Persistence with Mindfulness Creates its Own Reward

In previous posts, I discussed how mindfulness meditation can provide pain relief in situations of chronic pain and alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis.

From my personal experience, I can confirm that being mindful in the midst of pain or the relentless itch from psoriasis is not easy.  However, I have found in both situations that mindful meditation has been extremely helpful.

In 1997, my back collapsed and I could not stand for more than two minutes or walk more than 10 metres without experiencing excruciating sciatic pain that travelled down to my ankles.  On top of this, I had pneumonia which aggravated the pain whenever I coughed.

I spent 18 months having all kinds of treatment – chiropractic, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and osteopathy.  There were times when I had to lie on my back on the floor, alternating one hour on and one hour off.  When you are lying on the floor, there is not much you can do except meditate – which is what I did to achieve some degree of pain management.

More recently, I have found that mindful breathing focused on the part of my body that is itchy, has provided some relief.  This is difficult to do because the temptation is to seek distraction rather than focus on the source of discomfort.  However, as I mentioned in my previous post on psoriasis, research has demonstrated that mindful meditation can actually enhance the healing benefit of whatever form of treatment for psoriasis you are undertaking.

We know from experience that conscious breathing can help us manage pain when, for instance, we are undertaking painful physiotherapy or remedial massage.  Research shows that conscious breathing, combined with focused attention, actually speeds up the healing process.

While the pain or itching discomfort can remind you, and motivate you, to undertake mindfulness meditation, this practice in turn helps you to grow in mindfulness – with all its attendant benefits. So, there is a two-way dynamic operating – pain and discomfort precipitate mindful practice and the latter reinforces other forms of mindfulness that you have developed through different techniques.  Also, as you grow in mindfulness, it gets easier to be mindful when experiencing chronic pain or discomfort from psoriasis.

What I found helpful too is to visualise a future state where you are healed – in my case, visualising returning to playing tennis again on a weekly basis, a state which I eventually achieved after mindfulness meditation in concert with multiple treatments for my back problems.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of illustrade on Pixabay

Dementia, Ageing and Mindfulness

We all experience physical degeneration of the brain through ageing.  However, the impact of this degeneration varies from person to person.  There are genetic factors that come to play but also life experiences and lifestyle.

Professor Michael Ridding of the University of Adelaide argues that “cognitive reserve” explains to some extent how some people can continue to maintain effective cognitive function despite the presence of significant physical brain damage.

He explains the concept of “cognitive reserve” as follows:

This is a concept used to explain a person’s capacity to maintain normal cognitive function in the presence of brain pathology [physical brain degeneration or atrophy].  To put it simply, some people have better cognitive reserve than others.

He goes on to explain that life experiences such as education level, amount of social interaction and occupations that place a lot of demand on our brain and capacity to think (such as managerial or professional roles) all contribute to the development of “cognitive reserve”.

Our brain incorporates multiple pathways and connections that break down over time.  However, as indicated in a previous post, brain plasticity enables us to develop new pathways and connections.  This is why it is recommended that we learn a new language or do crosswords to help stave off dementia if we are not doing cognitively demanding work.

Mindfulness is another lifestyle factor that can contribute to the capacity to function effectively despite physical brain degeneration.   In fact, mindfulness has been shown to restore brain grey matter and reduce the thickness of that part of the brain, the amygdala, that controls our fight/flight response (including panic attacks).

A recent review of the research literature on the relationship between meditation and “grey matter atrophy” [physical brain decline], suggests that meditation results in an increase in “grey matter volume”, offsetting decline in brain function.  The effect of meditation is considered to enhance “learning, memory and emotional control, as well as activities like self-awareness and compassion”,  thus slowing down the onset of dementia.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can offset the natural decline in our physical brain and ward off, or diminish, the effects of dementia.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image sources: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Creating a Workplace Culture of Well-Being Through Mindfulness

In a recent McKinsey Quarterly article, the authors challenged what they call “neuromyths” – basically, misunderstandings arising from misguided interpretations of neuroscience findings.  They argued that many leadership development programs are based on these “neuromyths” and result in considerable waste of financial resources and employee time.

