Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings and mental health. It is becoming widely used in a range of contexts. It is recommended by NICE as a preventative practice for people with experience of recurrent depression.
Beyond the resources provided on this website, we also host a dedicated mindfulness site at Be Mindful, which provides access to our online course.
Mindfulness exercises are ways of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing, and yoga. Training helps people to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, theyâre better able to manage them. Practising mindfulness can give more insight into emotions, boost attention and concentration, and improve relationships.1
Mindfulness can be practiced by children, young people and adults. There are different ways to practice mindfulness. Group courses run to practise mindfulness in person and there are online courses too where you can learn through self-directed practice at home. You don't need to be religious or spiritual to practise mindfulness. It can help people with or without religious beliefs.
Mindfulness and mental health
Mindfulness is recommended as a treatment for people with mental ill-health as well as those who want to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
There are also different sorts of mindfulness meditation which can help people in different ways. Evidence shows compelling support for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which helps people to cope with stress, and for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is designed to help people with recurring depression. They provide a flexible set of skills to manage mental health and support wellbeing.
The evidence for mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to affect how the brain works and even its structure. People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.2
Many studies have shown changes in brain wave activity during meditation and researchers have found that areas of the brain linked to emotional regulation are larger in people who have meditated regularly for five years or more.3 The evidence for different types of mindfulness is promising and research has grown in recent years.
Who can benefit?
Mindfulness can be useful for people from all different walks of life and the number of areas that mindfulness is being applied to is growing.
There is evidence showing mindfulness to be effective for children and young people, with school-based interventions having positive outcomes on wellbeing, reducing anxiety and distress as well as improving behaviour, among other areas.4 Evidence also suggests that children who used mindfulness practices more frequently reported higher wellbeing and lower stress scores (W Kuyken et al, “Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in Schools Programme: non-randomised controlled feasibility study”, 2013).
A successful Mindfulness in Schools project was set up in 2007 and is now being taught in 12 different countries. This nine-week course is especially designed for school students, whether they are dealing with exam stress, bullying, or seeking to enhance study skills. It's being used to improve students’ wellbeing as well as helping them to learn and concentrate better.
Mindfulness practice within criminal justice settings is currently being developed around the country. In HMP Brixton a “Mind/Body workout group” was established to help individuals to develop their own mindfulness practice. Evidence on the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions in prisons has been gathered mainly in the USA. A study based in Massachusetts found significant improvements in hostility, self-esteem, and mood disturbance following a course of mindfulness (M Samuelson et al, “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Massachusetts Correctional Facilities”, 2007).
A limited amount of research into mindfulness during pregnancy has shown encouraging results on the positive impact of mindfulness, finding ‘significantly’ reduced anxiety (C Vieten, “Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood: results of a pilot study”, 2007).
We are currently supporting research at the University of Oxford on the impact of mindfulness practice in pregnancy.
Mindfulness in the workplace has been popularised by a number of global companies including Google. However among smaller businesses mindfulness is not yet widespread.
There is growing evidence, shown by initial studies, that mindfulness in the workplace can have a number of positive effects. These include a decrease in perceived stress, and an increase in better concentration levels including memory tasks and multi-tasking. Research in 2012 found that mindfulness in the workplace could be an effective intervention to target “high stress levels, sleep quality, and autonomic balance” (RQ Wolever et al, “Effective and viable mind-body stress reduction in the workplace: a randomized control trial”, 2012).