Mindfulness: Now A Political Initiative in UK

woman meditating
Photo by peacerevolution

The mindfulness revolution has risen to new heights in the United Kingdom, where the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG), an initiative designed to bring policy makers in dialogue with academics and contemplative practitioners, aims to bring the benefits of mindfulness practices to millions. Mindful Nation UK, an interim report of the MAPPG, describes results of an eight month inquiry regarding the integration of mindfulness into core aspects of public life (i.e., health, education, workplaces and the public justice system). Among their conclusions: Mindfulness is a transformative practice that could positively influence society and alleviate suffering.

MAPPG was initiated by the Mindfulness Initiative, an advocacy project closely linked with the Oxford Mindfulness Centre that investigates how mindfulness can benefit society. The Mindfulness Initiative’s scope is broad, ranging from mindfulness in schools to facilitate better teaching and learning environments to integrating mindfulness-based therapy provisions into the National Health System (NHS) for treatment of mental and physical ill health. The Initiative also envisions the implementation of mindfulness training in the criminal justice system, and in healthcare and workplace settings.

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The eight-month inquiry conducted by the MAPPG was not a research study, but an investigation that elicited testimony and evidence from an array of sources to discern the effects of and evidence for mindfulness-based practices, with the aim of creating public policy recommendations. Eight hearings were held in Parliament and attended by cross-party politicians, scientists, leading mindfulness teachers/trainers and others.

Testimony supporting the benefits of mindfulness was received by those from broad swaths of society, from ex-offenders, doctors, lawyers and schoolchildren to teachers, police officers, managers and entrepreneurs. Those struggling with difficulties in mental and physical health, disability and end of life transitions also reported the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness was also proposed as a preventive mental health intervention.

This inquiry had a fortuitous advantage; per the report, more than 115 Parliamentarians from different parties have received mindfulness training through the Oxford Mindfulness Centre in the past few years. Imagine the implications of this trend taking off and spreading to policy makers around the globe!  Conducting an inquiry of this magnitude with the aim of impacting key social institutions is a huge development towards integrating these powerful practices into the settings and spaces where they are most needed.

The report included various findings and recommendations. Across the different settings and populations surveyed, mindfulness practices led to generally positive effects. Solid evidence supports the use of mindfulness in the reduction of anxiety, depression and as beneficial to those living with long-term conditions. Promising early research also suggests that mindfulness may positively influence other long-term physical health conditions, improve relationships and working environments, and improve mental and interpersonal health among schoolchildren.

Inquiries like this one are new, and more research is needed to fill in gaps that still exist. To date, little research has been conducted to examine mindfulness in the context of the criminal justice system, although it may be particularly relevant. Current access to mindfulness-based therapies in the NHS varies in the UK, and a number of concerns were raised concerning quality control.

As mindfulness has gripped the country with a fervor, this grassroots movement, the report suggests, has at times outpaced the evidence and training. Some may be teaching mindfulness-based interventions with inadequate training and be ill-equipped to handle emergent mental health issues, while online programs and books have not been tested for their effectiveness in comparison to interventions. Finally, the report found that there were not enough trained providers of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, an approach shown highly effective in reducing depression.

Though the report ultimately stated that more research is necessary, it is uplifting to imagine this as the start of positive systemic change.  It might be a while before mindfulness practices are implemented into public policy protocols in the US, but the implications of this movement for our most influential institutions are profound indeed.

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