IS YOUR MIND FULL OR ARE YOU MINDFUL?
Jaisa Sulit tells us how mindfulness can help us with pain, anxiety and depression. Many of us met Jaisa during a Virtual Peer Session on Mindfulness. The information in this blog was pulled from this session, which you can find on YouTube—we encourage you to watch it!
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness is about choosing to pay attention to the present moment with kindness and curiosity. It’s about paying attention without any judgement at all, and accepting whatever is occurring—this can be sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings.
We can practice formally or informally. Formal mindfulness is when we take time out of our day to bring accepting, non-judgemental awareness into our day, like during a sitting meditation. Informal mindfulness is bringing awareness to whatever we’re doing, such as being mindful while walking the dog, or eating dinner. Practising both formal and informal mindfulness is extremely beneficial.
One Peer, Peter reports that he’s mindful even when he’s making his coffee in the morning. He really enjoys the process and doesn’t rush. He knows that living with a disability requires more patience, and has put a lot of work into changing his path to be more mindful of the things he appreciates.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS?
It can help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, reduce chronic pain and help with insomnia. Mindfulness can also improve quality of sleep, and help to make our minds more peaceful.
OUR BUSY, BUSY MINDS!
As soon as we start to meditate, what we notice almost immediately is that our minds are very busy! We have A LOT of thoughts, feelings and perceptions coming into our awareness one after another, and that’s okay!
Our minds just naturally wander as we process everything, and we can’t force ourselves to stop thinking. We know that putting our difficult feelings on the back burner, or distracting ourselves from them, doesn’t make them go away. When we suppress our emotions it’s like putting a lid on them, the energy stays stagnant in our bodies which then creates pain and fatigue.
When we meditate, we practice being aware of whatever we’re thinking and feeling without judgement, and with curiosity and kindness. We might notice our mind is on the future, planning and worrying. We might be stuck on the past “What if I said this, or what if he did that?” Or sometimes we have really difficult thoughts like: “I’m feeling worse, this is too much.”
Jaisa suggests we imagine our thoughts as being like cars on a train.
- This 3 minute meditation of Jaisa’s helps us watch our train of thoughts come and go
- And, here’s another three minute meditation to help us let go of trains of thought
With mindfulness we notice all of our thoughts, and realize that they are just thoughts and not facts. When we look at them like this, we create a bit of distance by stepping back and observing. We start to separate ourselves from them, and then we stop identifying with them. When we practice this, we’re watching what’s in our head, rather than being in our head.
LETTING GO, A FOUNDATIONAL ASPECT OF MINDFULNESS
When we practice mindfulness we notice that our thoughts and emotions are actually very fleeting—that they aren’t permanent.
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist whose own stroke led to enlightenment, refers to a research study in her book entitled My Stroke of Insight, which shows that emotions last for only 90 seconds. We think they last a lot longer because we tend to hold onto the thoughts and feelings associated with the emotions—and this makes the sensations carry on and on.
Letting go of our feelings and judgement about a situation will help us deal with difficult emotions. This is one of the foundational aspects of mindfulness.
- Here is a 3 minute meditation that helps us learn how to cultivate curiosity about whatever is occurring
TRUSTING THE BREATH
Breath is always occurring in the present, which is why we like to focus on the breath when meditating. Focusing on the breath naturally calms the mind. Our breath is a free pill with no side effects.
When you are breathing ask yourself how you’re feeling. Take a few seconds to accept those feelings and inhale those feelings in, then exhale them out. Set an intention for yourself to bring mindfulness in.
Our mind will wander naturally, but notice that the breath is always there to return your attention to. It anchors the wandering mind.
HOW DOES MINDFULNESS HELP WITH PAIN?
Pain is complex. Research shows that with chronic pain over time there’s something called Pain Attentional Bias, which is a learned pattern. Our bodies see pain as a threat, so we pay more attention to it – it becomes a learned bias. The good news is, we can unlearn it. We can change the way we relate the pain, we can control how we meet the pain. The way we can unlearn this bias is to have an accepting relationship with pain.
Accepting my pain?! Many people feel this is radical. However, when we’re able to be with our pain, it puts our nervous system into a parasympathetic mode—which acts like a brake in a car, and promotes a response that calms the body down. When we do this, it allows us to let go and pay attention to other things in our lives.
Another Peer, Steven noted that when he accepted the pain he was feeling during rehabilitation as a part of the process, it helped him tremendously.
When we practice mindfulness formally and informally, our awareness increases for everything else—what we’re seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting. The awareness of the things that bother us become smaller when we are able to expand our awareness to everything around us.
We learn to pay attention to what we want, when we want. Then the pain won’t be the only thing in our awareness.
When we’re mindful and present, we tend to enjoy things more. When we practice time and again we’re gaining familiarity with this mindful curiosity and kindness. Like anything else, the more we do it, the better we get. So, when we practice cultivating this mindfulness time and again, it becomes easier and more natural, and eventually it weaves its way into our everyday life.
For more information about Jaisa, you can visit her website here.