Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Immersion in Mind-Body Medicine and Mindfulness Meditation

Earlier this month I had the good fortune to be able to attend a five day training in Mind-Body Medicine. The training was extensive, professional, personal, and inspiring. I have used bits and pieces of Mind-Body techniques with clients in the past, and knew by observation and client feedback that they are wonderful at reducing stress. I have done yoga poses with teens to begin or end a session, taught deep breathing, and used art to heal.

I enrolled in the training with The Center for Mind-Body Medicine because I was enthusiastic about learning more about the science behind the Mind-Body Connection. I am a scientist by nature, and although I had experienced the benefits of mind-body work myself, part of me was still holding out for "proof".

Proof I got. Every single session we had- on exercise, nutrition, guided imagery, drawing, spirituality, and meditation was supported by detailed written materials and well-done research. After the large group presentations, we went into small groups to learn more and practice the various techniques. A great way to learn by doing!
You don't have to meditate like this

At the beginning of every large and small group session we did a brief three minute Mindfulness Meditation. I was amazed at how calming yet energizing this simple practice was for me. I have always "fought" the concept of meditation, probably because years ago my first attempts at it were in Concentrative Meditation, meaning that the goal is to focus on a particular object or sound. Back then I also pictured that meditating "properly" needed to include burning incense on a shrine and wearing long flowing robes.
That was the end of my attempts at meditation for several decades. Instead I used running, walking or gardening as my meditative time.

Although those activities are extremely calming, I found I benefited tremendously from the brief, guided mindfulness meditation we were led through in regular hotel conference room chairs. It relaxed me after the morning rush to get to training at 8:30 a.m., and eliminated those annoying thoughts that are always flying through my head (did I pay the Mastercard bill, did I remember to reschedule the dentist appointment, have I forgotten my nieces birthday...)

After just three to four minutes of deep breathing and mindful meditation, I felt restored and ready to learn. Meditation is scientifically demonstrated to increase in the body's ability to heal,  and shift from a tendency to use the right prefrontal cortex to a tendency to use the left prefrontal cortex. Why care which cortex is being used?  Because this shift in cortical use is associated with a trend away from depression and anxiety and towards happiness, relaxation, and emotional balance. Not bad!

I came home from five days of 10 hours of learning  rested and calm. I attribute much of the calm to the practice of these brief meditations. It's been almost three weeks since I returned from the training program. I have worked hard to maintain my "new calm". I am not quite where I would like to be, but I much more relaxed than I was pre-trip. What I find to be amazing is that by simply reminding myself that I can feel better in just a few minutes, I regain much of the serenity I gained while I was meditating regularly.

It has been rewarding and fun to incorporate my new-found Mind-Body work into therapy sessions with the incredible clients that I work with.

Steps of Mindfulness Meditation

1. Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight.
2. Direct your attention to your breathing.
3. When thoughts, emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them, giving them the space to come and go without judging or getting involved with them.
4. When you notice that your attention has drifted off and become engaged in thoughts or feelings, simply bring it back to your breathing and continue.

• Remember... it's ok and natural for thoughts to arise, and for your attention to follow them. No matter how many times this happens, just keep bringing your attention back to your breathing.

Try this even for three to four minutes once a day, and see how you feel. 
Let us know how it worked for you.



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