Mindfullness , seems to be the word on all therapists lips currently, its perhaps a fashion , however its an approach that has taken therapy by storm. It has become a buzzword for a mind approach technique to pain and anxiety which has its basis in Buddhism , however research published by many academics and institutions supports the possibilities for relief, which are favourable.
Khoury, Bassam; Leconte, tania;Fortin, Guillaume;Mause, Marjolaine; Therien , Phillip; Bouchard , Vanessa Chapleau, Marie-Andree, Paquin; Karine et al . (2013).‘Mindfulness based Therapy: A comprehensive meta – analysis” Clinical Psychology Review 33 (6): 763-71.
By ‘favourable’ we mean the reduction of pain and use of less analgesia , or less drugs which sedate or inflate mood, the net result being improved quality of life . This is achieved through natural means and empowers the sufferer to develop their quality of life by being in a position to make choices
I have attended and completed a mindfulness course at the Buddhist Centre here in Birmingham UK. The course was professionally, sympathetically and emphatically provided by tutors from the ‘Breathworks ‘ approach to mindfulness , having its origins in Buddhism . The course had various stages to help bring one attention to the body and mind and reach a stage of engagement with ones own ‘experience ‘ in a way which allowed for relaxation, thus creating room for a cognitive approach . This is in contrast to a ‘ catastrophic reaction ‘ where the internal or external world may appear to be in a state of collapse or there may be a feeling of being ‘singled out ‘ is some way to receive a burden of suffering . One of the quotations which underlies my work here at spinalsolutions Osteopathic Clinic in Birmingham City Centre
‘Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional’
Its one of those wonderful quotes you stumble across on the internet, and certainly 4 years ago when I founded spinalsolutions , I was experiencing deep physical pain, which I now know also had its basis in emotional and environmental influences.
At that time I was diagnosed with pelvic pain of unknown origin , the thoughts were Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Cancer or hernia. The pain was unrelenting and relieved only by cocktails of painkillers .I even ended up on the operating table! however a very astute surgeon Mr Edwards (a fellow Welshman ) from the Hospital at Selly Oak Birmingham , did a recheck 3 mins before surgery and discharged me. He explained that even though the scan showed weaknesses , the pain pattern wasnt clear enough in his experience – , confused I must add!!.However he was right – THANK YOU MR EDWARDS !! Anyway through the course and through practice I came to realise that indeed I had no hernia but probably a muscular condition which was of viral origin,giving pelvic pain. However I came to the realisation of how very ‘burnt out I was ‘, my nervous system had been through so much . My son had Muscular Dystrophy, I had problems in my relationship , my work environment had become unpleasant. Indeed there were layers to my problem . Its not to say it was psychosomatic because the muscle weakness and pain was tangible as was the pelvic weakness discovered on ultrasound . I still have some pelvic pain today however my energy levels are good , the primitive brain responsible for reflexive pain and response with fatigue,is ‘quieter’ and Im aware of its influence . I am able to separate my experiences into a kind of strata and apply some of the tools of mindfulnesss to them . I would highly recommend the course, it really changed my life.
What exactly is mindfulness ??
Direct defininition would be ; awareness, inspection, or perhaps recollection .
In modern psychology it is the:
- ‘concept of focusing attention and awareness’
- ‘A kind of non elaborative, non judgemental, present centred awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is’
It has its roots in Buddhism , and according to the Buddha sati – (Sanscrit) is the ‘seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path’. The realisation of the reality of things as they are and especially the ‘present moment’ itself stops the ‘delusion’ of everyday experienced through non – awareness. . A calm awareness of ones body, feelings, and mind are some of the aspects of mindfulness advised by the Buddha.
The current model has as its aim the establishment of an open and curious mind sometimes termed in meditation practices as a ‘beginners mind’ . The initial stages are learning about the known processes of the mind and ‘your mind’, then observing the rise and fall of thoughts , feelings which may be arising out of memories or the current environment eg.childhood memories and changes in temperature in the room you may be in . Once the ‘thoughtstream’ is realised and observed then it may be possible to present different choices and reasoning to the mind.
