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Mindfulness in the modern world

Posted by
30 Sep 2014

What is mindfulness?

"Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”

In the last decade, awareness and popularity of mindfulness has increased dramatically. Very similar to the Buddhist practice meditation, Mindfulness has become a main stream method for modern society to cope with stress and anxiety. In 2010 72% of GPs reported that their patients with mental health issues would benefit from mindfulness training.

It can reduce relapses into depression and has been described as being as effective in some cases as anti-depressants. Children as young as 5 are being encouraged to start learning the methods with parents and teachers drawing the child's attention to their surroundings, i.e. the smell, feel  and  sounds of nature and reiterating the importance of the simple things in life.

Undeniably, it's a positive move for society to be more open about the importance of good mental health. It is no longer viewed as a shameful weakness to succumb to stress and pressure and more work places are taking responsibility for the wellbeing of employees through mindfulness coaching. However, there are some downsides to the use of mindfulness.

It could be argued that meditation and mindfulness has been 'hijacked' by the corporate world and is now manipulated to ultimately achieve financial gain. Military groups are being coached in mindfulness to stay focused in combat; this is hardly in keeping with the Buddhist beliefs at the root of the practice.  

Anyone can set themselves up as a mindfulness teacher, the practice is not regulated. One thought is that the ancient practice should not be subject to regulations; meditation should be available to all in the spirit of its origins. Nevertheless, it does mean that high demand results in inexperienced teachers are being rushed into providing mindfulness training, especially through the NHS.

One of the most concerning pitfalls of mindfulness, is the 'dark night' phenomenon. This is when the meditator encounters a negative train of thought and gets caught in an acute cycle of awareness of sadness, reliving painful memories which may have previously lain dormant.   

This is why it is crucial for coaching to be provided by experienced practitioners. Often, the recipients of mindfulness training can be in a vulnerable and fragile state and they need to be guided through the process.

Meditation and mindfulness can be extremely rewarding and people report significant improvements in their overall mood and happiness through embracing the methods. Likewise, it can be equally rewarding and life changing to train for and complete a marathon. The difference here is perception; people don't expect training their minds to be as painful and difficult as training the body. Ultimately, your mind is precious and should be handled with the same care and caution you would take for your body.

Have you practiced mindfulness to manage stress in your work? Do you think there's a place for mindfulness in the modern workplace? I'd like to know your thought - join the discussion below!

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