Category Archives: Mindfulness

25Nov/17
Overcome dystonia and live life

Why mindfulness can help dystonia

Overcome dystonia and live life

There has been huge hype over mindfulness for the past few years. It is important that now we establish what we really know and what has been shown to be true. There are a couple of very important effects that are of great benefit. I will talk about these shortly, and in particular how these can be useful as part of a training and coaching programme to overcome dystonia. Before we look at how mindfulness can help dystonia, let’s consider mindfulness and a key feature of dystonia.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply being aware, being present, yet not judging. You are not trying to get anywhere, be anything different or trying to achieve anything. Mindfulness just is. This may sound a little vacuous but this is the truth. In trying to get somewhere or be something, you are missing what is actually happening right now. To be mindful is to accept all thoughts, feelings and emotions as they arise and as they pass. We spend a lot of time in the past or future in our thinking, which is entirely embodied, instead of seeing and being aware of what is really happening in this moment, the only moment.

In being mindful, we often feel a sense of calm and clarity because we are not embroiled within the emotional state. Instead we are aware and feel the feelings but they do not control, or hijack us. This clarity permits us to make best choices with full awareness and to see things as they really are instead of through biased lenses.

A key feature of dystonia

Attention plays a significant role in dystonia, and pain. The more attention we put upon the feelings, the torsions, the jerks, the more it builds. When we think that someone is looking at us, our ability to assume we know what they are thinking adds to the mix in the form of self-consciousness. Commonly this amplifies the unwanted movements as we shift deeper into a protect state.

Movement is not separate to our sense of body, our emotional state and our environment. There are always potential actions in a particular place, and the brain is continuously hypothesising which movement best explains our intentions. A lack of control of sensorimotor function, or a loss of precision, means that movements emerge involuntarily. We play out, or actually move as a fulfilment of a prediction that the brain has already made. This is a forward moving (time) loop, whereby we continue to play out a prediction in the form of dystonia experienced by the person. In other words, their particular style, which is unique to them.

So, how we feel, which is based upon where our attention lies, affects our movement and hence dystonic movements. Building our control over our attention then, becomes an important skill and not just for dystonia. Being able to focus is now known to be an important skill of being well (Davidson, 2016), as is self-control (Moffitt et al. 2011).

Why is mindful practice good for dystonia?

We know that mindful practice helps us to develop out attentional ability–to keep a focus upon what we want to focus upon. A recent study entitled ‘A wandering mind is an unhappy mind’ identified the problem of attention, and in the modern world we are continually being stimulated by potential attention grabbers. Take phones as a starter. It is not only the ring, the beep, the song tune, the vibration but the fact that the phone by its very presence offers an affordance. There is a very definite effect of a phone being on the table during a meeting, or being by the bedside at night. We are taking on the device as part of our sense of self, meaning that when left behind, it is akin to leaving a leg behind. The state of panic that emerges when you realise that it is not in your pocket and you may have to spend the day not checking for notifications. 

Mindfulness develops our ability to pay attention and hence impact positively on the experience aforementioned. When we can focus, we can exert a measure of self-control. We understand the importance of self-control, which has been amply decisive by the marshmallow test. Kids who were able to exert self-control and restrain themselves from eating the one on the table, were found to be healthier and more financially successful later in life. Further studies upon self-control have added to the understanding of this important skill. This is most certainly something we can get better at with practice. 

Mindfulness helps us to focus and pay attention

Undoubtedly, mindfulness is a practice that is best begun on a 1:1 basis. It is not inert, it needs to be practiced in the right way and questions will need answering. Commonly people think it is all about stopping the mind from working, or stopping thoughts. This is not true at all and becomes a problem because this is unachievable. The mind is not meant to ‘stop’. Instead, we learn to observe our thoughts and feelings, fully experiencing them but not being controlled, or hijacked. Books can be helpful, but they are not themselves teachers or encouragers. And when you are seeking to overcome a condition, mindfulness is part of the approach, which can be very useful, but it is not the only practice in most cases. 

“A simple practice to notice how your mind wanders and how you can bring your attention back is to pay attention to 10 breaths and see what happens. If your mind does drift away, each time you come back to your breathing as a focus. There is no problem with the mind wandering, and resuming attention upon the breath can be thought of as a ‘rep’, just like any other exercise”

The ability to focus one’s attention in dystonia has several benefits. Firstly so that you don’t become over-focused on the bodily sensations, which results in certain thoughts and feelings that perpetuate your vigilance. Breaking that cycle is empowering as you learn to put your focus where you want to, or need to, depending on what you are doing. Combine this with the emotional control and you gain an ability to see things for what they are instead of being victim of an emotional response that controls you. For instance, a common description of the effect of thinking that someone is looking at you: makes me self-conscious of the movements, I second guess what they are thinking (and this is usually something quite unkind and threatening), I become more aware and the involuntary movement builds and so on. 

