Much is said nowadays about Mindfulness, a practice of oriental origin that is being successfully applied in the field of psychology. Scientific studies affirm that it brings many benefits for the mental and physical health of people, and for this reason we have wanted to know what exactly it is about and how it can help us live better and enjoy greater well-being.
Interview with Javier García Campayo
Today we spoke with Javier García Campayo , psychiatrist at the Miguel Servet University Hospital (Zaragoza), accredited Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Zaragoza and author of numerous books on Mindfulness such as Mindfulness and Science , Mindfulness Manual and Mindfulness and Compassion , to tell us more about this practice and give us some tips to start the mindfulness experience.
Jonathan Garcia-Allen: Good morning, Javier! Mindfulness has been gaining popularity in recent years; however, there are still people who do not know the meaning of this practice. How would you define Mindfulness?
Javier García Campayo: Mindfulness defines two aspects.
On the one hand, it is a state of mind that consists of remaining attentive to the present moment with acceptance, without wishing that what is happening is otherwise. It is a state that we all have in greater or lesser intensity, but which can be trained. This state is associated with great psychological and physical well-being, which is why its practice is spreading so much internationally.
On the other hand, Mindfulness is also the set of psychological techniques that allow the development of this state
When did you come into contact with the practice of Full Care?
Around the age of 18 I became deeply interested in meditation, especially as it is practiced in the Tibetan and Zen Buddhist tradition. However, I have been trained in different schools from Christian contemplation to Hindu Advaita or pre-Columbian contemplative practices.
And on a professional level, when do you start applying Mindfulness?
I did a postdoctoral stay at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in 1997 and then received my first training in Mindfulness. I always say that when I finished, I didn’t bother to pick up the degree. At that time, if a psychologist or psychiatrist used meditation as therapy, he was risking his professional reputation.
About 10 years ago, when Mindfulness began to make an appearance in Spain, I felt that the time had come to combine my professional practice with my deepest spiritual beliefs.
What are the benefits in the field of mental health?
Mindfulness is useful in the treatment of mental illness. It is considered the psychotherapy of choice in recurrent depression, but is also very effective in anxiety, addictions, chronic pain, insomnia and stress-related illnesses. It is also very effective in people who do not have a mental disorder because it decreases stress, prevents professional burnout and increases psychological well-being.
In what other areas can Mindfulness be applied?
The main ones are health, education, work, sport, and the judiciary. There is controversy over whether it is ethical to apply it for the security forces and the army, but this is also being done.
You talk about Mindfulness in education. Can Mindfulness be taught to children and in schools? Does it also have benefits for teachers?
Children can practice Mindfulness from the age of 6. It is easy to introduce it in schools at that age, because the students live it as one more activity and they normalize it and even demand it when it is not given to them. In the educational field, teachers should be trained, first to practice it themselves and then, after some time, to apply mindfulness to their students. And the circuit is completed by offering mindfulness to the parents of the students.
Is it the same meditation as Mindfulness?
Not exactly. Mindfulness is a state of mind as we have said and is also the technique used to achieve that state of mind. Usually what we use is meditation. But not all meditations increase Mindfulness levels, only attentional meditations.
There are many other meditations that do not necessarily increase mindfulness but are used with other functions. On the other hand, mindfulness is very much related to acceptance, so developing acceptance by e.g. psycho-educational means, increases mindfulness without the need for meditation.
You take Mindfulness courses in different cities of Spain like Zaragoza, Madrid or Barcelona. Is it easy to learn how to practice it?
It’s simple, yes. Mindfulness courses are usually structured in 7 or 8 sessions of about two hours. With that one learns the basics of mindfulness practice and theory, and from there it can work on its own. A course of these allows one to modify psychological parameters (stress for example) but even modifies brain structures when studying the brain with functional MRI.
To notice the benefits of this practice, do you have to practice it every day? How much time do you have to dedicate to each session?
The ideal is to practice daily, or at least 4-5 days a week. The effective daily dose is about 20 minutes, which can be divided into two 10-minute sessions, for example, and it is highly recommended that one of them be in the morning, as soon as you get up. With this level of practice in a few weeks the benefits are very evident.
You have written many books about Mindfulness, one of them called “Mindfulness eating: the taste of attention”. What is Mindfulness Eating?
It is the part of Mindfulness that is dedicated to observing the sensations, emotions and thoughts related to the process of eating. More than 70% of the time we don’t eat out of hunger but to calm our negative emotions, which we call “emotional hunger”.
When we are sad, worried, tired, we have found that eating food (especially high-calorie or fatty food) relieves us. It is one of the reasons that 50% of the Western population is overweight. Mindfulness reconciles us with food and makes us enjoy it thoroughly, eating only what we need and not needing to diet to maintain an adequate weight.
Nowadays there is a lot of talk about Mindfulness. Do you think it’s dangerous that it becomes a fleeting fad or is used to cure all ills?
Objectively, Mindfulness is now fashionable and therefore overrated. In about 5 years the “boom” will have subsided and it will be in its true dimension, but mindfulness has come to stay, because it has enormous scientific evidence (that or had other similar movements) and is effective in many environments.
However, it is not a panacea for all diseases, but has very precise indications and is not always the most effective technique.
We’ve already talked about the benefits of Mindfulness. But what would you say to someone who is skeptical about this practice?
All we can tell you is to try the Mindfulness experience. Any description of its benefits or explanation of what it consists of is a pale attempt to put a sublime experience into words. It’s like trying to explain the taste of watermelon to someone who has never tasted it.
We can spend hours describing the taste, but eating a piece solves all the doubts. Having a bit of Mindfulness experience is more useful than any lesson on the subject.