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Mindful : February 2018
2 GATHERING Now, redirect your attention to focus on the physical sen- sations of the breath. Move in close to the sense of the breath in the abdomen, feeling the sensations of the abdominal wall expanding as the breath comes in and falling back as the breath goes out. Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out, using the breathing to anchor yourself in the present. If the mind wanders away at any time, gently escort it back to the breath. 3 EXPANDING Now, expand the field of your awareness around your breath- ing so it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and facial expression. If you become aware of any sensations of discomfort, tension, or resistance, take your awareness there by breathing into them on the in-breath. Then breathe out from those sensations, soft- ening and opening with the out-breath. As best you can, bring this expanded awareness to the nex t moments of your day. By showing people sad movie clips during an fMRI scan, Segal and his colleagues in Toronto found that mindfulness practitioners’ brains showed more activation in sensory processing regions, such as the insula and somatosensory cortex, but less activation in midline prefrontal structures, which are associated with the men- tal rumination that is often problematic for peo- ple with depression. This indicates that while mindfulness-trained people feel their emotions intensely, they are less likely to think that sad- ness is a problem to fix, a cognitive stance that can lead to depression. Also, a key element of mindfulness may be a shift to enhanced sensory experience and a corresponding decrease in “living in your head.” Evidence also shows that practicing mind- fulness can start an upward spiral of mood and behavior, enabling people to become more fully integrated in their lives, and bringing with it a greater sense of freedom and flourishing. “In the longer term, sustained practice is a profound generator of compassion and connectivity,” explains Segal, “and that starts to change how people interact with one another. It’s at a much broader scale than people just looking to deal with their mind disorder, although that is an important starting point.” This potential for wider social impact hasn’t escaped the notice of politicians: A 2015 report by the United Kingdom’s Mindfulness All- Party Parliamentary Group recommended that MBCT be made more available in the country’s National Health Service, and a global group of policy-makers—including US Congressman Tim Ryan—has formed to explore the possibilities further. Meanwhile, the Oxford Mindfulness Centre has beg un a seven-year prog ram of research into teaching mindfulness in schools to see if it can help students’ resilience as they enter the teenage years, a common age for the first appearance of mental health problems. “Can we take 11- to 14-year-olds,” asks Kuyken, who’s leading the project, “and teach them the skills to prevent depression from ever occurring?” Preventing depression among those at risk is where more mindfulness training could be, as Segal says, “a public health win.” “It would have a huge impact on the health landscape, because people wouldn’t be coming back into treatment, and they’d be more effec- tive in parenting, as partners, and at work,” he explains. “They could enroll in all sorts of activities that would have much-needed effects in areas of wellness aside from mental health.” ● February 2018 mindful 49