I may be the only person I know who uses on a daily basis the information explored in his or her doctoral thesis — and enjoys sharing it with my clients. As a health professional, you may also be interested in the study of resilience — how the average person manages to cope effectively with daily stresses and successfully adapts to loss, adversity, and other conflicts and struggles of life.
The cultivation of mindfulness – the ability to focus in an open, relaxed way on present moment experience – is one of the most practical and powerful ways I know to develop resilience. Studies show that mindfulness is a powerful way to take a break from stressful thoughts and gain perspective before you react or respond. People who exhibit greater mindfulness tend to enjoy greater satisfaction and intimacy in relationships and deal with relationship stress more constructively.
Here are three ways that both you and your patients can quickly and easily translate the mind-body benefits of mindfulness into your everyday life and relationships.
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of mindful breathing — it is a very powerful stress reduction practice. Studies have found that mindful breathing has a profound effect on your physiology and can improve sleep and energy cycles, decrease anxiety, lower blood pressure, and even correct heart arrhythmias.
The Calming Breath is a very effective anti-anxiety technique and also helps my clients refresh and refocus, both mentally and physically. The first variation of the Calming Breath uses a 1:2 ratio, which means you’re inhaling for four counts and exhaling for eight counts. Much of the benefit of this breathing practice comes from keeping the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation.
I recently recorded a series of podcasts featuring a guided experience of the Calming Breath. Each podcast lasts two to three minutes and can be downloaded from my website for listening on a mobile device or computer. A number of my clients have used the Calming Breath to get through the anxiety of an MRI or uncomfortable dental procedures.
Mindful breathing cultivates the ability to concentrate in a relaxed way and provides a gateway to the added benefits of a mindfulness meditation practice. Mindfulness helps my clients tolerate and explore subjective experiences that may be uncertain, unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and paradoxical. It is not surprising that researchers have found that people who were more mindful throughout the day tended to also show enhanced self-awareness, were more able to regulate their behavior, and reported more positive emotional states. As therapist and author Stephen Cope puts it, meditation creates “a container to hold life in such a way that we are not shattered by it.”
For those who can spend 10 to 20 minutes in a comfortable seated or reclining position, I recorded a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) CD of four guided meditations that my clients use to help get to sleep, prepare mentally and emotionally for surgery, or help manage chronic pain.
You may recognize in yourself or your patients that the idea of sitting, uninterrupted and undisturbed, for 10 to 20 minutes is not the best place to start cultivating a mindfulness practice. Most of us have an “Inner Pusher” voice inside us that insists that we constantly be in a state of doing versus being. Besides, most of us are already plenty sedentary.
For some of my clients, a better place to start is with Mindful Walking. I modified this practice from the classical walking meditation (which involves walking extremely slowly and methodically) into a more practical experience that can be done almost anywhere. Translation: No one will mistake you for a zombie — you’ll be able to do this in public.
Begin your walk with a sense of gratefulness for the opportunity to cultivate mindfulness. Let your intention be to focus visually enough to be aware of your surroundings, but not distracted by them. As you walk along, let your attention rest on any or all of the following three awareness “anchors” that are connected to present moment experience: 1) sounds in your environment; 2) your breathing; and 3) sensations in your body. Whenever your attention wanders from one of these three awareness anchors, exchange “thinking” for “sensing” of sound, breath, and body and feel yourself returning to the here and now.
Dr. Jan Anderson is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her private practice includes over 15 years of experience counseling individuals, couples, and families.