One of the myths that the authors challenge is the concept that the brain’s development is fixed at an early age and that little change in the brain’s structure can occur over a person’s lifetime.  However, recent neuroscience has shown that rather than being fixed in structure, the brain exhibits “plasticity” throughout our lives.  The research of this phenomenon has been described as follows:

Brain plasticity science is the study of a physical process. Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken; neural connections can be forged and refined or weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities.

Research into the power of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction demonstrates, for example, that there is a real physical change in brain gray matter resulting in increased capacity in areas such as learning and memory processes and emotional self-regulation.

Health insurer, Aetna, has taken this research seriously and built their employee development programs around the ability of mindfulness practices to enhance mental capacity and reduce stress.  By 2015, more than twenty five percent of their 50,000 employees had participated in at least one form of mindfulness training.   Aetna’s aim was to reduce stress in the workplace and the associated loss of productivity and employee well-being, while simultaneously generating high performance.

As a result of realised benefits in the workplace, Aetna has increased their commitment to mindfulness training for employees.  In 2017, they created a Mindfulness Center with the explicit aim of “developing a workplace culture of well-being“.  The Center provides mindfulness activities a number of times each week and is designed to host future presentations and courses conducted by experts in the area of mindfulness.

Aetna has made this very substantial investment in mindfulness training because they have seen that their managers and staff, as they grow in mindfulness, reduce their stress, increase their resilience and develop high performance.

Aetna is certainly not alone in investing in mindfulness training for managers and employees – and in realising the associated benefits.  Google, for example, has trained more than 4,500 of their employees in mindfulness and emotional intelligence over the last 10 years.  The derivative program developed by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) is providing mindfulness training to leaders in thousands of organisations in the public and private sector on an ongoing global basis.

A recent Mindful Leaders Forum in Sydney was an extension of a forum that is contributing to the global development of mindfulness in the corporate world:

In three years, 1500 executives from more than 350 companies have come together to explore a new style of leadership.  It’s all about helping individuals, teams and organisations to thrive in the digital age.  It’s part of a global movement that’s sweeping across the corporate world where innovative companies such as Google, LinkedIn and the Harvard Business School are using evidence-based tools to unleash creativity, productivity and purpose-driven performance.

The Sydney-based forum included presentations by Marque Lawyers, Westpac Bank, e-Bay, Australian Army and Medibank.

Organisations world-wide are investing in the development of mindful leaders who can build a workplace well-being culture that generates the dual goals of employee wellness and high performance.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of WolfBlur on Pixabay

 

Mindful Meditation to Reduce the Symptoms of Psoriasis

In an earlier post, I discussed how mindfulness meditation can help the management of chronic pain.  In this post, I will focus on the beneficial effects of mindful meditation for the management of psoriasis.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can last for weeks, months and even years and can recur at anytime.  This skin condition is thought to be an autoimmune disease that typically manifests as a rash or skin lesion that can be exceptionally itchy and results in dry, cracking skin that can be painful.  The skin problem is exacerbated because people with psoriasis, consciously or unconsciously, scratch the itching skin which intensifies the itch and increases inflammation of the skin.

This vicious cycle can contribute to emotional and psychological problems.  People who suffer from this skin condition may feel embarrassed to be seen out in public and may withdraw emotionally leading to depression. The negative emotional effects are aggravated by the difficulty experienced in attempting to heal this persistent skin condition – a debilitating disease experienced by 450,000 Australians and over 125 million people world-wide according to the Skin & Cancer Foundation.

There are numerous triggers to cause psoriasis in an individual – stress and infection being two of the major triggers.  The inability to isolate the primary trigger for an individual adds to the anxiety experienced by the psoriasis sufferer.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a renowned mindfulness expert, undertook research in support of an approach to curing psoriasis using meditation as a means to heighten the effect of the treatment.  His research involved two groups of people receiving treatment for psoriasis, one group practising meditation during the treatment and the other group, the non-meditators, taking the treatment as normal.  He found that “the meditators skin cleared at four times the rate of the non-meditators”.