Secondly, as referred to above, there is a dampening effect upon high emotional states, giving us greater control over emotions and hence ourselves and our ability to make best choices. To address dystonia, which in many ways is similar in principle to overcoming chronic pain, requires understanding that informs practices that are used each day to head in a desired direction. In a way this is about peak performance, getting the best from an individual as they focus on what they need to do right now, doing this in the best possible way that they can, considering the circumstances. To achieve this requires focus and control, both of which emerge from the practice of mindfulness. 

Other work has demonstrated further benefits of mindfulness including feelings and actions of compassion, a reduction in inflammation and the generation of a feeling of calm. The number of published papers has grown enormously and we will see this continue as researchers explore what we really know.  

Training for dystonia

Mindfulness is a part of the programme for dystonia. Mindful practice helps the person to focus, to be less distracted by the sensations and to reduce emotional hijacking. In essence, we are in more control and experience the full richness of life as we see things for what they really are instead of through a range of biased lenses. To get the best of ourselves we must be able to focus and be in control of emotions. Of course we are human and hence this does not always happen. But we strive to do our best as much of the time as we can. This is one of the principles of the programme for dystonia, and for overcoming pain. 

There are a number of other practices, which I will not be fully describing here. But just to mention a few is useful. Other training would include specific sensorimotor training to develop precision of movement and positioning in the environment of the body, a fundamental skill. We need good body sense and an implicit understanding of my boundary—where I end and the environment begins. Without this, it is both hard and potentially threatening to the individual, the latter evoking a range of protective measures including altered movement planning and execution. We would seek to nourish the areas that are overworking with simple movements and treatments, to have a plan for day to day activities and to make sure that life is being lived in the best possible way. One accepts and acknowledges the current parameters for living life, but with a view that this will change—we are designed to change of course. Finally, the skills of being well are used and integrated into each day so that the person can build wellness, the greatest buffer we have to life’s challenges. 


For further information click here

Or call Jo on 07518445493 to book your appointment

 

13Mar/17

3 ways to ease suffering

We all suffer. Suffering is part of living and so is unavoidable. There are many reasons for suffering and they are unique to that person and the way that they view life. The Oxford Dictionary defines suffering as “The state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”. We are all subject to these states regardless of age, gender, culture or class. In fact, we could say that humanity is connected by the universal experience of suffering. Bearing this in mind and essentially normalising suffering as part of life, it would be prudent to develop some skills that allow us to face suffering, transform, learn about, and ease it. Here are 3 ways to ease suffering.

These are simple practices for everyone that can be integrated into day to day life. Moment to moment awareness creates the opportunity to practice healthy habits resulting in living well.

Acceptance

Accepting what is happening right now dissolves any resistance. Resistance results in suffering because we are not happy with how we are or where we are or what we have. This is a common cause of discomfort and resistance can certainly drive tension and pain in the body. Accepting is NOT giving up. Instead it is actively being open to what exists now as a lived experience, allowing it to transform as it always does with each passing moment. Acceptance allows us to move forward in a chosen direction whereas resistance does not.

Mindful practice

There are simple mindful practices that give us insight into the way we think and feel, help us to be acceptant, allow us to let go of unhelpful thoughts and to be open to experiences as they unfold. By the very nature of these practices, a sense of well being emerges as we fully engage with the joys of life as well as think clearly about how to surmount the inevitable challenges we face. Here are a few examples:

  • take 4-5 slightly deeper breaths at regular intervals during the day, being fully aware of the ‘in’ and ‘out’
  • pay full attention to what you are doing, whatever that happens to be
  • formal practice of mindfulness meditation ~ this is best done with a coach or instructor to start, or in a group
Practicing gratitude

There are great benefits of practicing gratitude as a skill of well-being. Next time you are feeling glum, in pain, feeling anxious, try thinking about something you are grateful for. This does not need to be anything momentous, instead something more day to day such as the clothes on your back, the sun in the sky or a text from a friend. It needs to have some kind of meaning to you. Practicing gratitude can change the way we relate to an issue of concern. We release some important and healthy chemicals by actively generating the feeling (the feeling is underpinned by those chemicals as best we know), which creates the conditions for more clarity. Clarity of thought means we can focus on the thinking/actions that can result in face a challenge successfully.

The Pain Coach Programme to overcome pain and to live well | t. 07518 445493

08Mar/17

Find peace

In a sense I think that we are all trying to find peace. We week to find peace within ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves — the two are entwined.

We often hear the word peace nowadays. This is because peace is a state we strive for globally in the face of threats that are often purported in the media. There are fewer who seek the polar opposite; people who appear to welcome violence, war and other destructive states. This can only be because of wrong perceptions of the world resulting in wrong thinking and wrong actions.

