Kate Kitchen, MSW RSW

Information About Mindfulness Meditation Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

What is Meditation?

One description of meditation is that it is the state of relaxed attention. With meditation we can achieve a more relaxed attitude toward our lives even at times that are not relaxing. We begin with learning to focus on one thing at a time and very quickly discover that our minds tend to wander. Thoughts will appear and disappear, only to be replaced by other thoughts. In meditation we are continually bringing our minds back to the original focus.

Various forms of meditation have been practised for over a thousand years. Modern research began, according to "The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook" by Davis, Eshelman and McKay, in 1968 when it was studied by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School, it was found to produce a number of positive physiological changes associated with relaxation.

Meditation is a simple practise to begin, and by practising it often you are likely to find that you can achieve more relaxation in your life.

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. Jon Kabat-Zinn

Like other forms of meditation, mindfulness often begins with the breath. When thoughts arise, you can just note them, let them pass, and return to focusing on your breathing. You will find yourself doing this over and over.

One way to envision mindfulness is to think of the mind as the surface of the ocean. There are always waves, sometimes big, sometimes small. The goal of meditation is not to stop the waves so that the water will be flat, peaceful and tranquil, but to learn to ride the everpresent waves (Kabatt_Zinn).

You might think of this as being the opposite of multi-tasking. Because so much of our lives are spent doing more than one thing at a time, many people say that the thought of learning how to slow down sounds like a good idea.

Mindfulness meditation teaches us how to be aware of thoughts, body tension and even uncomfortable emotions without getting caught up in them. With mindfulness we find that we don’t have to take everything that we think or feel as seriously as we have in the past- that we can “ride the waves” rather than getting swamped.

What is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)?

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive therapy combines mindfulness meditation with cognitive therapy. It was developed to help people with recurrent depressions develop new ways of handling depressive thoughts, distressing emotions and anxious feelings so that they are less likely to have relapse. MBCT was developed by cognitive psychologists who wanted to help their clients find ways to stay well once they had recovered from depression. It added the philosophy and approaches of cognitive therapy to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues at the University Of Massachusetts Medical School thirty years ago. It taught mindfulness meditation to patients with both medical and emotional problems. It was already known that MBSR was helpful for people with medical conditions and anxiety to manage their symptoms more effectively using MBSR.

With both MBCT and MBSR several meditation practices are taught, including a lying down meditation practice that resembles relaxation (called a Body Scan), mindful stretching (that incorporates simple hatha yoga movements), sitting meditation practice (usually practiced sitting in a chair) and walking meditation. These practices are included on a CD.

What is the scientific research in the benefits of mindfulness meditation?

The Stress Reduction Clinic has conducted research to show how their program helps people with a variety of diagnoses, including those with psoriasis, heart conditions, chronic pain, as well as people who found that they were overwhelmed with the stress in their daily lives.

In their research, they found that when patients with psoriasis used mindfulness meditation, their psoriatic outbreaks cleared more quickly, requiring a shorter medical treatment. Their research into the effects of mindfulness meditation on those with anxiety diagnoses found that patients diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks (with or without Agoraphobia) made significant improvement on subjective and objective measures. The results were achieved at the end of an 8-week group and at the 3-year follow-up.

Zindel Segal, PhD., Head of the Cognitive Behavioural Clinic at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, along with his colleagues, John Teasdale and J. Mark G. Williams, have published research showing that recovered patients with depression have a lesser chance of relapse after using a program that combined the mindfulness meditation practices of MBSR with cognitive therapy called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

In a pilot study using MBCT to assist patients in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, Kate Kitchen and her colleagues at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, found preliminary results suggesting the possible benefit of a 10-week MBCT program, as an adjunct to standard treatment, in reducing depression symptoms and improving social functioning for those suffering from depression and anxiety.

Suggested Additional Reading List on Mindfulness

Full Catastrophe Living
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression 
Segal, Williams and Teasdale

The Mindful Way Through Depression 
Kabal-Zinn, Segal, Williams and Teasdale

Peace is Every Step 
Thich Nhat Hanh

Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom 
Joseph Goldstein

Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness 
Sharon Salzberg

Mindful Recovery: A Spiritual Path to Healing from Addiction 
Thomas Bien and Beverly Bien

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Suggested Links

Center for Mindfulness
Umass Medical School
www.umassmed.edu/cfm

Mindfulness Toronto
www.mindfulnesstoronto.net

Insight Meditation Society
Cambridge, Mass
www.dharma.org