What is Mindfulness?

A brief history

Mindfulness is said to have originated in Buddhist thinking and meditation practice over two and a half thousand years ago. Its original purpose was to address and relieve self-induced suffering caused by the dysfunctional ways people habitually tend to respond to their experience.

center-for-mindfulnessOver the last 30 years, mindfulness has become secularised and simplified to suit a Western context. In the 1970s anecdotal and research findings about the ability of meditation to reduce unhealthy psychological symptoms triggered interest in mindfulness as a healthcare intervention. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Medical Centre at the University of Massachusetts introduced the first eight week structured mindfulness skills training programme which gave considerable psychological, and some physical, relief, to patients experiencing intractable severe pain and distress from a wide range of chronic physical health conditions. This came to be known as MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction).

MiSP’s classroom curricula

The roots of the MiSP curricula (.b and Paws b) are MBSR and MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy), the latter being a programme developed largely in the UK to help adults cope with depressive relapse. MBSR and MBCT are the two most well-researched and evidence-based mindfulness programmes available. However, .b and Paws b are not therapeutic interventions; they are curricula designed to introduce young people to the potential benefits of mindfulness in the safety of the school classroom. Taught by well-trained teachers .b and Paws b offer a toolkit of practices, most of between about 1 and 10 minutes, which aim to dip children’s toes into mindfulness in ways which they find helpful and enjoyable. To have a significant impact these curricula should sit within a school’s broader frameworks of social and emotional learning, safeguarding and pastoral support. 

A key finding from the early research is that pupils enjoy .b and Paws b and there is certainly no evidence to suggest that any harm is caused by this relatively low exposure to simple, secular mindfulness practices. Indeed, early research suggests that mindfulness may provide young people with a valuable life skill by supporting them in number of areas: to feel calmer and more fulfilled; to get on better with others; to concentrate and learn; to manage stress and anxiety; to perform well in music and sport. However, it is certainly not a panacea and further research is needed to deepen and test our understanding of this. MiSP is therefore committed to further research into the effects of mindfulness for both staff and pupils in schools through randomised controlled trials.

What is Mindfulness?

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