In terms of chronic pain, perhaps we can say that we strive for a state of peace. This is an idea that came from a conversation with a learned friend some months ago. It was based upon thinking about the ‘opposite’ of pain, which cannot simply be pain free. When we are pain free, we are not thinking ‘I am pain free’, instead just acting, thinking and perceiving as a blended trio within each moment. To find peace seems to be a good place to start overcoming pain.

What is a state of peace?

By definition, peace means ‘quiet, tranquility, mental calm, serenity; a state of friendliness’ (Oxford Dictionary). Consider how we feel and think when in pain. We are suffering, fighting, surviving, emotionally turbulent, living the storm of physical sensations and the turmoil of the thoughts and feelings about these sensations. The former appears to be a good place to be in comparison. There is however, one issue, and that is the effect of resistance to what is happening right now.

Resistance itself causes great suffering. Not wanting to be here, instead wanting to be there. Not wanting to look like this, instead wanting to look like that, are two common examples. This is being non-acceptant and fighting the present moment. But it does not necessarily seem natural to do anything else other than resist. Why would you not want to feel better? Look better? etc etc.

This is an issue of desire and the grip that it can have upon us that causes suffering. The problem is that if you are strongly focusing upon how you want to be and resisting how you are or what you have, you are missing the opportunity that exists now. This is in the form of acceptance, which is simply acknowledging and being open to what is happening right now without resistance. Accepting what is happening right now relieves the suffering and allows us to take the right actions to find peace. These actions can only happen now because now is the only real moment. Thinking about what you might do or what you did only exist in your (embodied) thoughts. Concrete action can only be in this moment.

By being present we can find peace. This emerges from simple practices such as mindful breathing and mindful activities that mean you are present, aware, open, insightful and accepting in a compassionate way.

Where is peace?

There is only one place that we can find peace. That is within ourselves. I recall a pertinent moment a few years ago when a friend said to me ‘I hope you find peace’. It is something we appear to look for, yet we don’t need to look because it is right here. We simply need to create the conditions for peace to emerge and be felt. Does this mean no pain? No, not necessarily. Can you feel pain and be at peace? Yes, absolutely. And in this state, the pain transforms and our suffering eases. So, when we find peace that was already there, just overladen with our day to day fears and worries, the pain rents less and less space. Then we can concentrate our efforts on living well, which is the way to overcome pain.

How can I be present and find peace?

Everything that ‘happens’ does so now, in this moment. It is called being present and we can be fully aware, attending to this moment to gain all the rewards. To be present we can start with a few simple practices:

1. Take our attention to our breathing, even just 4-5 breaths, and do this regularly through the day ~ set a reminder

2. Fully attend to what we are doing, whatever that may be. ‘An unhappy mind is a wandering mind’ was a recent study title. We are happier when we are attending to what we are doing in this moment.

You may also choose to regularly practice mindfulness and other meditations such as metta, or loving kindness meditation. The formal practice each day develops our ability to accept, let go, be open, be tolerant, gain insight into our own and others’ thinking. In so doing, in the wake of the practice comes a sense of peace and calm that deepens in time. There are well described healthy benefits of regular mindfulness practices yet it is important that we practice for the sake of practice and not to ‘become’ something else. This is a challenge but you will recall that trying to be someone else or be somewhere else creates resistance. By far the best way to begin practice is with a teacher but there are some excellent apps and videos aplenty on you tube; for example Thich Nhat Hanh, The Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard, Ajahn Brahm, Jon Kabat Zinn.

Pain and peace

Pain is as complex as any other lived experience. It involves the whole person, their biology, their consciousness, their past experiences and their genetics to name but a few factors — it is complex! Equally as complex is pain relief that involves all the same factors. Where we feel pain is not where pain is ‘generated’, instead this is where there exists a perceived threat.

Regular readers of modern pain science literature will know that pain is related to being threatened or potentially threatened, acting in the name of survival. The location of the pain is really a projection of all the biology involved with protecting us, emerging in a specific place where we are compelled to attend. If there is actually an injury there it seems to make sense. Often in cases of chronic pain there is no obvious injury or pathology. This is because pain and injury are poorly related. Despite this, the pain felt is the pain felt. Pain cannot be seen so we must listen to the person as it is the individual who feels the pain.

“Pain and injury are poorly related

Existing under a state of threat results in a range of thoughts and behaviours that can be combatant in nature. Consider what we have said about peace. To find peace we must be acceptant, open and demonstrate compassion towards ourselves and others. If we ‘fight’ the pain, we are only fighting ourselves. Creating a sense of peace allows us to choose to focus on the actions (e.g./ exercises, re-framing our thinking to reduce fear, socialising, practicing mindfulness, gradually becoming more active, and many more) that create the conditions for living well.

