Mindfulness and How To Do It
'What is mindfulness... Is it meditation?
Isn't it only monks that do that? I've tried it, I hate it. I couldn't do it.....'
These are many things I hear on a daily basis from my clients, family and friends when I ask if they’ve ever tried mindfulness.
Mindfulness for me is a focusing exercise for the mind. It is a skill that you have to train, in which you aim to find a state of consciousness that is calming and directs awareness inward. Imagine all your thoughts, worries and to do lists; are like clouds in the sky; mindfulness is a skill to let those clouds float away and find the blue clear sky hiding behind.
‘Fight or flight’. We’ve all heard of it, but what is it and when should it happen? It’s the bodies stress response to imminent danger, to allow us to confront and rise to the situation. Perfectly natural if you are being chased by a lion BUT It becomes a problem when this response is provoked by less dangerous, day to day events like money problems, relationships, work stresses, lack of sleep etc. When the levels of hormones associated with ‘fight or flight’ remain elevated by incorrect triggers they can affect psychological, metabolic and immune systems. (Ulrich-Lai & Herman, 2017) Mindfulness meditation has been linked to significantly lowering one of the raised hormones called cortisol. This suggests that it can lower stress and may decrease the risk of diseases that arise from it. (Turakitwanakan, Mekseepralard, Busarakumtragul, 2013)
It is definitely not a new technique but with the significant link between chronic pain, anxiety and quality of life, (Kroenke, Outcalt et al., 2013) it is for me as a practitioner an increasingly more important technique to teach with Pilates and Physiotherapy exercises.
Mindfulness is an umbrella term for many techniques for training the mind. I would like to touch on a couple of techniques that I would use for myself and would prescribe for my clients. Please also refer to the videos for a little more of an idea so you can try it at home.
- Relaxation breathing
Pilates and breathing go hand in hand…. Well they very much should do. I find often clients are so concentrated on the exercise they are doing that they forget to breath. It’s so common its untrue. With breath holding comes pressure, often stress or tension and therefore we ‘shoot ourselves in the foot’ by not having a relaxed breath during exercises; especially those that should elongate and reduce tension and therefore pain in our bodies.
Placing the hands on the belly, feeling the rise (on the inhale) and fall (on the exhale) can be very useful to reduce muscle tension and calming the mind, especially with counting each breath (from 1 to 10).
- Body scanning & progressive relaxation
I use body scanning to make clients aware of how their body’s feel in a none judgmental way. The aim is not to change anything, to not worry or analyse the feeling but to be able to ‘sit’ with what is there. Often after 5 breaths concentrating on a small part of the body, it will relax, feel different, you may create a better relationship with painful areas of the body, or just realise that you are holding tension there and organically release it.
I hope you have enjoyed reading a little about mindfulness. I have found headspace.com very helpful in my ability to practice. Enjoy the videos and see if you can really stick to it every day.
Kroenke K, Outcalt S, et al. (2013) Association between anxiety, health-related quality of life and functional impairment in primary care patients with chronic pain. General Hospital Psychiatry 35(4)
Turakitwanakan W1, Mekseepralard C, Busarakumtragul P. (2013) Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. J Med Assoc Thai. 96 Suppl 1:S90-5.
Ulrich-Lai, Yvonne M.; Herman, James P. (2017). "Neural Regulation of Endocrine and Autonomic Stress Responses". Nature reviews. Neuroscience. 10 (6): 397–409. doi:10.1038/nrn2647. ISSN 1471-003X. PMC 4240627. PMID 19469025.