Mindfulness Q&A with Erik van den Brink and Frits Koster

Erik van den Brink studied medicine in Amsterdam and trained to become a psychiatrist in the UK. He has extensive experience in meditation and specialises in mindfulness-based and compassion focussed approaches to mental health. He currently works at the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Dutch city of Groningen, and at the Behouden Huys, a psycho-oncology center in nearby Haren. He is a frequently asked guest-teacher at training institutes across Europe. Official website: www.mbcl.org.

Frits Koster is a vipassana meditation teacher and certified mindfulness teacher and healthcare professional. He has taught mindfulness and compassion in healthcare settings for many years. He studied Buddhist psychology for six years as a monk in Southeast Asia. The author of several books, he trains mindfulness teachers across Europe at the Institute for Mindfulness-Based Approaches (IMA). Official websites: www.fritskoster.com | www.compassionateliving.info.

Erik van den Brink and Frits Koster are the authors of Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living.

What can a busy person do to quickly and easily improve their mental health?

Try breaking the day down into ‘moments’! If you do, you might be surprised to discover that you have moments of free time however busy you think you are. Use these ‘moments’ to pay close attention to your breathing: become aware of the physical process of breathing whilst waiting at the bus stop or in a queue. If you notice your breathing is laboured or shallow, allow it to find a calming, soothing rhythm.

How can kindness and compassion help us cope with the pressures of modern living?

When we are kind to ourselves and to others, life becomes easier and less stressful. This is backed up by science: researcher Daniel Siegel (2010b) states that contemporary scientific knowledge shows that kindness and compassion are to the brain what breathing is to life.

How does your tendency to make negative judgments about your experiences alter your overall sense of wellbeing?

It is often the other way round: we get stressed and this makes us think less creatively. It is easy to get feel trapped by stressful situations and negative attitudes towards ourselves. This in turn makes us feel worse. It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of negative thinking that is hard to break.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is being aware of our present moment experience and acknowledging feelings, thoughts, and physical or sensory perceptions (i.e. seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching) just as they are. When we are mindful, we simply witness our experiences without needing to judge them as good or bad. And if we are distracted by inner commentary or judgments, or by our likes and dislikes – which is all part of being human – we can congratulate ourselves any time we become aware of these distractions and simply return to being mindful, kindly acknowledging our experiences as they come and go.

How can you tell if mindfulness is a good fit for you?

Cultivating mindfulness is of great help to everyone. Just being more aware of our present experience allows our ‘autopilot’ to be switched off and respond more wisely and creatively.

What are some key resources for improving mindfulness skills and overall wellbeing?

When you want to get physically fit you go to the gym or hire a personal trainer. Mindfulness is workout exercises for your brain. We recommend that you take a mindfulness course with an experienced mindfulness teacher. If that is not possible there are also online and self-help resources to help you get started.

Related Product

  • Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living

    By Erik van den Brink, Frits Koster

    Mindfulness involves learning to be more aware of life as it unfolds moment by moment, even if these moments bring us difficulty, pain or suffering. This is a challenge we will all face at some time in our lives, and which health professionals face every day in their work. The Mindfulness-Based…

    Paperback – 2015-05-20