Overcoming pain is an active task. The person needs guidance, motivation and support but the to begin with the basics to sustainably move in the desired direction. This includes a working knowledge about (your) pain with skills and practices to use day to day, moment to moment. The new knowledge about pain creates a sense of safety rather than threat, peace if you like. This clarity that emerges from understanding pain means that the person can truly focus on what they need to do to get better. This starts with thinking like the healthy person who is living well: ‘what would they think and do here?’ you can ask yourself, before doing exactly that, albeit with certain limitations at the start. These limitations can and will be worked upon: ‘can I?’ turns to ‘I can’ and ‘will I?’ turns to ‘I will.

From a place of peace and clarity come right perceptions about oneself and the world. To find peace is to find it in oneself. It is there and may need uncovering. When you do, the world looks to be a different place. One that is far less threatening and one in which to thrive and to live a meaningful life.

The Pain Coach Programme to address suffering by learning to live well | t. 07518 445493
05Mar/17

Mindfulness in brief and 5 easy practices

Mindfulness in brief and 5 easy practices ~ there are many books and articles available on the topic of mindfulness so I thought I would write a brief summary. Just to add to the existing and vast literature….

This is how Thich Nhat Hanh answers the question ‘What is mindfulness?’ in his book for children ‘Is nothing something?’:

“Mindfulness is energy. This energy helps us enjoy what is happening right now. Mindful energy can bring us a lot of joy. It helps us suffer less and learnt from our suffering. A good way to get some mindful energy is to close your eyes and breath easily. Just pay attention to your breath. If you can enjoy your in-breath and out-breath, you are creating mindful energy.”

Simple.

“Mindfulness is energy ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

To practice mindfulness you do NOT have to do any of the following:

  • Become religious or change religions ~ mindful practice is not about being religious.
  • Wear an outfit.
  • Pay money.
  • Change anything about yourself.
  • Go to a special place

In other words, anyone can practice, wherever they find themselves and gain the benefits of being mindful, although one of the key points about being mindful is that you are not actually ‘doing’ anything.

Being mindful means you are aware of what is happening right now, accepting what is happening right now, accepting who you are and how you feel and what you are thinking right now, without judgement. This observation and experience of what it is like to be you creates insight into you and the world, seeing reality and seeing things for what they are rather that being judged or clouded by unskillful thinking. Instead of striving to be somewhere else or someone else, we accept who we are and cultivate compassion towards ourselves and others. Both are very important skills for being healthy.

We can simply practice mindfulness by paying attention to our (normal) breathing, which means that we are present in this moment. Much suffering comes from either dwelling or repeating the past, or from anticipating a future that is not pleasant. Some of the thoughts can stem form being hard on ourselves, telling ourselves that we are not good enough or worthy of happiness and health. This is wrong thinking and mindfulness allows us to see this and let go.

Further suffering comes from wanting to be somewhere else whilst not accepting where one is now. Similarly with material goods: wanting something but not being grateful of satisfied with what you have now. It comes down to the same thing really, that is accepting yourself and current circumstances with compassion. Acceptance is certainly not giving in, instead seeing things for what they really are and letting go of resistance. Letting go of resistance immediately eases suffering.

Of course you can download an app or buy a book, but by far the best is to be instructed by someone who knows the practice. The group dynamic is often a good start point, gaining the benefit of practicing together. Questions inevitably arise and it is important that these be answered so that you understand what you are doing and why. Having said that, here are some simple practices to start right now.

Mindfulness in brief and 5 easy practices ~

1. Set a reminder, and every few hours stop and pay attention to 4-5 breaths. This brings you to the present moment, allowing you to realise the effects of thoughts; and they are just thoughts. How do they differ from reality and what is actually happening right now?

2. Ask yourself how you are choosing to think right now?

3. Name the emotion you are feeling.

4. Pay full attention to what you are doing, whatever that happens to be.

5. Check in to your body and see what is going on — tension? warmth? comfort? etc etc. Notice the ‘what it is like’ and the thoughts that you have about the experience — the two are different and there is great value in knowing the difference.

~ mindfulness practices are part of the Pain Coach Programme developing insight, calm and compassion to create the conditions for recovery and living well.
Pain Coach Programme to overcome chronic pain t. 07518 445493
21Jan/17

Engaged physiotherapy for pain

Engaged physiotherapy for pain and the modern world

Engaged physiotherapyEngaged physiotherapy is an approach embracing full awareness of oneself as a clinician, full awareness of the person you are working with, full awareness of the context and past, compassion (self and others), insight, and modern sciences (the facts ~ what we know). I have ‘borrowed’ the term from Thich Nhat Hanh who describes engaged Buddhism, which is the practical use of the philosophical principles such as mindfulness, mindful breathing and mindful walking.

Cultivating our awareness as clinicians and gaining insight into the causes of suffering affords us the opportunity to think clearly about the best action for the individual, in this case in pain. Together with an understanding an use of modern sciences, especially pain science, cognitive science and neuroscience (there is vast overlap of course), and philosophy, we can consider each person’s story and create a way onward that is grounded in understanding, compassion, belief and the right attitude to succeed.

