Meditation can relieve pain, and it does so by activating multiple brain areas, according to an April 2011 study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Fadel Zeidan of Wake Forest University and his colleagues scanned people’s brains as they received uncomfortably hot touches to the leg. When subjects practiced a mindful meditation technique that encourages detachment from experience while focusing on breathing, they reported less pain than when they simply paid attention to their breathing. Likewise, different patterns of brain activity emerged under the two conditions, with mindful meditating resulting in more activity not only in executive centers that evaluate experiences and regulate emotions but also in lower regions that control the signals coming from the body.
The volunteers learned the meditation technique in only four 20-minute sessions, which means this pill-free analgesia could be a feasible way to help real patients suffering from pain. “People can reap some of the benefits of meditation without extensive training,” Zeidan says.
When I work with patients using mindfulness I start by asking who has experience with any type of meditation, breathing techniques and/or relaxation exercises. We than have a brief explanation and question and answer period and I focus on removing any doubt, fear, or skepticism. I usually than do a 10 to 12 minute body scan moving right into a mindful meditation that focuses on the breath.
With the co-occurring patients I work with this process seems to work the best. The chat in the beginning warms people up, the body scan relaxes which helps the meditators enter into a more meditative state.
In mindfulness, you learn to see thoughts as just thoughts rather than as facts or situations you must react to. Thoughts commonly come and go in the mind, and if you treat all thoughts as true and assign them all the same level of importance, you’re more prone to feel down in the midst of negative or self-judgmental thoughts and highly elated in the midst of positive thoughts. This rollercoaster ride of emotions and energy often seems to trace the same path as bipolar disorder’s ups and downs.
By practicing mindfulness, you notice that both types of thoughts are just thoughts, and you don’t need to react to them or even give them your full attention. After all, thoughts arise merely out of your perception of reality or are borne out of your own thought process. You’re not required to give them the full status of being true. Mindfulness involves watching thoughts and stepping back from them – like watching clouds passing through the sky. This enables you to become a disinterested observer, and thoughts lose some of their control over your emotions.
Switching modes of mind
Mindfulness also emphasizes learning to switch modes of mind. Normally you operate in “doing mode,” which is all about setting goals and trying to achieve them. Many people get stuck in this mode and never realize they have the option of shifting to “being mode,” which is all about allowing and accepting things just as they are, rather than working hard to change them.
Being mode is particularly helpful in the realm of emotions. If you’re feeling sad and don’t accept it, you can end up fighting to change the experience. This can lead to a deeper feeling of sadness and trigger a negative thought cycle. By being with the experience and mindfully accepting the emotion, you allow the feeling to dissipate in its own time.
Mindfulness looks like a potentially effective way of managing bipolar disorder, especially the depressive pole, which may be the most difficult to treat with medication alone. Mindfulness exercises and meditations are useful for people with bipolar disorder (manic depression) because mindfulness:
- Decreases the relapse rate for depression.
- Reduces stress and anxiety, which contribute significantly to the onset of both mania and depression and may worsen the course of the illness.
- Improves a person’s ability to manage thoughts and feelings and increases awareness of the way the person tends to internalize external stimuli.
Mindfulness exercises include guided body scan meditation, mindful walking, mindfulness of breath, and mindfulness of thoughts and feelings.
A study of students in California universities showed that those who practiced a bit of meditation in their personal lives performed better on tests. This applied to students who practice the art of Zen, as well as those who simply meditate for a few minutes before class.
The research, published in the journal Mindfulness, showed that meditation worked best for first year students, which led researchers to speculate that younger students tend to struggle with concentration more.
Professor Robert Youmans, of George Mason University in Virginia, co-lead the study with University of Illinois doctoral student Jared Ramsburg. According to Professor Youmans:
“One difficulty for researchers who study meditation is that the supposed benefits of meditation do not always replicate across different studies or populations, and so we have been trying to figure out why. This data from this study suggest that meditation may help students who might have trouble paying attention or focusing. Sadly, freshmen classes probably contain more of these types of students than senior courses because student populations who have difficulty self-regulating are also more likely to leave the university.”
The researchers said that coaching students on proper meditation could improve academic results. Ramsburg’s own personal experiences inspired him to undertake the study (he is a Buddhist).
“I think that if mindfulness can improve mental clarity, focus and self-discipline, then it might be useful in a variety of settings and for a variety of goals.”
For anyone uncomfortable with meditation (even though it is not necessarily a religious practice), Ramsburg says that taking long walks in the morning before you start your day could inspire the same outcome.
“Basically, becoming just a little bit more mindful about yourself and your place in the world might have a very important, practical benefit – in this case, doing better in college.”
I started engaging in relaxation tools as a teenage in the mid 1070’s when I first started practicing Hatha and Raja Yoga. After 38 years I can say with confidence that it works for me. Since 1983 amongst other things I have taught Hatha Yoga, and relaxation techniques.
In the past 30 years, there has been considerable interest in the relaxation response and how inducing this state may benefit health. Research has focused primarily on illness and conditions in which stress may play a role either as the cause of the condition or as a factor that can make the condition worse.
Currently, there is some scientific evidence that relaxation techniques may be an effective part of an overall treatment plan for some disorders, including:
- Anxiety. Studies have suggested that relaxation may assist in the treatment of phobias or panic disorder. Relaxation techniques have also been used to relieve anxiety for people in stressful situations, such as when undergoing a medical procedure.
- Depression. In 2008, a major review of the evidence for relaxation in the treatment of depression found that relaxation techniques were more effective than no treatment for depression, but not as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
- Headache. There is some evidence that biofeedback and other relaxation techniques may be helpful for relieving tension or migraine headaches. In some cases, these mind and body techniques were more effective than medications for reducing the frequency, intensity, and severity of headaches.
- Pain. Some studies have shown that relaxation techniques may help reduce abdominal and surgery pain.
Relaxation involves practice and willingness to fully engage in the process of relaxing. Stay tuned for some great relaxing tools.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a concentrated state of awareness that can help us see and respond to situations with clarity and without getting carried away by emotions or the constant chatter in our heads. Mindfulness enables us to:
· Better manage tension and stress
· Enhance objectivity, mental focus
· Communicate and make decisions more effectively
· Improve productivity
· Quiet’s noise in the mind
Meditation is the tool we use to cultivate mindfulness. With meditation, you intentionally pay attention to a particular object as a way to strengthen concentration. There are thousands of meditative techniques: Tai Chi, yoga, focusing on the breath and using a mantra are all examples. People often think that meditating “correctly” means clearing all thought from the mind. This is a myth. The mind never stops thinking – it’s when we get caught up in our thoughts that we lose mindfulness. By witnessing thoughts, allowing them to pass, and returning to your chosen object of focus, you can actually build the muscle of concentration. Think of meditation as a fitness routine for the mind.
Are there other benefits to mindfulness?
In addition to boosting brain power, numerous research studies have shown significant physical benefits including:
· Reduced blood pressure
· Lowered cholesterol levels
· Enhanced immune function
· Reduced headache, migraine, back pain
· Improved respiratory function
Mindfulness does not require a particular set of beliefs in order to learn and practice – it is a quality of mind, accessible and available to all.
Mindfulness allows us to live every moment fully without the filters of bias, judgment or emotional reaction.
Mindfulness helps the body cope with physical challenges such as headaches, back pain and even heart disease.
Mindfulness keeps us from reacting too quickly – it helps increase the gap between impulse and action.