Practicing Mindfulness May Help Reduce Pain And Stress

“Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice which has profound relevance for our present-day lives.  This relevance has nothing to do with Buddhism per se…but has everything to do with waking up and living in harmony with oneself and with the world.  It has to do with examining who we are, with questioning our view of the world and our place in it, and with cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment we are alive.  Most of all, it has to do with being in touch.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

Bill Moyers first introduced me to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, on his PBS special “Healing and the Mind.” I was intrigued by the concept of reducing stress, pain and illness with Zinn’s “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” that combined yoga and meditation.

The ability to train my brain to reduce pain, stress and illness seemed like it was well worth the effort.

So when I attended last year’s Women’s Health Symposium in Philadelphia, and learned that one of the breakout sessions would be about mindfulness, I was thrilled. The speaker, Alene Brennan, is a certified health coach and yoga instructor who studied with Dr. Andrew WeilDeepak Chopra and Bernie Siegel.

Here was our first exercise.  Why don’t you try it?

Get comfortable in your chair.  Close your eyes and think about this simple question:

What is on your mind right now?

What were you thinking about?  Was it the 10 things you should be doing right now?  Did you think about what’s going on at home or at work, or what you need to pick up at the grocery store?

This simple exercise demonstrates how we are able to disengage for a moment to pay attention to what we are thinking. We need to ask ourselves what we’re sacrificing while we’re thinking about 10 thoughts at once.

Do you sometimes feel disengaged because you’re not living fully in the moment, and because of that you are unable to enjoy that moment?

Do you feel that is life passing you by?

I loved Alene’s quote illustrating this point:

“Yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future, and today is a gift.  That is why today is called the present.”

We all need to be mindful in everything we do.  We need to acknowledge the busy lives we lead, realize that multitasking is the land of make-believe, and that it’s impossible to juggle 10 things at once.

Something will always suffer.

Are you paying full attention to your children while you’re talking on your cell phones? Are you listening to your spouse while you’re returning a text?  Are you hearing the news commentator on TV while you check your emails?

Each of us has the ability to teach ourselves how to deliberately and non-judgmentally pay attention to what is happening right now – at this moment – at what’s in front of us.

We can make that change by training our minds to live in the moment.

Begin practicing mindfulness by noticing when you are lost in your thoughts.  Take a moment, stop yourself and then redirect your thoughts by bringing yourself back into the moment.

You can allow your senses to help you become more mindful.  Focus on what is around you.  Look at the beautiful sky (sight) and smell the freshly cut flowers (smell). Listen to the music playing (sound) and lovingly stroke your pet (touch). Play around with your senses to find the one that helps bring you back to this moment.

Here was our next exercise: 

Sit up tall on the edge of your chair, and pay close attention to your breath.  Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.  Focus on your breathing, in and out, and notice how you feel.

Try to take time to notice your breathing on a daily basis.  This is the beginning of creating mindfulness.

Mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful eating and even mindful driving can all help to alleviate anger and anxiety.  They create a sense of calm and joy, allowing you to enjoy each and every moment of your life.

Are you mindful of your thoughts and activities?

To learn more about Mindfulness check out Jon Kabat-Zinn’s many bestsellers, including Wherever You Go There You Are and Full Catastrophe Living: Using The Wisdom Of Your Body And Mind To Face Stress, Pain and Illness.

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