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Javier García Campayo:

Javier García Campayo: "Mindfulness is here to stay, because it has enormous scientific evidence"

June 20, 2024

Much is spoken in our days of Mindfulness or full attention , a practice of oriental origin that is being applied successfully in the field of Psychology. Scientific studies say that it has many benefits for the mental and physical health of people, and that is why we wanted to know exactly what it is about and how it can help us to live better and to enjoy greater well-being.

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Interview with Javier García Campayo

Today we speak with Javier García Campayo , Psychiatrist of the University Hospital Miguel Servet (Zaragoza), Accredited Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Zaragoza and author of numerous books on Mindfulness as Mindfulness and science, Mindfulness Manual Y Mindfulness and compassion, so you can tell us more about this practice and give us some tips to get started in the experience of mindfulness.

Jonathan García-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 consisting in 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 that we can train. This state is associated with great psychological and physical well-being, which is why its practice is spreading internationally.

On the other, Mindfulness is also the set of psychological techniques that allow to develop this state

When did you come into contact with the practice of Mindfulness?

At the age of 18, meditation began to interest me deeply, 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 at a professional level, when do you start applying Mindfulness?

I did a postdoctoral stay at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in 1997 and then I received my first training in Mindfulness. I always say that when I finished, I did not bother to pick up the title. At that time, if a psychologist or psychiatrist used meditation as therapy, his professional prestige was played.

About 10 years ago, when Mindfulness began to make its appearance in Spain, I felt that the time had come to combine my professional practice with my deepest spiritual beliefs.

What benefits do you have 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 it is also very effective in anxiety, addictions, chronic pain, insomnia and stress-related illnesses. Also very effective in people who do not have a mental disorder because it reduces stress, prevents professional burning and increases psychological well-being.

In what other areas can Mindfulness be applied? The main ones are health, education, work, sports, the judiciary. There is controversy about whether it is ethical to apply it to the security forces and the army, but it 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 6 years old. It is easy to establish it in schools at that age, because students live it as one more activity and normalize it and even demand it when it is not given. In the educational field teachers should be trained, first to practice them and when they take time to apply mindfulness to their students. And the circuit is completed offering mindfulness to the parents of the students.

Is meditation the same as Mindfulness?

Not quite. Mindfulness is a state of mind as we have said and it is also the technique used to achieve that state of mind. Usually what we use is meditation. But not all meditations increase the levels of Mindfulness, only the 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 closely related to acceptance, so developing acceptance through psychoeducational means, for example, increases mindfulness without the need to meditate.

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You do Mindfulness courses in different cities of Spain such as Zaragoza, Madrid or Barcelona. Is it easy to learn to practice it?

It's simple, yes. The Mindfulness courses are usually structured in 7 or 8 sessions of about two hours. With that one learns the basics of practice and the theory of mindfulness and, from there, it can work alone. A course of these allows to modify psychological parameters (stress for example) but even modifies brain structures when studying the brain with functional magnetic resonance.

To notice the benefits of this practice, do you have to practice it daily? How much time do you have to dedicate to each session?

Ideally, practice daily, or at least 4-5 days per week. The daily effective dose is in about 20 minutes, which can be divided into two sessions of 10 minutes for example, being highly recommended that one of them be in the morning, nothing else 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 conscious eating?

It is the part of Mindfulness that is dedicated to observe the sensations, emotions and thoughts related to the eating process. More than 70% of the time we do not eat from hunger but to calm our negative emotions, which we call "emotional hunger".

When we are sad, worried, tired, we have discovered that eating foods (especially hypercaloric or fatty) relieves us. It is one of the reasons that 50% of the western population suffers from overweight. Mindfulness reconciles us with food and makes us enjoy it thoroughly, eat only what we need and do not need to do any diet to maintain an adequate weight.

Today there is much talk of Mindfulness. Do you think it is dangerous for it to become a fleeting fashion or be used to cure all ills?

Objectively, now Mindfulness is fashionable and, therefore, is overrated. In about 5 years the "boom" will have diminished and will be in its true dimension, but mindfulness has come to stay, because it has a huge scientific evidence (that or had other similar movements) and is effective in many environments.

That is, it is not the panacea for all diseases but has very precise indications and is not always the most effective technique.

We have already talked about the benefits of Mindfulness. But what would you say to someone skeptical about this practice?

The only thing we can say is that you try the Mindfulness experience. Any description of its benefits or explaining what it consists of is a pale attempt to put into words a sublime experience. It's like trying to explain the taste of watermelon to someone who has never tasted it.

We can spend hours describing the flavor, but eating a piece solves all the doubts. Having some of the Mindfulness experience is more useful than any lesson on the subject.

Lecture by Jon Kabat Zinn (June 2024).

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