Mindfulness and the Mind-Body Connection

Dr. Cheryl Rezek, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, in her video presentation, What is mindfulness, stresses the connection between mind and body.  She highlights the fact that stress is not only experienced in the mind through perception of threat but also in the body in the form of stomach aches, headaches, pain in the shoulder or other parts of the body and many forms of physical illnesses.  Cheryl draws on neuroscience research to demonstrate the positive impact of mindfulness on the body and the brain.

What is mindfulness?

Cheryl discusses mindfulness in terms of “focus with intention” – designed to become more aware of what is happening inside of us as well as around us. She stresses the role of context in shaping who and what we are.  In her own practice and research, she seeks to integrate insights from biology, sociology and psychology – a holistic perspective on the forces shaping our makeup and the way we experience the world.  For example, like Johann Hari, she sees negative childhood experiences as contributing to the likelihood of experiencing depression in adulthood.  Our social environment – whether family, work or community, in isolation or conjointly – shape our perceptions.  Cheryl’s holistic approach is reflected in her training in the interrelated disciplines of clinical psychology, psychotherapy, play therapy, family therapy and mindfulness.

She reminds us that children are naturally mindful as they negotiate their world – they are curious and open, asking questions, exploring nature and wondering about their own bodily sensations.  I recall recently playing tennis with my grandson in a clearing in a wooded area while my granddaughter sat on the grass and explored everything in her immediate environment- the grass, wildflowers, leaves and anything that wriggled or moved.  Her attention was totally focused for an hour on whatever she could see, touch or smell.

Applications of mindfulness

In her presentation, Cheryl discusses the numerous applications of mindfulness – from dealing with chronic pain to managing mental illness.  Her own writings reflect this diversity of mindfulness applications.  For instance, she talks about how mindfulness can help people manage contracting cancer and undergoing treatment – her ideas are explained in her book, Managing Cancer Symptoms: the Mindful WayShe also discusses the application of mindfulness to dealing with Anxiety and Depression.

Cheryl stresses the importance of seeing mindfulness in its broadest context – not confined to the act of meditation but extending to being mindful in our everyday activities such as walking, listening, eating, attending meetings, waiting and washing the dishes.  She offers an app, iMindfulness on the go, to encourage people to be mindful when in transit or engaging in any of their daily activities.

As we grow in mindfulness, we become aware of the opportunities to be mindful in our everyday activities.  Practice of simple mindfulness activities builds our inner and outer awareness and helps us to better navigate the stresses of life.

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Image – Painting by a Chinese-born artist who experiences the mental health condition of Schizophrenia

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

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Post-Holiday Blues

If you have recently returned from a holiday away, the normal reaction is to focus on the loss resulting from your return home.  You might miss the break away from work and home responsibilities, the free time, the opportunity to see new things, meet new people and have time to yourself.

People often feel sad at the end of a holiday, wishing they had made better use of their break, visited some particular attraction or brought a particular item of clothing that they really liked.

So we can experience depression by focusing on our recent past holiday which invariably “seemed to go all too quickly”.

You might also not be looking forward to the responsibilities of work, the time pressures, the repetition that is present in any job, the pressure to produce, unfinished business from the time before you went away and the inevitable conflict with one or more colleagues, staff or clients/ customers.

This focus, in turn, can make us anxious as we look to the future and all the demands we expect to be placed on us.

Alternatively, we can avoid depression and anxiety by focusing on the present moment, appreciating what we do have – health, home, family, work and friends.

We could express gratitude for the time we did have away, all the individual activities that brought joy and happiness, the highlights that we really value and the. companionship we enjoyed.

We could focus on the precious moments when we were able to stop and be mindful in the presence of nature’s stunning variety and beauty, the ingenuity of men and women, the artistry of sculptors and artists of long ago or the magnificence of architecture we observed.

We might also express empathy and compassion for those who had real loss and grief during the holiday period – the loss of family members through accidents or illness or suicide, the break-up of an intimate relationship or a fracture of the relationship with a son or daughter or other family member.

Appreciating what we do have, being grateful for what we were able to experience on our holiday and/or thinking empathetically about others and their loss, can take us outside of our self-focus and enable us to experience the richness of the present moment in our lives.

As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to savour the present moment and avoid depression resulting from a focus on the past or anxiety arising from a focus on the future.

We can learn a lot from Holly Butcher who died on 4 January 2018, at the age of 27, from a rare form of cancer and had written a powerful letter just before her death which her family published on her Facebook page the day she died.  Some of her comments are especially relevant for the topic of this blog post:

Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months), just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is annoying but try not to carry on about it and negatively effect other people’s days…

I hear people complaining about how terrible work is or about how hard it is to exercise – Be grateful you are physically able to. Work and exercise may seem like such trivial things … until your body doesn’t allow you to do either of them.

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

 

Dying for Tomorrow or Living Today?

In February 2016, news.com.au reported on the story of Jake Bailey who got out of his hospital bed to deliver his Captain’s address at the 2015 Christchurch Boys’ High School Prize Giving ceremony.  Jake, in his final year, had been diagnosed with cancer and was on his fourth chemotherapy treatment when he left his hospital bed to give the speech.

Despite his illness, Jake passed the year 12 exams and expressed gratitude for the support he received from near and far.  His speech is very moving and, at times, confronting.  He makes the point that when you are confronted with death you are forced to reflect on who you are and what you are doing with your life.  In his own words, Jake reminds us that we so often overlook the present because we are so focused on tomorrow:

I was dying for the weekends, I was dying for the school holidays.  Before I knew it, I was dying.

Jake reminds us to be grateful for what we have and to live the present fully:

Here’s the thing – none of us get out of life alive. So be gallant, be great, be gracious, and be grateful for the opportunities that you have.

The full speech is available on YouTube and the video of his speech has been viewed by more than 1.7 million people at the time of writing this post.

Jake’s speech causes you to ask the question:

Are you dying for tomorrow or living today?

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com