There are simple practices that clinicians can use each day that develop and grow awareness and insight. Here are some examples:

  • The greeting
  • Being present during a consultation using the breath
  • Deep and active listening
  • Compassionate speech
  • The creation of a calm and peaceful environment
The greeting

The initial contact often sets the scene. We can think about how we present ourselves with posturing, gestures, language and the simple smile. I would suggest always going to the patient to greet them in the waiting area, and behaving very much like you are welcoming an old friend into your home.

Being present

Using the breath we remain present and aware of what is happening right now. What is passing through me (my mind)? Any bias? Preconception? Judgement? Being aware allows us to let these go so we can focus on active and deep listening. Practicing mindful breathing each day formally for 5-10 minutes helps us to develop this skill that we can use through the day, every day for professional and personal relations to benefit

Deep listening

One of the most valuable gifts we can give to another person is ourselves and our time. Being fully present to listen to the patient (or colleague or family member or friend) creates the conditions for a meaningful interaction. All involved parties benefit from meaningful interactions as we release certain healthy chemicals in these contexts. In deep listening we can hear and understand the suffering of the other, enabling the best and wisest course of action, which may simply be to continue to listen without interruption. Learning to be comfortable with silence is a valuable skill. Much can emerge from moments of silence. (Reading here)

Compassionate speech

Choosing our words carefully, considering their effects, is an important skill to develop. The words we utter have potent effects on others as they hear, process, imagine, think and react. Of course using kind, compassionate words can create the conditions for calm and insight, enabling the person to see a way forward. A focus on health and being well maintains the desired direction, hence the use of words that encourage this thinking and vision helps the person to orientate themselves towards a desired outcome.

We have the spoken word and we have the inner dialogue. Being skilful with both is important as we need to consider which thoughts we are fuelling, or which seeds we are watering by the way we think and what we say. An example would be the effects of engaging in idle gossip. In the long-term, gossip can create issues of trust and miscommunication that breeds suffering.

As a clinician, we should always be thinking about delivering the right messages based on truth, and that provide a compassionate way forward. Helping the patient develop their skills of self-compassion is frequently needed in cases of chronic pain. Understanding that self-compassion is one of the skills of well being helps individuals to practice and benefit from the nurturing of the care-giving systems in the body that play such a big part in our health and happiness.

Creating a calm environment

We are very responsive to the environment. Consider how you would feel working in an office with no windows and in the basement of a block compared to an office with a view over a park or a river.

Clinicians need to think about how the patient might think and feel coming into the clinic. We seek to create a peaceful space for people to experience feelings of calm and gain insight into how they can be, how they can transform their state of being and how they can use these practices in their day to day lives.

The simple practices are just some of the ways we can use our knowledge and skills to create the conditions for people to get better. We no longer have to think about managing or coping, instead use engaged physiotherapy and approaches to give people the belief, understanding and skills to coach themselves, fostering independence and a sense of agency, restoring choice and meaningful living.

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These practices are part of the Pain Coach Programme, which is a focus upon getting better and achieving success in overcoming pain. The programme for patients is a comprehensive way forward addressing a pain problem by focusing on getting healthy and well, and the programme for clinicians is to develop their skills and knowledge to coach patients. If you would like further information, please email us: [email protected] or call 07518 445493.

15Jan/17

Creating peace

Creating peace is vital for suffering individuals and for society

Creating peaceCreating peace should be the aim of all society but of course peace must reside in each individual for this to happen. One of the greatest proponents of peace is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnemese monk who works tirelessly to bring engaged Buddhism to the world. This means simply teaching simple practices that can be used by everyone, not in a religious sense, but instead as a way of creating peace through compassion and insight. Mindfulness is the main vehicle, and to be mindful is to be fully present, to be aware, to have insight, to have clarity, to experience emotions and thoughts in this moment, to be judgmental, and to be accepting.

Mindfulness is a simple practice ~ anytime, anywhere

Mindfulness is a practice that can be used through each day in different ways to gain these healthy benefits. Some describe a practice like this as a skill of well-being, or the skill of being well. These skills form a major part of the Pain Coach Programme, which is a comprehensive approach not only to overcome pain and chronic health issues but to create the best health to live a meaningful life within our ever-changing circumstances. It is much like learning to sail a boat when the sea is sometimes calm and the sea is sometimes ferocious. The wandering mind is an unhappy mind, read the title of a well-publicised piece of research. Whilst we also know that to permit mind wandering can be useful for ideas and creativity, having control over when this starts and finishes maybe important. Certainly being able to attend to what you are doing in this moment is a valuable health skill afforded by mindfulness practice.

