Mindfulness – Getting the benefits of present-centred awareness

Having roots in ancient Wisdom traditions (particularly Buddhism), mindfulness offers a combination of Eastern and Western approaches, techniques and practices to better navigate and experience everyday life.

In essence, mindfulness involves us being as fully present and aware of our current experience as possible. With our attention focussed upon each emerging moment of our experience, there is less room for the mind to wander, worry, catastrophise or procrastinate.

Through my own personal journey and having worked with many learners and clients, I can testify to the transformative power of mindfulness. For some people, this has been in the navigating of a clinical problem (such as anxiety, stress or depression) whilst for others, it has been in the navigating of the everyday struggles of life, study and/or work. Research has shown that mindfulness helps to grow many aspects of our being and that these have benefits in many different areas. For example, research by Shapiro, Brown, and Austin in 2011 showed that mindfulness had significant benefits for university students in the areas of ‘cognitive and academic performance’, ‘mental health and psychological wellbeing’ and ‘development of the whole person’.

The modern format of mindfulness was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. He taught the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme that has become the template model for mindfulness courses. In this course, learners explore the social, environmental, biological, psychological and emotional underpinnings of stress and cultivate a series of mindful attitudes through foundational meditation-based practices. These attitudes include being non-judgemental, letting go of agendas and being accepting, gentle, patient and considerate. When we can bring these qualities to any present-moment experience we are able to check our habitual responses and be mindful enough to choose a different response if necessary. The foundational practices of mindfulness include mindful breathing, the body scan and longer meditations in which we learn to accept unwanted thoughts but navigate beyond them without having a negative mind, body or emotional response to them.

The Centre for Lifelong Learning is the leading provider of mindfulness courses and workshops at Warwick. All of these are based upon the MBSR programme model but are tailored to the different purposes of them. The Mindfulness for Everyday Living short course provides an introduction to the theory, evidence, practice, and contemporary issues in mindfulness. This is offered in class-based and online formats on a termly basis. Cultivating Mindfulness is a termly experiential-based course for those with previous experience in mindfulness.

The CLL also offers an undergraduate module called Mindfulness in Lifelong Learning”. In this module, the standard practices of mindfulness are supplemented with a deeper academic study of it. I also contribute to programmes that provide training to teachers and social workers with session concerning mindfulness, resilience, and wellbeing. Through the #studyhappy initiative, I also run a weekly, term-time drop-in session in the library on a Wednesday at 1 pm. These sessions are open-access (for students and staff) and no experience or commitment to attend is required. Finally, I also offer a range of university, community and organisation-based sessions and workshops.

One of the most powerful elements of mindfulness is that it not only allows us to work upon our problematic mind, body and emotional responses but also allows us to fully engage with positive moments in our lives. The links between being fully present in positive moments and positive health, wellbeing, and performance are becoming clearer with increasing empirical research in this area (Davidson and Schulyer, 2015).

Each person’s journey with mindfulness is unique and it is a holistic approach in which you can focus upon health, wellbeing, performance, personal development and/or spiritual dimensions. With a dual focus upon helping to navigate difficult experiences and engaging more in positive ones, mindfulness offers an evidence-based approach aimed at bringing greater balance to our lives, including our work, study, and home-life experiences.

Find out more about our Mindfulness Short Courses at the Centre for Lifelong Learning.

About the blogger

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Dean is a teaching fellow in the Centre for Lifelong Learning who teaches a variety of mindfulness, psychology and coaching courses and modules. He has been a tutor at the centre for 8 years, teaching on the open studies and certificate programmes.

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