005; Shapiro, Brown, & Biegel, 2007). Self-compassion entails the adaptation of a kind and non-judgmental attitude towards oneself when faced with failure and challenges, and entails interactions between self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (Neff, 2003). It increases positive affect and enhances adaptive and flexible psychological functioning, non-judgmental evaluation, and personal regulatory resources (Adams & Leary, 2007; Davidson et al., 2003; Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008; Jazaieri, McGonigal, Jinpa, Doty, Gross, & Goldin, 2014; Terry & Leary, 2011).
Do You Think That Mindfulness Training Is Not For You?
Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are versatile, cost-effective, generally non-invasive, and due to their secular nature are acceptable to people from all cultural and religious backgrounds (Shonin, Van Gordon, Slade, & Griffiths, 2013). Practising mindfulness is simple. However, because of our wandering minds, it is not easy. The good news is that mindfulness (like compassion) is trainable! Like any other skill, it requires patience and commitment to hone. However, it does not have to entail sitting in awkward positions or practising for hours on end. Actually, it can be practised as we go about our daily activities (e.g., whilst driving, walking, having a cup of tea, and showering). It can be practised across the lifespan, by people from all walks of life and of all fitness levels.
We at The Pain Clinic are delighted to offer you a 6-week mindfulness and compassion training programme which Janet, our certified mindfulness trainer, has developed with our everyday challenges in minds. The programme is being pilot tested in a local rehabilitation hospital where she works. The scientific evidence suggests that in clinical settings mindfulness can be a powerful aid (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Indeed, the findings of Janet’s empirical study so far revealed that, in just six weeks, her mindfulness and compassion training programme resulted in statistically significant increases in the participants’ level of mindfulness (+ 26 %) and self-compassion (+ 21 %) and a statistically significant reduction in their level of perceived stress (- 23 %).
If you would like to enrol in the programme, need more information or just wish to join one of our drop-in meditation sessions, please feel free to contact us.
We look forward to accompanying you along the journey of mindfulness – a journey that changes lives (for the better, of course!).
MSc (Health Psych), BSc (Hons) Psych, ICS (Dip), BSYA (Veg. Th), MBPsS
Certified Mindfulness Instructor
Health Psychology Practitioner
Visiting Health Psychology Lecturer at the University of Malta
****** N.B. Mindfulness is meant to be used in conjunction with and NOT IN REPLACEMENT OF medication, physical therapy, or any other form of treatment or therapy.
6-week Mindfulness and Compassion Training Programme
6 sessions x 2 hours – 1 session per week (plus daily home practice)
Each session includes 2 or more guided meditations, a brief talk on the theme of the week, an enquiry process during which the participants’ experiences of the course are discussed with the trainer in a non-judgmental environment (participation is recommended but not obligatory), group discussions, group activities, and journaling.
Home practice is the backbone of the programme. A number of recorded guided meditation exercises and a handbook will be provided to guide your home practice. To make the best of the programme, you are required to commit 30 – 45 minutes daily for this.
Lesson 1 – Stepping out of the automatic mode of operation
Lesson 2 – Mindfulness of breath and body
Lesson 3 – Dealing with thoughts and emotions
Lesson 4 – Acceptance, letting go and letting be
Lesson 5 – Compassion: wisdom, courage and strength not weakness
Lesson 6 – Leading a mindful and compassionate way of life
Chairs, yoga mats and cushions will be provided.
Please bring a pen / pencil and something to write on (e.g., a notebook or a copybook), an extra pair of socks, and a bottle of water.