What is mindfulness?
The term « mindfulness » could be summarized as the practice of noting everything that happens in the present moment with curiosity and without judgement. This experience involves the exploration of our sensations, emotions and thoughts.
Some people achieve this easily, but mindfulness can also be cultivated through various practices including meditation. Practices can be “formal”, when one takes a specific time for a meditation exercise (breathing practices, practice based on exploring body sensations, meditative walking). Otherwise, they can be informal through activities and exercises to integrate the practice into daily life (eating, brushing your teeth, etc.)
John Kabat-Zin at the University of Massachusetts (USA) developed the first mindfulness-based intervention, called MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) in 1979, to help patients suffering from chronic pain. Subsequently, programs have been developed for different contexts, notably the prevention of depressive relapses (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, MBCT). A mindfulness-based intervention typically represents a series of sessions where trained instructors teach participants various formal and informal practices, addressing a theme at each session, often once a week, for 8 weeks, sometimes with a longer “retreat” day as well.
The overall impact of mindfulness on well-being, particularly on stress and anxiety levels, is now clearly proven. Current neuroscience research seeks to demonstrate that mindfulness meditation does indeed train attention, emotional regulation, and awareness of self and others, in relation to its effects on the brain regions that underlie these processes. For example, it is expected to increase activity in the prefrontal regions, the center of cognitive control, as well as in the insula, the center of interoception, being aware of bodily stimuli. Preliminary data also seems to show an impact of mindfulness on different biological markers of stress, such as cortisol or cytokines of the immune system. However, this remains to be confirmed.
Mindfulness meditation sessions
As mentioned before, a full mindfulness-based intervention would require many sessions and human support. However, below are few sessions for adults and children developed by collaborators of one of our member, Dr. Camille Piguet (University of Geneva), working on mindfulness. Feel free to test them and see the possible effects on your stress and well-being.
Dr. Camille Piguet and her collaborators are trying to better understand 1) why some people seem to benefit more than others, 2) what is the specificity of mindfulness compared to other stress coping techniques, 3) which types of problems are the most appropriate, and 4) if, in view of all these positive effects, it should really be offered "everywhere", especially in schools. The introspection that mindfulness develops may not be for everyone either! In this context, they have developed a first project aiming to study the impact of mindfulness meditation in adolescents between 13 and 15 years old, the Mindfulteen study supported by the Leenaards Foundation and the NCCR Synapsy. They have assessed both changes on self-reported questionnaires and changes in brain functioning during a stress task. In addition to these main objectives, the team also expect to see changes in brain structure after 8-12 weeks of practice, as well as biological changes related to markers of oxidative stress and the immune system. The study has just been completed with 70 participants and analyses are beginning...
As the overall effect of mindfulness meditation is already supported by scientific evidence, Dr. Camille Piguet and her collaborators are also starting a new SNF-supported project, this time for health students (UNIGE and HEDS). They will measure not only stress reactivity but also prosocial skills, which seem to result from mindfulness practice. In addition to measuring the biological markers of stress mentioned above, the research team will also explore the metabolomic profiles of the participants, in order to try to make links between anxiety, stress, inflammation and chemical signature.