The Mindfulness Initiative is a project that grew out of a programme of mindfulness teaching for politicians in the UK Parliament. We now work with legislators around the world who practice mindfulness and help them to make capacities of heart and mind serious considerations of public policy. We investigate the benefits, limitations, opportunities and challenges in accessing or implementing mindfulness training and, based on these findings, educate leaders, service-commissioners and the general public.

Mindfulness training in politics

Since 2013, cross-party groups from both the UK House of Commons and House of Lords have attended eight-week mindfulness courses adapted from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). As of April 2019, over 240 politicians have received training, delivered by Professor Mark Williams and Chris Cullen from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. A core group attends a weekly drop-in class that provides continued instruction, and fosters a community of practice within the British Parliament. More recently, silent practice days have been offered twice a year. 

Although early courses were held under a promise of strict anonymity, many participants have since spoken out publicly about the profound effects that their training has had, both personally and professionally. Former Government minister, and current Member of the House of Lords, Lord Alan Howarth [Labour], said of the teaching: “For Members of all parties, this weekly mindfulness drop-in group is an oasis of trust and friendship – something very important in our adversarial politics. It is a very great help for my focus, energy, perspective, and sense of proportion and balance.”

Tracey Crouch MP, former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society and Conservative Minister for Loneliness, has spoken in the media about how mindfulness training helped her to tackle depression.

Following the success of the UK programme, British politicians have been invited to parliaments around the world to discuss mindfulness training. This has influenced a further six national legislatures (including the Dutch, French and Irish parliaments) to start mindfulness courses. Politicians in approximately ten further countries plan similar initiatives.

Formation of the UK Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group

Shortly after mindfulness courses were established for politicians in 2013, graduates started to become interested in the science behind what they'd learned. The Mindfulness Initiative was formed to begin presenting the research evidence on mindfulness to ministers, MPs and senior policy advisors. In early 2014, The Mindfulness Initiative supported parliamentarians to set up a Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG), with co-chairs from the three main political parties, Chris Ruane (Labour), Tracey Crouch (Conservative) and Lorely Burt (Liberal Democrat). The MAPPG was launched in Parliament on May 7th 2014 (see media coverage) with over 150 people in attendance, including more than 30 Members of Parliament and Peers (Member of the House of Lords). The Mindfulness Initiative has an on-going role providing the group's secretariat and the current co-chairs are Chris Ruane MP (Labour) and Tim Loughton MP (Conservative).

Mindful Nation UK inquiry

Starting in 2014, the Mindfulness Initiative helped the MAAPG carry out a 12-month inquiry into how mindfulness could be incorporated into UK services and institutions.

Bringing scientists, practitioners, commissioners of services and policymakers together in a series of Parliamentary events, the Mindful Nation UK inquiry held eight hearings on topics including the workplace, mental health, education, criminal justice and pain management. Working papers from these discussions served as the foundation for the Mindful Nation UK report, which includes evidence-based recommendations for government and national institutions. The report was launched in parliament on October 20th 2015, with speakers at the event including the Secretary of State for Education Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Health Minister Rt Hon. Alistair Burt MP and Sport, Tourism & Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch MP.

Key policy implications addressed in the report are:

  • Education
    Can mindfulness in schools influence classroom behaviour, attention and focus, help raise educational standards, and develop young people’s tools for well-being?

  • Healthcare
    Can mindfulness reduce the incidence of mental health problems such as depression, as well as help tackle long-term health conditions and improve public health?

  • Work
    Can mindfulness be a way to reduce stress and anxiety – and develop resilience, emotional intelligence and creativity - in the workplace?

  • Criminal Justice
    Can mindfulness be a way to tackle depression, anxiety, stress in the criminal justice system?

  • Teaching standards
    There is currently no formal accreditation process for mindfulness teachers. As interest in training grows, how can people be pointed towards good mindfulness teachers? (Since the report publication a listing of teachers meeting Good Practice Guidelines has been created here

Working Internationally 

Following the success of the mindfulness training and public policy program in the UK Parliament, the Mindfulness Initiative has been called upon to support politicians and advocates across the world. We now provide advice and support to representatives from 45+ countries who wish to implement mindfulness training in their own political contexts and are helping to establish or develop mindfulness training and policy programs in parliaments that include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Sri Lanka.

As part of this work we are fostering a global network of politicians who practice mindfulness, and in collaboration with US Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OHIO) convened a first 'Global Mindfulness Congress' of legislators in the UK Parliament in October 2017. At this historic international meeting, 40 politicians from 14 countries practiced mindfulness together and engaged in insight-based policy inquiry with Prof Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Continuing the Inquiry and Building Organisational Capacity 

The Mindfulness Initiative initially operated informally, hosted by other non-profit organisations, until it incorporated as a registered charity in 2018. Now it has the small team and committed supporter base required to offer more consistent, professional policy development and advisory services across the hugely diverse sectors where mindfulness training is being applied. The Mindfulness Initiative continues to clerk the Mindfulness APPG and has helped the group to host events that both go deeper into existing areas of inquiry like 'Mindfulness and Education' and have opened up new fields such as 'Mindfulness, Defence and Emergency Services' and 'Mindfulness, Ageing Well and Older People'.

The Mindfulness Initiative also now works independently of the Mindfulness APPG, supporting politicians in other national and regional legislatures, developing long-term perspectives on mindfulness in society and supporting the sustainable development of the mindfulness training sector. Our work is entirely dependent on the generosity of our supporters, and we'd love you to join them. Please consider making a regular donation or one-off contribution.

 

This video from the 2016 Mindful Life Conference in Washington DC gives an overview of the Mindful Nation UK inquiry. Chris Ruane MP told the story behind mindfulness training in the UK parliament and Jamie Bristow discussed how mindfulness is finding its place in public policy.