Mindful geographies? Towards the therapeutic geographies of mindfulness

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


This project aims to understand the geographies of mindfulness, and in doing so, expand the concept of therapeutic geographies using mindfulness practice. An ethnographic approach will be undertaken at a local mental health charity (e.g. Wellbeing Weymouth and Portland), which will uncover contemporary everyday and 'vernacular' uses of mindfulness. Moreover, the proposal is aware of the need for impactful and collaborative research, and will carry out knowledge exchange activities based in the charity. This research contributes to literature concerning health, wellbeing, and post-phenomenology. Moreover, the proposal fits with ESRC strategies of 'mental health' and 'ways of being in a digital age'.

1 in 4 people experience mental health difficulties each year (McManus et al., 2009). With this context, it is extremely vital that researchers investigate techniques for dealing with this mental health crisis. Mindfulness makes a significant contribution to the mitigation of mental health problems, and has grown in popularity since the millennium. Moreover, this proposal is timely and reflects societal interests, due to the recently published 'Mindful Nation UK' (2015) report by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG).

However, mindfulness has been neglected from health geography literature, both as an empirical, and ontological device. This omission is due to the general absence of research regarding more-than-western healing (with exceptions, e.g. Lea (2008)), a prioritisation of biomedical institutional settings, and the intensive flourishing of mindfulness practice has meant that academia has been less than equipped to meet the demand. Geographical trends such as the burgeoning field of 'new energy geographies' (Philo et al., 2015) and the recent infusion of non-representational theory and post-phenomenology (Andrews, 2014; Andrews et al., 2014) in health geography require input and expansion through work into mindfulness.

Mindfulness is defined as: 'paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.' (Kabat-Zinn, 2016, p. 4). Here, the crucial characteristics of mindfulness involve: paying attention to the present moment without trying to change anything/as it is; non-judgement; the centrality of the mind-body; interconnectedness; and the everyday and mundane. This theorisation of mindfulness is distinctly vernacular, in contrast to formalised Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. This particular focus allows us to supplement the predominately laboratory-based research that exists on mindfulness. This lens will offer a perspective that takes seriously everyday, lay, engagements with the practice, contributing to understandings of 'ways of being in a digital age'.
Therapeutic geographies extend the concept of therapeutic landscapes to encompass the new spaces, technologies, and bodily scales that might be enrolled in the relational healing process (Davidson and Parr, 2007). However, very little attention has been paid to this innovation, thus, I seek to rectify this shortcoming using mindfulness practice.

Research questions
1. What are the different, and subjective therapeutic experiences that arise from mindfulness practice?
2. How do the tenets of 'paying attention', and the 'everyday and mundane' in mindfulness practice mediate our experience of space-time?
3. Following from the work of Davidson and Parr (2007), how can we further establish therapeutic geographies?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1929718 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 26/04/2022 Chloe Asker
Description I worked with a group of participants to co-create an 8-week mindfulness course together, consisting of 8 2 hour workshops weekly during winter 2018. This work was based on some initial findings I had from the first stage of my research, and is a form of grass-roots, small-scale and collaborative impact. This project was not based on a donor-recipient form of impact, where a single knowledge producer impacts on an economy or society in a linear fashion. Instead, it was a form of co-production, where research was conducted together by a community of participants. Thus, rather than it being the final stage, or outcome, of research, impact was built into and intertwined with research, so that it became indistinguishable. The aims of the project were to: 1. extend, develop and shape public and community awareness and engagement with mindfulness practice. 2. establish networks and relationships with research users. 3. inform practice for mindfulness tutors. 4. provide a positive legacy for the workshop attendees. The outcomes of the project were: 1. The workshops facilitated the development of health and wellbeing for those involved, providing a space for group (self-)care, discussions and reflection. Those that attended responded positively and found the sessions helpful and therapeutic: "It was wonderful, as usual. I always feel so, so much better when I finish these sessions, it's lovely!" 2. Through providing this service, many were able to develop their individual mindfulness practice, by establishing a routine and structure, and progressing on to longer periods of silent meditation which benefitted their wellbeing. 3. The insights I (and the group) have gained from working with mindfulness in an impact-led, participatory way will be useful to an academic audience and mindfulness pedagogy. I intend to reflect on my, and the group's experiences, and disseminate these findings through academic networks and publications during my PhD. 4. The output, 'a little book of wisdom', is a collection of quotes, inspirational thoughts and resources from the 8-weeks. The book will be printed and sent to the participants, giving them reminders of the course and the importance of their mindfulness practice.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal