Posts Tagged ‘Meditation’
What is Mindfulness based meditation?
Mindfulness based meditation has been around for thousands of years. Whereas modern mindfulness practice has some origins in the Buddhist tradition, one does not need to subscribe to any particular faith to practice it. Mindulfness is defined as “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”. Don’t let the language used to describe it put you off….
On first look, the idea of paying MORE attention to ones pain may not initially make sense to someone suffering from it. But by paying attention to pain, Professor Mark Williams (writing in his introduction to the book, ‘Mindfulness for Health’) we become aware of the“very subtle processes which switch on automatically to turn up the volume of the very pain you want to get rid of. It is because these aggravating factors switch on automatically, without your awareness, that the spotlight of attention is needed. If it all happens ‘in the dark’ you remain lost and alone with your pain. But if you can shine a light of attention upon your suffering, then it begins to dissolve.”
There’s evidence of its effectiveness in the treatment of the symptoms of arthritis, fibromyalgia and low back pain, and also in depression and anxiety.
Most studies of the use of this type of Mindfulness are based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn a Massachusetts based scientist. His work demonstrated the effectiveness of mindfulness in reducing pain and the emotional reaction to pain in the setting of an 8 week course. Meditation Courses like this (i.e. specifically designed for chronic pain sufferers) are not widely available but thankfully there are now a number of web-based / distance learning programmes available (see resources below).
There’s also variety of helpful guided meditation apps, CD’s and books. Although most of the available evidence that confirms the effectiveness of Mindfulness is based on those attending formal classes with a teacher (we don’t yet know how effective other means of learning mindfulness are yet), these resources are an excellent place to start.
Firstly, Here’s some videos I recorded about Mindfulness and pain management.
Please support your local bookseller by purchasing these locally. Dubray books don’t charge for postage if you pick up in-store.
This book is based on an 8 week course designed specifically with sufferers of chronic pain in mind. Written by two people who have used mindfulness to help ease their pain and help them cope with it, this an excellent book and primer for those interested in learning more. Included with the book is a CD with guided meditation to get you started.
Jon Kabat Zin is the Massachusetts based scientist and researcher who is largely credited with introducing mindfulness to Western Medicine.
Headspace (Paid app after 10 days free). This is a really user friendly app (iPhone and Android) with great video animations which help explain mindfulness. Not specifically for chronic pain but excellent modules on stress and anxiety. I use this one myself daily.
Insight timer Free app for iPhone and Android with a variety of different meditation teachers and styles of meditation and a handy meditation timer. In-app purchases available
There is a great article written by Galway (NUI Galway) psychologist Michael Hogan describing the research on the use of mindfulness in pain management. Michael and his team have done some research on the effectiveness of a Web based pain management programme using mindfulness. Links to the audio files used as part of the course are also online.
This is the organisation who run the courses on which the Mindfulness for Health book are based. Great resource (mainly UK)
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”.
So said Blaise Pascal way back in the sixteen hundreds.
Last month, to the great amusement of some of my surgical colleagues, I attended a meditation workshop at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. It was delivered by Brother Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk and world leader in the practice of meditation.
Left to themselves, our minds tend to wander, continually reminiscing and ruminating about the past, anticipating and planning thefuture. When moments present themselves where we might have the opportunity to pause, there are now almost infinite ways of distracting ourselves using new technologies. The net result is that the present moment tends to get squeezed out. Therefore we tend to live in a state, Brother Freeman describes, of imperceptible disconnectedness. This lack of situational awareness may even lead to medical errors – one of the reasons that the “art of paying attention” is receiving so much attention in medical quality and safety circles.
This year my wife and I decided to compile a list of all of the holidays we’ve had since we had kids. Its a nice list and we’re lucky to have travelled as well as we have.
I always get excited about going. There’s the anticipation of down-time away from work (and other peoples’ problems), time for relaxation, sleeping, eating, reading, and some quality time with my family. Life is just going to be better on holidays. I just know it is going to be. Of course it is.
But as Robert Louis Stephenson said , ‘It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive’.
A few days after my arrival, I eventually ‘land’. My initial holiday euphoria is fairly predictably replaced by a familiar funk of low mood, anhedonia, irritability and impatience. I am, as my wife often reminds me (usually after the event – I am usually far too irritable to receive criticism at that stage) ‘difficult to be around’. Although the mood inevitably lifts, it has spoilt a few otherwise perfectly good family holidays.
A few of my friends have confided similar experiences. A spouse of one of them even suggested that we all (‘the miserables’) all go a way for a few days and be fed up together instead of inflicting ourselves on our respective families.
Whereas it is well recognised that those prone to low moods in the darker months don’t like Christmas Holidays much but there is very little written about why middle aged men get depressed in up market resorts in Portugal.
I have come to the conclusion that we doctors are a bit like actors and other performers; we thrive well in an environment of high drama where there’s adulation on offer and can become quite dependant on it. Without the warm balm of that appreciative audience (families can find it hard to sustain adulation for anything more than a few days), a certain emptiness can take hold and whatever the ‘emotional dust’ we may have swept under the carpet between holidays tends to become visible.
Over the last few years though I have developed some tricks to reduce the feeling and to cope better with it when it comes. I think I’ve got it cracked.
1. Don’t expect you holidays to make you happy. Live your life as it happens, seeking enjoyment and relaxation on a day to day basis and don’t save it up for a few weeks in the Sun every August. It sounds trite but its true.I’ve found meditation great in this regard. It allows you take a holiday from yourself, every day.
2. Adjusting to a high pressure environment of work to the low pressure environment of holidays should be done gradually – like a diver resurfacing trying to avoid the bends. Although its hard, try not to overdo it work wise in the week before you go. If possible spend a few days at home before you jump on a plane or pack the car up.
3. Avoid the temptation to overbook the first few days after you come back. Adjusting from high pressure to low pressure can be hard but the reverse is even harder. The anticipation of knowing that you’re about to return to a crazy schedule can spoil the end of your holiday.
4. Disconnect from all forms of communication. I either bring a disposable ‘pay as you go’ phone or set my phone up to only receive calls from family members. No email, no social media, no internet browsing. Read some fiction and avoid all forms of reading that will return your mind to the workplace. This allows the problem solving side of your brain a chance to recover.
5. Try and take it easy on the booze – you may feel like rewarding yourself with a few extra drinks (especially on the first few evenings) but this only worsens the land when it comes.
6. Try and give yourself a daily holiday routine as doctors (and other workaholics) don’t do well with unstructured time. For me it involves getting up early and having some time to myself before the family wakes, a light breakfast followed by some exercise. Knowing that you will have some protected time for yourself will also can help you cope with the demands of the childcare later. Which you’ll definitely get asked to do if you’ve done all of the above.
7. If you begin to feel low, don’t panic. For those of us who have experienced clinical depression the feeling can be particularly frightening as it may be reminiscent of previous episodes. Let yourself fall and reassure yourself that the feeling is likely to be temporary. It will pass (all the usual advice about attending your own doctor applies if it doesn’t).
If you already enjoy your holidays and cannot identify with any of the above, I’m happy for you. But spare a thought for the sad looking guy at the pool bar. And tell him to take it easy on the booze…