In discussing these results (which have been confirmed by other researchers), Kabat-Zinn suggested that the positive effect of meditation on the rate of healing of psoriasis is related to the connection between the body and the mind:

And it is a beautiful example of the mind/body connection because you’re doing something with your mind and something is happening in the skin.  So it just doesn’t get any better than that.

The Psoriasis & Skin Clinic offers a number of meditation methods to reduce the stress associated with psoriasis and to build emotional resilience while suffering from this skin condition.  They suggest a form of body scan meditation which involves concentrating on a specific part of the body where itching or pain is experienced., breathing deeply and focusing your mind on that itching or pain to reduce or alleviate the discomfort.

They also suggest another meditation/relaxation technique which involves experiencing, or thinking about, a peaceful or inspiring location and using this focus to release any troubles or worries that may be causing you stress.  Their instruction for this exercise is reminiscent of Kabat-Zinn’s book, Coming to Our Senses:

If you are sitting on the sand on the beach, feel the setting sun warm your face, feel the breeze on your skin, smell the ocean air, taste the salty tang on the breeze, hear the waves washing right up to you and as you hear each and every wave, release all of your stress and throw it onto the waves to wash out into the ocean.

As you grow in mindfulness through mindful practices such as these meditations, you will be better able to manage the discomfort of psoriasis and assist your healing process, whatever treatment method you adopt.  The experience of itching or pain can even become a catalyst to mindful meditation to relieve the discomfort.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

 

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Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief

As we grow in mindfulness we start to learn the many ways that mindfulness can improve the quality of our lives.

The quality of life of many chronic pain sufferers has been improved through mindfulness meditation for pain relief, pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

This resource which is available in CD format or audio download, provides an insight into how mindfulness can help you manage chronic pain as well as mindfulness meditations that can be used for pain relief.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), maintains that current neuroscience research supports the idea that the more we become aware of the pain in our body and mind, the better we are able to manage pain and improve the quality of our life.  The research shows that awareness of the body-in-pain compared to distraction from pain, has a greater benefit and provides a more sustainable release from the physical and emotional impact of chronic pain.

We all experience the unwanted parts of life, pain and suffering, at some time in our lives – some people for longer than others through the experience of chronic pain.  Mindfulness meditation can help us relieve not only the physical aspects of pain but also the emotional impacts which can take the form of frustration, depression, annoyance, anger and the inability to concentrate.  We can expend so much of our energy and focus just managing the pain that we are quickly exhausted and unable to concentrate.

Jon Kabat-Zinn provides an introduction to his mindfulness meditation for pain relief and this free resource, which includes meditation practice, can help you realise the potential benefits of this approach for improving the quality of your life:

Jon Kabat-Zinn assures us that through mindfulness meditation we can come to realise:

  1. we are not alone in experiencing pain; and
  2. learning to live with pain is possible.

He makes the salient point that managing pain is part of the work of mindfulness itself and that by participating in mindfulness meditation for pain relief, we are immersing ourselves in the global mindfulness movement that is raising global consciousness – people all around the world are becoming more mindful and we are contributing to this movement that promotes peace, harmony, loving kindness and awareness of others and nature.   Our self-compassion through pain management is contributing to compassion for others.

We can grow in mindfulness in many ways.  The drivers for our motivation to practice mindfulness can also be many and varied.  If you are a chronic pain sufferer, this experience could provide the motivation to develop mindfulness for pain relief.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of Sae Kawaii on Pixabay

 

Mindful Self-Compassion

Compassion is an integral element of mindfulness and emotional intelligence.

It involves being concerned for the pain and suffering of others, having the desire to reduce that suffering and taking action, at whatever level, to redress the suffering of others.   Taking action is a key aspect that differentiates compassion from empathy.

Self-compassion, then, is exercising compassion towards ourselves – ultimately, it means doing things to reduce our own self-initiated pain and suffering.

