Oxford University Research Project
Through our association with Zenways, Mindfulness in Motion programmes are part of an on-going Oxford University research project into the benefits of mindfulness in daily life.
All participants in our programmes have the opportunity to participate in the research if they wish and the effects of participating in our core programmes are monitored using a series of before and after questionnaires to measure what changes have occurred.
Initial results have shown:
significant decrease in Perceived Stress from before to after the course
significant decreases in anxiety on the HADS – Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale as well as some decrease in depression on the same scale.
increases in awareness on the Mindful Awareness Attention Scale (MAAS)
increases in the overall satisfaction with life on the Satisfaction with life scale (SWLS)
In choosing to participate in our programmes you have the reassurance that they have been seen to work , the opportunity to see your own progress with before and after tests as well as the the opportunity to participate in an exciting research project.
Wider evidence for mindfulness
The clinical and economic case for mindfulness based interventions has been well made and continues to grow. Responding to the increasing profile and popularity of mindfulness the Mental Health Foundation commissioned the Be Mindful Mindfulness Report in 2010. It examined the evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness-based therapies, laid the groundwork for using these therapies within the NHS and beyond and explored the potential knock-on effects for society at large.
In the report, The Mental Health Foundation shared the following findings:
Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people to change the way they think and feel about their experiences. A rapidly expanding evidence base of the positive impact on many mental and physical health problems as well as improved well-being had led to growing attention and interest in mindfulness.
Mindfulness programmes have achieved significant reductions in symptoms and relapse rates in mental ill health. More specifically Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) had been shown to reduce stress and mood disturbances, improve mood regulation, and increase perceptions of control in people with long-term anxiety disorders. MBSR participants with mood disorders have also shown reduced negative thinking and less stress and mood disturbances. MBSR has also demonstrated reductions in the severity of psychiatric and medical symptoms, and a substantial reduction in the use of GP services. Participants in MBSR have reported less depressions, anxiety and overall psychological distress.
People undertaking mindfulness training have shown an increase in activation in the left pre-frontal cortex, an areas of the brain associated with positive emotions that is generally less active in people who are depressed. Mindfulness also results in increased brain size in areas linked to emotion regulation, such as the hippocampus, the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal lobe.
Research suggests that mindfulness confers significant benefits for health and wellbeing and quality of life. People who are more mindful are less likely to experience psychological distress, including depression and anxiety. They are less neurotic, more extroverted ad report greater well-being and life satisfaction.
People who are more mindful have greater awareness, understanding and acceptance of their emotions and recover from bad moods more quickly. More mindful people have less frequent negative thoughts and are more able to let them go. They have higher, more stable self-esteem.
More mindful people enjoy more satisfying relationships, are better at communicating, and are less troubled by relationships conflict. Mindfulness is correlated to emotional intelligence.
A survey conducted in 2009 provided clear evidence that:
– GPs are generally very positive towards mindfulness, but rarely refer patients almost certainly because courses are not widely available
– The vast majority of people agreed that life was stressful and slowing down and appreciating the present moment would help people become health and happier. The findings also suggest there might be a strong uptake of mindfulness courses if made more available
– Courses enjoy high completion rates (around 85%)
– Mindfulness had potential cost advantages over many existing treatments, especially for mental health problems – delivered in groups they require less therapist time per patient.
Mindfulness may be particularly helpful to people with multiple mental health problems and went on to recommend:
– PCT commissioners should consider how they can best build the capacity of mindfulness services
– Mindfulness-based approaches create the potential for patient self-management, reducing the use of scarce health resources
– More opportunities for interested clinicians to develop mindfulness skills through introductory and teacher training courses
– More research into how different approaches can be targeted more effectively
– Expanding the evidence base for how these approaches benefit different populations
Excerpts from the executive summary – Be Mindful Mindfulness Report, Mental Health Foundation, E. Halliwell 2010
There is now a considerable body of evidence that Mindfulness Based Therapies (MBT) have a statistically significant effect above placebo on symptoms of anxiety and depression.
In a meta-analysis of 39 studies totalling 1,140 participants Hoffman et al. (1) observes:
…results suggest that Mindfulness based Therapy (MBT) improves symptoms of anxiety and depression across a relatively wide range of severity and even when these symptoms are associated with other disorders, such as medical problems.
The report goes on to conclude:
In sum, our findings are encouraging and support the use of MBT for anxiety and depression in clinical populations. This pattern of results suggests that MBT may not be diagnosis-specific but, instead, may address processes that occur in multiple disorders by changing a range of emotional and evaluative dimensions that underlie general aspects of well-being. Therefore, MBT may have general applicability.
There is now also clear evidence that practicing mindfulness leads to real and lasting structural changes in the brain. A study at the University of Massachusetts Medical School involving neural imaging before and after an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) course showed:
Whole brain analyses identiﬁed increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls. The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. (2)
The study also found:
The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.
In relation to this study, Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, said:
“These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an 8-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amygdala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Jha was not one of the study investigators
Whist we can clearly see the evidence supporting mindfulness training, the question arrises, so why isn’t everyone doing it?
Professor John Teasdale said of mindfulness:
“Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort… it’s a skill that can be learned. It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.”
And there is the nub of it. Traditional approaches to mindfulness teaching have shown some remarkable successes, there is however an inherent problem. The numbers of people who continue to practice regularly after completing the 8 week course can drop off dramatically in the subsequent 6 to 12 months.
As we have come to understand the processes and mechanisms behind mindfulness training more, we have seen that one of the key aspects to practicing mindfulness is just to focus your attention onto a direct sense, and to do so often. In an article in psychology today Dr David Rock summarises some of the above research and points out that:
…it also helps to use a rich experience that you can really engage with, with that, you can practice mindfulness while you are eating, walking, talking, doing just about anything that gives you a lot of sensory information. (3)
In developing our approach, we have therefore looked for activities which provide a rich stream of sensory information and are in themselves inherently attractive and engaging to a wide range of people. We have also looked at ways to support people in developing their practice and embedding it in their lives.
1 Hoffman et al. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2010, Vol. 78, No. 2, 169–183
2 B.K. Hölzel et al. / Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 191 (2011) 36–43