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Mind your mouth, Giles: a science writer responds to Coren’s latest column

Posted at 4:15 pm, February 2, 2015 in Fun London
Giles Coren

Not everyone agrees with Giles Coren. So when science writer Tom Ireland got in touch about Giles’ last column on mindfulness and offered an alternative view, we thought it only fair to give him the right to reply…

‘I’ve been enjoying Giles Coren’s columns for Time Out, in which he has so far cantankerously thundered about everything from London buses and takeaway coffee to ‘serious filmmaking’.

Last week, he aimed his literary shotgun at mindfulness, an increasingly popular type of meditation. Having read a book about it (seemingly aimed at businessmen) and downloaded an app, Coren declared it is nothing more than “cynical twenty-first-century capitalist techno smegma”. It’s another funny article. Mindfulness is a “Buddhism-lite craze from the States…popular with celebrities who need explanations for why their career has gone to crap”, Coren writes – while trying it himself. But annoyingly, he judges it on some crap-sounding products which are based on an extremely vague notion of what mindfulness actually is. It’s like saying the concept of “exercise” is a load of old horseshit based on a Peter Andre’s Instant Abs DVD you bought in a petrol station.

Rather than being a hippy trend from America, modern mindfulness has been gaining popularity over here thanks to years of medical research, which found it can be very effective at reducing stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and possibly even changes the relative size of various structures within your brain. It has been recommended as an alternative to antidepressant medication by the UK’s main regulator of medical treatments, NICE, for around a decade.

Coren moans that “all vacuous wellness cults” – such as the paleo diet and fruitarianism, whatever that is – also seem to have convincing medical research behind them. They don’t. The effectiveness of mindfulness is supported by plenty of serious clinical trials, and the results are so interesting that many universities (including Oxford) have set up entire research centres dedicated to the study of it.

The thing is, mindfulness is in danger of being turned into cynical capitalist techno smegma. As news spreads of the exciting potential of it, it is increasingly being hijacked by various vapid lifestyle gurus, trendy pratts and corporate guff-merchants. The result is fashionable, easy, do-it-on-your-commute versions that bear little resemblance to the mindfulness taught by say, a psychologist or Buddhist monk. There are even reports of unqualified mindfulness teachers causing more harm than good. Sadly it is probably this chic but half-baked drivel that reached Coren, making him so amusingly irate.

There will be thousands, maybe millions, of Londoners who have either tried mindfulness or are considering it. If you want more than to join a vacuous wellness cult, look to do a serious course provided by the NHS, academic researchers or mental health charities. Or at least don’t expect to learn the ancient secrets of inner calm in half an hour on your tablet.

Mindfulness does not mean turning the alerts off your phone and listening to yourself breathing for a bit before hammering away at your emails again ten minutes later. You will never learn the secrets of finding calm in the modern world by downloading an app that bleeps at you.

The more people think that mindfulness is just some trendy version of chilling out, the more those capitalist smeg-lords will produce useless, irritating iterations of it.’

By Tom Ireland. Tweet him at @tom_j_ireland.

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