Many years ago I was on a day trip to London with my husband. It was his first visit to England and of course he was keen to see the capital.
He comes from a village in southern Spain. There are only 700 residents. They work hard cultivating olives, but the pace of life is slow.
I could see him looking around as we were walking through the train station. But, as we hit the street his mouth fell open. Why is everybody rushing, surely they can’t all be late?
It made me laugh because I hadn’t noticed it. When I stopped to look I could see what he meant. People scurrying along the pavement, weaving expertly in and out of the crowds. Some were even eating on the go. These days you can add mobile phones into the mix. Busy people chattering away while racing to their destinations.
And, that I think, is how we go through life a lot of the time. We do things on auto-pilot. When we’re constantly thinking about the next twenty things we need to do, it’s not surprising we feel stressed.
This is where mindfulness could be beneficial. Being mindful may help you to feel relaxed and slow your thoughts down. It can also reduce anxiety and help you overcome negative thinking.
A report in the Harvard Gazette outlined a study in which 16 people took part in an 8-week mindfulness course. They each had brain scans two weeks before the course and then again two weeks afterwards.
The study found that the participants had increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus and the amygdala. The researchers linked this to the participant’s reports of a reduction in stress.
Another study has shown that mindfulness can increase activity in the pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that’s connected to positive emotion. It’s less active in people suffering from depression.
How to learn
If you are interested in mindfulness, there are several ways you can learn. There are often mindfulness courses run by private organisations. You can go to a group session which will probably be held once a week for a couple of hours. The course usually lasts for 8 weeks and costs vary depending on the organisation.
There are also mindfulness retreats which are usually in a countryside setting. Some retreats offer one-day sessions, while others last for three or more days. You can usually choose whether to have private or shared accommodation. Shared accommodation is cheaper.
Keep a lookout too for Mindfulness taster sessions. These last between one and two hours and usually cost between £5 and £15 pounds. The taster sessions will teach you some of the basics. After the taster session, there might be a further 8-week course on offer.
You can also take a mindfulness course online. This will suit you if you don’t want to join a group or if prefer to learn from home.
Be Mindful is a 4-week course that costs £30. You can access each session weekly and you’re also sent tips and reminders by email. Their website also gives you details of private practitioners. They teach mindfulness and offer other therapies.
Breathworks offers online courses, retreats and taster sessions in Manchester and London. Their online course, which is mindfulness for stress reduction, costs £55. It is an 8-week course with 2 training sessions each day which last 10-minutes. Once you have completed a session you can access it as many times as you like.
Like anything you need to study, mindfulness does take commitment. You’ll need to practice. But, once you’ve developed the skills to be mindful you might feel less stressed. You may also sleep better and feel more positive about life.