Mindfulness - 'Fad or Fiction' - August 2015

By Dr. Ilze Grobler (Clinical Psychologist)BA(Hons), MA(CounsPsy)CertHypnosis,PhD, MAPS

I was struck by a recent article in the TIME magazine referring to the Mindful Revolution noting "we're in the midst of a popular obsession with mindfulness as the secret to health and happiness - and a growing body of evidence suggests it has clear benefits." (Kate Pickert, Time, January 2014).

However, mindfulness is not intended to become the "latest self-help fad" but rather teaching us a new skill, similar to learning to play a music instrument for the first time, enabling us to be more present with ourselves and others and pay attention in a particular way; non-judgmentally, with an open mind and self-compassion.

Growing research around the benefits of mindfulness meditation in cultivating well-being and happiness is far reaching.

Of particular benefit is our brains' ability to rewire itself through neuroplasticity:

'We can intentionally shape the direction of plasticity changes in our brain. By focusing on wholesome thoughts, for example, and directing our intentions in those ways, we can potentially influence the plasticity of our brains and shape them in ways that can be beneficial' (Dr Richie Davidson, world-renowned neuroscientist, Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Regular mindfulness meditation practice has been proven to increase grey matter / cortical thickness in brain areas that are associated with self-regulatory processes (the Anterior Cingulate Cortex), executive functioning such as planning, problem solving and emotion regulation (Prefrontal Cortex), and reducing susceptibility to stress-related disorders and PTSD (the Hippocampus). Studies on how the brain changes when you meditate have shown that the amygdala (known as the brain's fight or flight centre) decreases in size, while the connection with the pre-frontal cortex also weakens, thus allowing less reactivity and increased functions in areas such as concentration and attention. Reduction in ruminative thinking through regular mindfulness practice is achieved with the stilling of our Default Mode Network (DMN), also known as the wandering "Monkey Mind".

At Tyack Health our professional team of psychologists support clients in cultivating mindfulness practices in their everyday life as a psychological strategy (amongst other evidence-based therapeutic models) through individual sessions and group workshops. The 7-week Mindfulness & Act For Beginners group program (facilitated by Clinical Psychologists, Dr. Ilze Grobler & Dr. Christina Reynolds) is adapted from the pioneering work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and supports clients to cultivate mindfulness through formal and informal practices, psycho-education and group discussions. Self-compassion workshops help clients to stop being so hard on themselves, respond to difficult thoughts and feelings with kindness and compassionate self-correction rather than shame-based self-attack.

Mindfulness teaches us that psychological happiness is not the absence of negative emotions or discomfort. When we learn to be mindful with a 'non-striving attitude' to be nowhere other than where we are right now, it works precisely because we don't try to attain benefit! We are then more able to consider ourselves with the happiness of pursuit, rather than desperately striving to attain 'happiness as a state of being'.

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