Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Is Mindfulness the New Health Craze of 2014?

by Ciara Dossett

Last year, two new words emerged in the dictionary: twerk and selfie. Well, could mindfulness be the new word for 2014? Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. This is achieved through meditation and claims to have transformed many lives. However, many of us, including myself, remain sceptical. For me, the word meditation evokes images of cross-legged orange robed Buddhist monks. How can sitting with your legs crossed next to a scented candle spiritually enlighten you? In my opinion, to start to meditate is a slippery slope. Next thing Id be practising vikram yoga and drinking thistle milk extract ( do thistles even produce milk??!). God forbid.

However, the new app headspace has supposedly modernised meditation. Created by ex-Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, headspace gives us a podcast a day. The aims are varied, some are focused on helping us to sleep while others help activities, such as cooking (not really sure how that one works). Headspace claims to be your mental personal trainer. It aims to improve processes, such as creativity and focus, as well as alleviating stress and anxiety. Supposedly, it can even aid our personal relationships (relationship tips from a buddhist monk?)!

Despite the slightly confusing definition, headspace is an impressively successful app. It boasts over a million subscribers and Emma Watson has said its kind of genius. My mum is also a big fan (arguably it's most admirable quality). So, Andy Puddicombe must be doing something right.

Recently, I have been struggling to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night and imagining that I have to solve algebra equations ( slightly worrying, I know). My mum suggested that I start doing mindfulness. Despite my dread of the slippery slope, I decided to give it a go. If its good enough for Emma its good enough for me!

The podcasts encourage you to focus on the sensations of your body and (I hate to say  it) they are surprisingly relaxing. The animations are enchanting and Andys voice has only the smallest hint of patronisation. Now whether its the dulcet tones of Andys voice or the act of meditation itself, I have been sleeping a lot better.

Despite the new craze for mindfulness, meditation is by no means a new thing. People have been meditating for thousands of years. Historians believe that meditation originates from people staring into fires. Although, of course the patron of all things mindful is the big man himself: the Buddha. He was thought to be around in about 500BC and is believed to be the first human to become enlightened. Unfortunately, after my three sessions of headspace I have failed to reach nirvana (maybe thats tomorrow night).

With mental health issues becoming more apparent in our society, relieving stress through meditation seems to be a relatively simple solution. It is estimated that 1 in 4 of us will suffer from some symptoms of mental health and so combatting stress is more prevalent than ever. Even the NHS is encouraging mindfulness as a way to stop anxiety and combat mental health. Oxford University has also published research that shows that the Be Mindful online course reduces anxiety, depression, and stress. It has even been suggested that meditation combats cancer at a cellular level!

Believe that or not, mindfulness is becoming the latest health craze. People have had enough with the newest exercise fads and many have instead chosen to train their minds instead. Im still undecided about the effects of mindfulness, but with the busy lives we lead today taking 10 minutes to sit and meditate cant do any harm. And whether you are meditation mad or a mindfulness sceptic, you have to agree the word mindfulness has got to be better than twerk or selfie.
Take the stress test: or download 'headspace' from the app store.

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