Those who have practiced mindfulness will know that creating peace is one of the emerging experiences. We cannot quieten our mind directly, but the mind can calm within the context of being mindful. Thoughts just come, and we cannot stop them much like King Canute could not stop the sea. Yet we learn how to become insightful and skilful as these thoughts pop in, seeing them as just thoughts and opinions that are often very different from reality and truth. Being observant and curious about our thoughts, or the story that we tell ourselves, gives us space to choose how to respond. How can you respond? You can decide to re-focus your attention on what is happening now by using your breath, you can let the thought go (they pass by anyway), you can purposely generate a positive feeling, you can engage in a meaningful interaction or you can perform an act of generosity. All of these you can do in a way that is informed with self-compassion, being kind to yourself, a key skil of well-being.

Individually we are responsible for creating peace within ourselves. It is an error to think that somehow peace or happiness comes from somewhere or someone else. Mindfulness teaches us that we can come back to ourselves at anytime in order to feel at home and secure. That sense of safety, warmth, comfort and peace we can generate ourselves with increasing effect by practicing the skills of being well and cultivating our awareness and insight. In doing this, we are regularly promoting our own health by activating the care-giving systems in our bodies. These play a vital role in day to day physiological functioning: nourishing body systems, diverting resources to healing, repair, refreshing and renewing, digesting food and building energy levels that we need to live and feel well. This is in contrast to the protect and service systems that are designed to work in short bursts. It is when the protect mode is operating consistently that we can develop a wide range of common ailments: IBS, migraine, pelvic pain, wide spread aches and pains, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and fertility issues to name a few. Choosing to lead a hectic life full of habits that promote survival without adequate deep relaxation only results in health issues. However, we can always make the choice to make a change in a new direction.

We are changing every moment, you just need to choose your direction in line with your vision of the well-you and groove new habits

There are many issues with modern society and its impact upon the health of all, however we also have a great deal of knowledge we can use to make an impact. There are many simple practices that we can use each day to improve our world. This all begins with a shift in thinking beyond oneself towards a mindset of how we can best give and serve our world and the people in the world. We are interconnected in many ways and collectively we can be responsible for social developments that benefit all. We are seeing this increasingly with social enterprises emerging in different sectors. This work is vital for all of us.

Creating peace within ourselves with a simple practice each day is the basis for a collective peace within society. On an individual basis, the creation of peace within is the same as creating the conditions for health as the parasympathetic nervous system predominates. There is so much to be gained from practices that can be learned by all ages (children, teenagers, adults and seniors) in different environments (nurseries, schools, workplaces, homes and healthcare facilities). Low cost, easily implemented and science-based there are a number of initiatives across the world that we can build upon and develop. However, it starts with the individual.

Pain Coach Programme to overcome chronic pain by using the skills of being well to lead a meaningful life | t. 07518 445493 or contact us using the form below.

14Dec/16

In pain ~ what is said, what is heard?

In pain ~ what is said, what is heard?

Anyone who has tried to describe their pain knows how incredibly difficult it is to find words that truly represent what they feel. The same could be said for many lived experiences, the ‘what it is like to……’ that we attempt to transmit to another person. But of course the other person cannot actually know or feel what you feel. We only know what it is like to be ‘me’.

Acknowledging this issue, when we ask people to describe their pain, they are permitted to use any words from their own vocabulary and any comparison or metaphor that emerges from their thinking because this is as close as they will get. Whilst they are telling us what they feel, as well as words that attempt to describe the raw feel of pain, others will demonstrate the degree of suffering and emotional distress that are the additional factors, or second arrow in Buddhism terms. We experience a raw feel, which would be the first arrow, and then the thoughts and emotions that have their own ‘feel’ and typically are the source of the greatest suffering, which are the second arrows.

The raw feel of pain is the raw feel of pain. The add ons are all the thoughts and feelings associated with the pain that are the cause of great suffering. 

Active or deep listening allows us to really hear what the person is saying to us. This is sitting in a state of calm and non-judgement, allowing the person to express themselves in their own unique way. Silence maybe part of this ‘exchange’ that the clinician can become increasingly comfortable residing in, with the knowledge that from silence can emerge important dialogue. Only through deep listening can we hear the words of the other that emerge within a particular context that must also be recognised ~ i.e. the difference in the way someone behaves in different situations such as the clinic when they may be anxious. We must get as close as we can to hear what the individual is saying: have I truly heard what they have said?

We can enhance the flow of communication with our posture and the way we move within the dialogue. A simple movement towards the person shows engagement whilst eye contact can be used judiciously. It is worth considering that for some people eye contact can be challenging or threatening, hence awareness and being present are important.

Our way of being, when filled with compassion and empathy, creates the opportunity for the person to speak and tell their story that is full of all the information that we need as clinicians to gain insight into their suffering and the causes of their suffering.

Pain Coach Programme for chronic pain | skills of well being to live a meaningful life | t. 07518 445493
23Oct/16

Is mindfulness for everyone?

MindfulnessWalk into a bookshop and you cannot help but notice the ever-increasing number of books about mindfulness filling the shelves, which begs the question, is mindfulness for everyone?