As we mentioned in a previous post, our minds tend automatically towards negative thoughts.  We are critical of ourselves, dwell on failures, feel embarrassed when we make a mistake and carry shame with us to our own detriment and that of others.

Diana Austin, in her doctoral study of midwives in New Zealand, found, for instance, that the sense of shame and self-blame impacted severely the ability of midwives to recover from the trauma of critical incidents.  Her study resulted in an e-book tool designed to promote self care and kindness towards self in the event of a health professional experiencing a critical event.

The Critical Incidents E-Book contains stories, information and practical advice for health professionals and their managers when mistakes happen and things go wrong.  In the final analysis, the e-book is a journey into self-compassion for those experiencing the depths of self-blame, shame and questioning of their own competence and ability to support others professionally.

Kristin Neff, one of the founders of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, identified three components of self-compassion:

  • physical warmth
  • gentle touch
  • soothing vocalization

In her video describing these three components, Kristin suggests a number of self-compassion practices that draw on these components.  For example, she recommends self-hugging and a simple exercise involving placing your hands over your chest while communicating care and tenderness towards yourself.

More detail on these self-compassion exercises can be found in the video below where Kristin Neff describes exactly how to do them:

As you grow in mindfulness you become more aware of self-criticism and the ways in which you blame yourself, and you gain the presence of mind to counter these self-initiated attacks on your self-esteem and sense of self-worth.  Mindful self-compassion exercises build mindfulness and develop self-care and kindness.  The more we are kind to ourselves, the more sensitive we become to the needs of others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of johnhain  on Pixabay

Defuse Negative Thoughts and Stories

Negative thoughts are a part of living – we all tend to have them. However, if we entertain them, they undermine our self-belief and self-confidence.  They can be persistent and destructive.

Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us, “We are not our thoughts”.  Our minds make up negative stories all the time and we come to believe that these stories identify who we are – they are just fabrications, not reality.

One of the key contributions of The Happiness Trap Pocketbook by Russ Harris and Bev Aisbett is the range of defusion strategies they offer to disarm negative thinking and reduce its hold and power over us.

They suggest one simple defusion strategy that we can apply to any negative thought:

Pick an upsetting thought, and silently repeat it, putting these words in front of it: ‘I’m having the thought that…’

Now try it again with this phrase: ‘I notice I’m having the thought that …’

Can you feel the thought lose some of its impact? (p.54)

This defusion strategy can be used for any unhelpful thought at any time, no matter where you are.  You can progressively learn to dissociate yourself from negative thoughts and recognise that they do not represent who you are.  You are better than your negative thoughts which tend to put you in the worst possible light.  Such thoughts result from the brain’s bias towards the negative as a self-preservation mechanism.

As you grow in mindfulness through regular mindful practice you will become more aware of these negative thoughts and have the presence of mind to use the suggested defusion strategy.  You will become increasingly conscious of the hold these thoughts have on you and how they impact negatively on your self-confidence and willingness to extend yourself and take on new challenges.

Negative thoughts hold us back, diminish our sense of accomplishment and reduce our effectiveness and capacity to make a difference in our own lives and that of others.  The suggested defusion strategy is your weapon against this erosion of who you are.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

Looking For Inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere if we just look out for it.  However, as mentioned in the previous post, we tend to become focused on negative news, rather than positive stories.  Inspiration leads to health and well-being, while negative-oriented news creates distraction and emotional disturbance – especially where events are sensationalised to create the maximum emotional impact.

One of the very helpful sources of inspirational stories is TED Talks – an endless source of video presentations on every conceivable topic by numerous people from different corners of the world who have achieved much to improve the human condition.

One such talk was given by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi – What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death?  In this outstanding presentation, Lucy discusses how she and her husband Paul, a neuroscientist, coped with the knowledge that at the age of 37 he was dying from Stage IV lung cancer.

In her optimistic -and sometimes humourous – talk, Lucy makes some key points:

  • the critical importance to keep talking to each other, with no topic off limits
  • realising that the person who is dying must work to reshape their identity
  • making conscious choices together about ongoing health care
  • learning to accept the pain of your dying partner
  • finding beauty and purpose amidst the sadness
  • learning that resilience, in this situation, means bouncing back to real living without denying the reality of impending death.