‘Practicing mindfulness can help people begin to recognise their habitual patterns of mind, which have developed out of experience over time and this allows practitioners to respond in new rather than habitual ways to their life’
The course I attended in Mindfulness Birmingham UK was composed and structured by:
Vidyalama Burch . There was accompanying CDs for the Body scan and a booklet ‘The Art of Mindfulness: Mindfulness of daily Life ‘ . The company is called Breathworks
The first chapter further describes this process :
‘ is a special kind of awareness that is attentive and warmly engaged with each moment of life. It helps us live with a sense of possibility and choice, rather than existing on autopilot – being driven by familiar and often unfamiliar habits as we drift from one thing to the next………..Of course it
is tirng and unrewarding to be a victim of circumstances…………………………………Before you can make concious choices about how to respond to experience you need to be aware or mindful of whats happening as it occurs.
Historically it was founded in 1979 by Jon Kabat -Zinn at the University of Massachusetts to treat chronically ill patients. The program achieves it goals by utilising a mental sweep of the body or ‘Body Scan’, then the participant is coached to the threshold of meditation through individual and group practice.
Additionally specific strategies are taught to be able to separate one experiences and consider their individual influence. Once one is still and realises that choices are possible then anxiety and pain are reduced as well as acceptance of mortality . However the scientific benefits of a meditational approach for a secular point of view has been studied for many years before that. Interestingly enough from the same state in America (Massachusetts) mediation was researched by Herbert Benson a Cardiologist . Benson is the pioneer of Mind Body medicine and in 1975 wrote the book ‘The Relaxation Response’ . This was a simplified and clinical version of meditation to achieve a physiological in the body which was termed the ‘Relaxation Response’ ie th initial state experienced in mediation that was perhaps more religiously based. Benson wrote
‘We claim no innovation but simply a scientific validation of age old wisdom’
Benson suggested a meditation time of around 10 mins daily ,combining a passive attitude with the utilisation of a simple word or phrase and a count and pause system for breaths ( inhale 1 2 3 4 pause exhale 1 2 3 4 ) . The result was a response of relaxation as the parasympathetic nervous system was activated . There was an improvement in headaches , insomnia , drug dependency, chronic low back pain and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
New ideas and approaches come and go, I always believe someone out there has been applying these principles a long time before they ever became popular , of course given the origins of Mindfulness then Buddhists may do this automatically. However I have met a handful of people who were’nt religous or receiving any structured therapy, who naturally utilised these skills and decision making processes as a natural way of organising their lives with calm and acceptance. Theres a warning here not to think that because something is new and vogue , that it should replace what a person already utilises as their natural response.
If you have problems with chronic disease or similar, and are having difficulty managing pain and anxiety I would strongly recommend the course here in Birmingham and if you’re not a local to us then go searching , ask your GP , email us , ask around- these services might exist locally to you also.
Short of this dont despair, get Vidylama Burch’s book and CDs and try and help yourself , some may be able to do this adequately . Jump on a train Birmingham such a lovely place email the centre at………………………………………
In Vidylamas words :
- non judgmental
in my words:
FOR EVERY BODY !!!
I started my journey by reading the Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, its an excellent account of meditation and the scientific clinical form .Its a great place to start . I would like to share with you the best advice from a Researcher Dr Megan Aroll, I heard this at a presentation for ME/CFS . She had suffered for many years from ME/CFS and had found great help at the Optimum Health Clinic in London and gone further to develop their research . She said
I only started to get better when I stopped trying to get better
You might interpret this as a call for ‘passivity’ , not so but a call for PEACE and call for CALM a call for CONSIDERATION and reduction of EXPECTATION. For me this is the start point for a ‘mindful approach , stopping and just watching and understanding before throwing choices at the situation .
Vidyamala Burch also mentions this ;
‘Before you make concious choices about how to respond to experience you need to be aware, or mindful, of what’s happening as it occurs.’