In my opinion, mindfulness is a practice that everyone could choose to incorporate into their lives, however, not everyone will wish to make that choice. It is also the case that the route to mindful practice can be different for different people. For example, sitting or lying and being mindful or meditating can be result in greater suffering in some circumstances and hence that person needs something else at that time. An individual suffering PTSD for instance, could discover that mindful practice leads to a greater state of stress and anxiety. There are several possible reasons for this, including whether they have been instructed in the right way about what mindfulness really is and how we go about the practice. With so many people offering mindfulness at the moment, it can be difficult to know who best to listen to or follow.

Starting any new practice is a challenge and requires dedication and perseverance. In so doing, one learns and realises that each moment there is an opportunity to get better at what you are doing. As Ajahn Brahm says, ‘there’s no such thing as a bad meditation’ — we can always take something from the practice, and the fact that you have practiced has created a learning opportunity. Sometimes the practice results in a great feeling of serenity as the inner dialogue quietens, and sometimes the voice chunters away. Good? Bad? It is what you think it is!

Mindfulness is simply about being aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations as they pass by, which they always do. The realisation of impermanence is an important one as moments continuously flow. Noticing what you are thinking and feeling without judgement means that you begin to see things for what they are and the causes of your, and other’s suffering. This insight is invaluable for our health. One is tempted to say emotional health but this would suggest some kind of separation between body and mind. There can be no separation between body and mind as we are a whole person living experiences that are unified of cognition, perception and action. The practices of mindfulness provide a way of ‘doing’ this, although really when being mindful, we are not actually doing anything other than being aware, using our attention. To add compassion to this means that you have the intention to be kind to others and yourself with all the accompanying health benefits from positive social interactions and kindness to self.

Mindfulness is a practice with several straightforward methods (below), which is why it is accessible to all. However, actual practicing is the challenge as we have so many existing habits of thought. Our minds do wander and are filled with chaotic thoughts that inform feelings, emotions, actions and perceptions, yet all of these dimensions inform each other. This complexity defines the challenge and how one day we can quieten down the inner chat and another day it seems to make no difference. Remembering that it is not the thought or series of thoughts that is the issue, instead it is recognising that this is the content of the mind, which is not me per se. I am not the contents of my mind, and being able to realise that is hugely empowering.

Two common practices are mindful breathing and mindful walking, both if which are accessible at any moment to most. Paying attention to what arises in this moment is at the essence of the practice that develops one’s ability to focus, choose what to attend to, to reappraise a thought pattern, see things for what they are, realise that anger or another emotion is present yet you can remain focused on your intention. Keeping a focus on your intention is a great skill demonstrated at a time when an argument ensues. Instead of emotional reactions with hurtful words, maintaining a course for the intention that is usually a kind action towards another, you listen deeply and understand the other party, allowing for effective communication towards a resolution. Be able to see the reasons for the other person’s actions provides great opportunity for transforming the situation. This would be a good example of using mindfulness and compassion, the two differing.

Returning to the primary question, I believe that mindful practices can be integrated practically into people’s day to day living if the person makes the choice to do so. Potentially, this is the case for anyone. However, each person needs good instruction and guidance, in essence to become their own coach to transform their inner dialogue to one of kindness and compassion toward self and others. Mindfulness creates the awareness within which this can happen through attention training (mindfulness is about attention whereas compassion is my motivation or intention ~ there’s a difference). Some will need other ways into the regular practice by using breathing and movement, some will need different explanations to be guided and supported, but the the aim is always to develop ways to reduce suffering.

RS

Mindfulness practice is a part of the Pain Coach Programme for overcoming pain | contact us by email: [email protected] or call us 07518 445493

12Sep/16

Mindful commuting

Mindful commutingMany people commute to work creating a great opportunity to create calm, focus and prepare for a top performance, simply with mindful commuting. In London, a huge number of commuters use the tube, which is rammed with people (in a rush), often smelly and particularly hot in the summer. How can one create calm and focus in those circumstances you may wonder?

As a commuter you join thousands of others, some of which push you, breathe on you, lean on you, rest their paper on you (I once saw a woman rest her newpaper on a man’s back, which she quickly moved when he turned, only to put it back when he looked away — it was quite amusing), stare at you and nudge you. Today there was a small space next to me and a man forced his way into it creating discomfort for everyone, including himself. So there are just a few incidences that could challenge one’s patience and yet what a great opportunity to develop the skills of patience and compassion towards others. In doing so, you feel better versus feeling anger, frustration or annoyance. We can choose.

Over and above developing a compassionate outlook for the day ahead by looking deeply at a situation (we can consider that the other person may be suffering for a range of reasons and hence behaving in a certain way), we can use the following practices to orientate ourselves towards positive emotions. Being aware of and acknowledging positive emotions broadens our thinking and receptiveness as well as enhances our resilience in the face of a challenge, all of which impact upon our performance at work based on how we communicate with ourselves and others.

