By Alexis Eusterbrock, DPT, COMT, OCS
You have likely heard about mindfulness or been told you should be more mindful in daily life, but what does it really mean and how can you practice it successfully?
Mindfulness was defined by Jon Kabat Zinn PhD, the founder of mindfulness based stress reduction, as “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally to the unfolding experience, moment by moment.”
What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?
- Helps to maintain focus and attention
- Helps to generate less negative feelings surrounding pain
- Helps to cultivate acceptance
- Helps to become more aware of pain-free body areas
- Helps to reduce stress and improve ability to manage stress
- Helps to feel more at home in your body even if you are experiencing pain
- Helps to improve overall mood
- Helps to reduce anxiety and depression
- Helps to increase compassion
Who can benefit from a mindfulness practice?
- Those with high stress
- Those dealing with anxiety
- Individuals with chronic pain
- Those with mental illness
- Individuals who have suffered trauma
- Individuals who want to make a life change or change habits
- Anyone!!! You benefit even if you do not fit into one of the above categories.
How does mindfulness work?
There is growing research in varied patient populations to show that mindfulness actually changes the structure of our brains and positively influences how we process emotions and sensations. We know that chronic stress and/or chronic pain negatively impacts processing in our brain and can lead to anxiety, contributes to a poor ability to rationalize fears, emotions, and pain, impairs memory and learning, causes hypersensitivity to non-painful sensations, and can lead to depression. Mindfulness provides us with one tool to make changes in our body and brain without having to resort to heavy medication management.
How can you incorporate mindfulness into your life?
There are a number of resources available to help guide your practice of mindfulness. The benefits of mindfulness can be gained through practicing even short durations regularly. Practices of mindfulness can be self-guided such as breath focused exercises or walking mindfulness meditation, or be guided meditations. Guided meditations have different focuses to fit your needs such as body scans, loving-kindness, and observing thought. If you are struggling with determining the right practice for you, there are a number of local professionals who can help. Remember to be kind to yourself and flexible in the process of establishing a self-practice! It is important to make the practice work for you, your needs, and your lifestyle to be most effective and to maintain adherence.
Included below are some book, website, and app suggestions to help start and guide your practice.
– You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Restore – Well-being by V. Burch and D. Penman.
– How to Meditate by P. Chodron
– Smiling Mind
– The Mindfulness App
– Stop, Breathe, Think
McManus, Carolyn, PT, MS, MA. Mindfulness-based biopsychosocial approach to the treatment of chronic pain. Course manual November 2018.