wonder how we manage to juggle the pieces of our lives and honourably hold up our responsibilities to family, friends, work, our health, our financial well-being, as well as lead full and satisfying lives? It sometimes doesn’t take much to unsettle the delicate balance of forces that constellate as our world, sending it off into a wobble, leaving us struggling to right the course. How do we find a way back?
One route is in practising mindfulness-based stress reduction. Intensive training in mindfulness meditation can cultivate states of relaxation, improve physical symptoms of pain and chronic illness, open our minds to greater insight, and enhance our physical health and sense of well-being for fuller, more satisfying lives.
The course originated twenty years ago with Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the Center for Mindfulness at UMassMemorial Medical Center in Worcester. This form of meditation practice stems primarily from the Buddhist tradition and was intended as a means of cultivating greater awareness and wisdom, helping people to live each moment of their lives as fully as possible. While some forms of meditation involve focusing on a sound or phrase in order to reduce distracting thoughts, mindfulness training does the opposite. In mindfulness meditation, you don’t ignore distracting thoughts, sensations or physical discomfort, rather, you focus on them.
An integral part of mindfulness practice is to look at, accept and actually welcome the tensions, stress and
pain, as well as disturbing emotions that surface such as fear, anger, disappointment and feelings of
insecurity and unworthiness. This is done with the purpose of acknowledging present moment reality as it is
found – whether it is pleasant or unpleasant – as the first step towards transforming that reality and one’s
relationship to it.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction also includes the practice of yoga. Yoga encourages musculoskeletal
strength, flexibility and balance, as well as inner stillness. It can both relax and energize. Applied in
conjunction with mindfulness techniques, yoga is a gentle but powerful form of body-oriented meditation.
With continued practice, one can begin to fully inhabit the body, pay closer attention to its fluctuating states
and learn to cultivate an early warning system for the presence of stress, tension or pain. With an attitude of
mindfulness to both body and mind states, one has more information to work within potentially handling the
day-to-day stressful events in life.
Can thoughts in the mind and tension in the body actually have the capacity to produce bodily symptoms?
There is growing evidence that by implementing mind/body techniques, the mind and body are capable of
relaxing, new perspectives can be gained, and new ways of coping with one’s life can be achieved that can
impact symptoms – like gastritis. Dean Ornish, M.D., author of Dr Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart
The disease provides scientific proof in his landmark research demonstrating, for the first time, that even severe
heart disease often can be reversed by practising meditation, yoga, changing one’s diet and participating in
Research on the impact of mindfulness meditation on a variety of symptoms including anxiety disorder,
chronic pain and psoriasis has been conducted over the past 20 years by Dr Kabat-Zinn. He states that
“participants report a sharp drop over the eight-week course in the number of medical symptoms originally
reported, as well as psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and hostility. These improvements
occur reproducibly in the majority of participants in every class. They also occur regardless of diagnosis,
suggesting that the program is relevant to people with a wide range of medical disorders and life situations.”