11 Oct Mindfulness for health and wellbeing
Mindful Meditation is known to originate from Buddhist practice in India more than 2500 years ago. It can be defined as deliberately paying attention to things around us and becoming fully immersed in the present moment, without thought of the past or the future. When we stop for a while and become mindful and present we are only concerned with what is happening in our mind and body right at that moment in time. We just allow our emotional and physical feelings to come and go with kindness and without judgment.
In 1979 Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn began to use mindfulness to treat patients with chronic medical conditions, many of whom were suffering from anxiety and depression as a result of living with pain and ill health. He went on to develop Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as a therapeutic programme of treatment, and clinical trials showed that his patients saw beneficial changes to their health after completing the course. Participants benefitted from a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure and an improvement in ability to deal with difficult situations and emotions as well as general improvements to their physical and mental health. MBSR programmes are now used in a range of situations including schools and prisons as well as healthcare settings, and in the fields of business and competitive sport.
In 2001 Mindful Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed by Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel V. Segal. MBCT was initially developed as a treatment for depression, however it has since been adapted and is used to treat other conditions such as addiction, eating disorders and anxiety.
MBSR and MBCT are quite similar and both use meditation, breathing and mindful movement such as Yoga, among other exercises to help people with physical and emotional conditions.
The Stress Response and how it affects us
We all have an internal alarm system, often referred to as the “fight/flight/freeze” response, designed to keep us safe. Our body physically reacts to stressful or potentially dangerous situations by increasing the heart rate, increasing the breathing rate, switching off the digestive system and pulling blood into the core of the body, ready to deal with a threat by fighting or running away. This response is now triggered by everyday stresses, very different from the life or death situations our ancestors would have faced, but the body’s response is the same. Constant, small amounts of stress (work, family etc) can actually do more long term harm to our health than a one-off, extremely stressful event. Unsurprisingly, stress related to work or family issues is one of the most common reasons for clients booking in with me for treatments. Once the stress response has been triggered, it can be difficult to get back into a state of calm. Worse still, the more often the stress response is activated, the more easily it can be triggered again 🙁
The Calm Response
By contrast, we also have a calm response which fortunately we can learn to activate through mindfulness and being present in the moment. The more we practice, the easier it becomes (trust me on this!). If we are aware of the physical signs of our stress response, with practice we can often rationalise it a little better, deal with it and stop it going any further. Once we notice that we have butterflies (digestion shutting down), our heartbeat and breathing is faster, or our skin is becoming clammy (blood diverted to our core) we can stop for a moment and use those physical feelings to be fully aware of what is happening and try and see the “threat” for what it truly is.
Regular mindful practice helps us to learn how to get to that state of calm a lot easier. If we practice at a time of day when we usually feel more calm (before work or before the kids get up maybe!) we can start the day without that awful feeling of stress before we’ve even started. As little as five minutes practice before going to sleep is a good way of getting a restful nights sleep too.
So how do we do it?
Try this easy exercise using all our senses…
Sit comfortably with your eyes open and take a few deep breaths, concentrating on your breath. Notice your chest and abdomen expanding and contracting with each breath. Now look around the room. Notice FIVE things you can see. They can be anything at all. Just look at each item for a few seconds and really notice the details… the shiny cover of a book, the way the curtains fold, the colour of a cushion or other object. Take your time.
Now close your eyes, and take another deep breath in and out before you continue. Put your hand out and feel around you, and touch FOUR things that are close to you. Feel the different textures, the feeling of the material of your clothing, the chair underneath you, the hard surface of the table or whatever is close. Notice how these objects feel under your hand.
Now take another deep breath in and out and listen really carefully, what can you hear? Notice THREE things you can hear, however quiet (or noisy!) they are. Listen to each one for a few seconds, can you tell what they all are? Can you tell whether they are inside or outside the room?
Next is our sense of smell… take another deep breath and see what you can smell in the room. This one can be more difficult, can you smell TWO things?
And finally, take another deep breath and notice what can you taste?
Mindfulness isn’t just about sitting quietly like this, and it doesn’t even have to be quiet or for a long time, its all about what we NOTICE. Try looking for things on a walk outside, notice the leaves, flowers, birds. Notice what you can see through a window even in a town or city, cars, people, the weather. Its all about being present in the moment, the NOW.
If you would like any more information or have any questions, just ask! I am currently training to be a MBSR Practitioner and will be offering sessions at Poppy Therapies soon, watch this space 🙂
© Carol Bailey 2021