  • each time you find yourself becoming irritated on your commute, take 3 breaths and in particular notice your out-breath
  • walk mindfully, paying attention to each step and just be curious as to what is going on around you. Notice how it makes you feel and return your attention to your walking
  • if you cannot get through the crowd because it is busy, return your attention to your breathing to create calm and then walk mindfully
  • be aware of those around you and wish them well in your thinking, noticing how this makes you feel and how the world then appears
  • as you pay attention to your breathing, think kindly about your colleagues and boss so that when you encounter them, you communicate with skill and not on a background of feeling stressed and anxious
  • if you feel stressed and anxious it is because your thinking (embodied) has drifted into the past or future, thereby flavouring the present. Take 3 breaths and see things for what they are; be aware of this moment
  • listen to a mindful app on the journey
  • practice mindful breathing when you simply pay attention to your breath that holds you in the present moment

There are many more ways of practicing but in essence just using one or two will help you create calm and focus. Try it and see!

Mindfulness is a very practical way of being that creates calm, peace and allows you to to see things for what they are as you are consistently aware of the present moment, you listen deeply and speak with skill to communicate understanding and compassion. This is transformative in all situations and achievable for all.

Mindfulness practice forms part of the Pain Coach Programme for pain and chronic pain | t. 07518 445493

08Feb/16

Practical mindfulness

mindfulness by swampland | https://flic.kr/p/k3t1k

mindfulness by swampland | https://flic.kr/p/k3t1k

Practical mindfulness is for everyone. It is for everyone who wants to develop insight into their own mind, and in so doing will relieve an amount of suffering that is significantly impacting upon their life in a number of ways: pain, anxiety, ill health.

It is important to point out at this juncture that the mind does not exist purely in our heads but rather we are our mind, and our bodies are an extension of our minds as they reach out to both sample and create the world that we perceive. We think with our whole self. And if you are befuddled by this, just for a moment consider where you feel hungry or thirsty? Is it in your head? Does your mouth go off for a drink? Or do you feel thirsty and you go and get a drink to quench your thirst?

Practical mindfulness, for me, is about creating the conditions for health. We have everything we need to be healthy, yet life seems to get in the way. Consider: too busy to exercise or move? I want that cake because I am hungry and fancy a snack. I feel stressed because of what that person has said to me. I am anxious about _______ (fill in the gap).

Mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening in this moment, noticing the temporary nature of things and letting go (are you still thinking about what that person said? Who is left holding the burning coal?) in a non-judgmental way. This flies in the face of how we have been brought up in our society: judge! Blame! Dwell on the past and re-play that tape of that event you think that you remember — except you don’t well at all you just think you do! Crave! Want! No awareness runs through these common choices of thought or action. How are you choosing to think right now? Is there a better choice that would make you feel better? If you are aware of your habits of thought, then you can make a better choice to shift your perception and hence your conscious experience of what is happening right now.

Being present does not mean that you do not recall memories but rather that you do it with skill, noticing how it makes you feel and living the full richness without suffering, whilst letting go of unhelful thoughts. Being present does not mean that you do not plan, but instead means that you plan the future (that never comes because there is only this moment) in the present moment and therefore do not suffer the anxiety of an undesirable future. How often do you tell yourself that it will not work out? Or that you will fail or that you are not good enough? Is it true or are you just telling yourself that story. It is just a story, or a train of thoughts that you embody, live and enact and so it goes on. But it does not have to keep going on like this as we are all changing, all of the time. It is the direction we must choose: shall I keep on listening to that inner voice or let it go and be mindful? That is your choice.

Mindfulness does not require one to become spiritual or religious. It does not require any equipment. The principles are straight forward. It is only when someone keeps telling themselves that it is hard, is it hard. Why not choose to say to yourself that you will, or that you can rather than you can’t or you won’t?

There are two main practical practices: the moment to moment taking a breath to become aware, developing a sense of what is happening now and the sitting or lying practice for a period of time (usually 5-10 minutes initially) several times a day. In the regular practice you are putting down the heavy bags of past and future, and the suffering from living out the thoughts that keep passing through, especially those that you hold onto and resist. Resistence causes tension and other protective predictions that zap our energy and bring on aches and pains that are so common — migraine, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, back pain, neck pain — as our bodies try to keep up with the wandering mind. Taming the mind by gathering insight and cultivating curiosity makes way for calm times to plug-in, refresh and renew as you create the conditions for a healthy, performing, engaging you amidst the multitude of continuous stimuli in the world around. By the way, it is our embodied minds that are creating that reality, so there’s another reason to look after it, just like you do your body. You get fit in the gym, clean your body, groom your body, clothe your body. What do you do for your mind that gives you the sense of everything including that body?

Practical mindfulness is part of the Pain Coach programme for persisting and chronic pain, stress and anxiety. t. 07518 445493