The video of the presentation by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi is given below:

Besides building bonfires on the beach and watching the sunset with her friends, Lucy found that “exercise and mindfulness meditation helped a lot” after Paul’s death.

Both Paul and Lucy were noted for their compassion towards others. As they were able to grow in mindfulness through this compassion and their intense living-in-the moment, they were better able to cope with the reality of Paul’s terminal illness.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of martythelewis on Pixabay

Do You Feast on the News?

We can become so obsessed with the news that we continually seek out the latest information.  We might access the news through social media such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube or through newspapers both offline and online or via text messaging through RSS feeds.

Whatever the source, we justify the continual access to the news via our smartphones or tablets because we need to keep up to date, our work requires it, we don’t want to be left out of conversations, we don’t want to appear ignorant or a multitude of other reasons.

However, if we are following a news trail, we may go from one report to another, particularly if we are online.  We spend hours collectively feasting on news reports and end up with no surplus in our lives that would enable us to contribute to something larger than ourselves – an activity that is foundational to happiness.  We become time-poor, a condition that leads to frustration and unhappiness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us that when we are continually accessing the news, we are often digesting distorted information:

We are perpetually bombarded with information, mis-information, partial information, slanted information, conflicting information, and endless opinions and opining on all sides of all issues. (Coming To Our Senses, p.515)

Continuous access to the news is inviting distraction and emotional disturbance into our lives.  Distraction involves the inability to concentrate or the loss of focus, which in turn affects our productivity, insight and creativity.  Emotional disturbance results because we become upset by a tragic event, angry at unfair treatment, disoriented by endless opposing views, upset through generated “flashbacks”, annoyed at biased reporting, or any other negative emotions occasioned by news events.  Continuous access to negative news can generate a sense of powerlessness and, ultimately, depression.

It is true that what happens on the other side of the world can impact our daily lives.  However, there is very little we can do about much of what we read or hear in the news.

What we can do is concentrate on developing peace and calm in our own lives and sharing that with others.  As we grow in mindfulness through mindful practice we can create positive energy for those around us. Our energy field impacts others and is amplified through interaction with others, both virtually and face-to-face.

We can lessen the negative impact of news on our lives by reducing the frequency with which we access news and/or by offsetting the negative news with a daily feed of positive and inspirational news such as that provided by sites like KindSpring or DailyGood.

KindSpring, for example, describes its purpose as follows:

KindSpring is a place to practice small acts of kindness. For over a decade the KindSpring user community has focused on inner transformation, while collectively changing the world with generosity, gratitude, and trust. The site is 100% volunteer-run and totally non-commercial. It is a shared labor of love.  (Emphasis eadded)

We have a choice about how we spend our time daily – we can intensify our distractions and emotional disturbance through feasting on the news or grow mindfulness through mindful practice and impact the world around us in positive ways while achieving happiness in our own lives.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

When We Fear the Worst

So often we become anxious about something that is about to happen and yet our worst fear is never realised.

The problem is that our brains tend towards the negative as a means of self-defence.  The amygdala, that part of our brain that perceives threat, sets us up for a fight or flight response.  We either brace for a fight (physically or mentally) or we plan our exit strategy (our flight path).

What appears as a threat to one person may be perceived as a challenge or opportunity by another.  We perceive the same event differently because of what is going on in our heads.

This tendency to fear the worst can happen in the midst of our everyday lives – a call to the office of the boss, an interview for a job, a future encounter with someone in authority or a potential discussion with our partner.

We might be expecting a phone call and begin to anticipate the worst, so we get ready with our arguments to defend ourselves.  So often our worst fears are not realised and we have exhausted our energy being unnecessarily anxious.  Some wise person once said something like this, “I have lived many experiences, and only a few of them really happened.”

As we grow in mindfulness, we learn to manage our thoughts and anxieties and to develop calmness and the associated peace that comes with a still mind.

Image source: Courtesy of Engin_Akyurt on Pixabay