In the 1970’s Jon Kabat-Zinn, a teacher at the University of Massachusetts, wondered if mindfulness could help people with chronic pain. He developed a program of mindfulness practice, body awareness and movement called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The initial outcomes were very promising. Since then, mindfulness has been used and therefore studied in many areas such as education, prisons, the military, medicine, mental health, and sports to name a few.
The number of research studies on the benefits of mindfulness continue and increase annually. It seems that the preliminary scientific consensus at this time is that, if done correctly, the mindfulness based approaches can help people with depression especially connected with chronic illness and addiction. Other benefits are improved attention and focus, improved emotional regulation, increased empathy and stress reduction. And because of neuro-plasticity (the mind’s ability to grow and change) mindfulness practice has been shown to change the brain areas that are attributed to reduction of fear activation and increase in wise decision making. The scientific community has also agreed that larger studies are necessary.
Is mindfulness safe? Are there risks? Nothing is risk free, even good things like exercise or diet. It is always good practice to do your due diligence regarding your personal needs. Risks of mindfulness practice are infrequent and depend on a few things, an individuals vulnerability, the intensity of the practice, and the qualifications of the teacher. Here is a good article explaining what to look for to make your mindfulness practice safe and beneficial.
A few tips from the article above:
“Three Crucial Points About Mindfulness:
First, mindfulness is not intended to be a blissful experience. Like exercise, it can be uncomfortable. In fact, mindfulness is about learning to recognise, allow and be with all of our experiences, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, so that we can begin to exercise choices and responsiveness in our lives.
Second, mindfulness practice is not a panacea. It’s not the only way to reduce stress or increase wellbeing, nor is it right for everyone. People should select an approach that matches their interests and needs, whether it be mindfulness, physical exercise, cognitive-behavioural therapy or some other approach.
Third, mindfulness practice is intended to be invitational and empirical. Participants are invited to experiment with the practices in an open-minded and curious way and to be guided by the evidence of their own experience, continuing with practices that seem helpful and letting go of those that don’t.”