Tag Archives: mindfulness

16Apr/15
Mindfulness is a great skill

Mindfulness is a great skill

Mindfulness is a great skillMindfulness is a great skill to learn at any age. To be mindful simply means to be aware of what is happening right now and without judgement–notice how you judge your thoughts and how that makes you feel.

Everything that we are aware of is our own, unique interpretation that emerges from our belief system. We appraise our thoughts, our actions, others, and the environment around us. This appraisal evokes an emotional and bodily response in many cases, even if it is just a shrug of the shoulders. It is important to clarify that emotions, body responses, thoughts and actions are all part of one and the same; i.e. the whole person. Sadly, much of the thinking, particularly in health, remains Cartesian and separates mind and body. This is despite reams of research papers and common sense telling us otherwise. What does your tummy do when you think about giving the presentation tomorrow? Your body reacts in response to the thought, and that reaction involves the nervous system, the motor system, the brain, the immune system etc etc….WHOLE PERSON.

So, if the appraisal or our perception guides how we respond, then we have a buffer between any give situation or thought and what happens next. We have a choice — ‘the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another’ said the great philosopher William James. Shakespeare had insight: ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’.

Mindfulness is the skill that allows you to observe thoughts and interpretations rather than become embroiled, living out thinking that is felt in the body as emotions and tensions. You notice with quiet curiosity how your body is responding, lifting the veil of suffering.  We have that choice, but most don’t realise, operating on automatic overdrive leading to repeated stress physiology that affects every body system.

A stress response is designed to protect us from the dangers of wild animals. The same responses kick in to a threatening thought–the most dangerous things we face are our own thoughts and interpretations: a shadow after watching a horror film is threatening because of the way you think about it and create a story of a murderer lurking behind the tree. Actually, it’s a cat but that story does not feature. What stories do you tell yourself to create fear? How useful is fear? Not very.

Fear triggers further negative thinking, and that gets us nowhere. Respect and understanding create opportunities to learn and grow. Much better.

How are you mindful? If you look on the bookshelves, tome after tome sits there awaiting your mind. It seems that everyone has something to say on the matter. The reality is that mindful practice is simple. Practice is a habit that needs to be grooved. You must fail and fail and fail again. That is how we learn. And when you think you are good, fail again to get better. Learn to love failing because then you are getting better!

Start being mindful by noticing what is happening now. Where are you? What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Take a breath and observe it. The rise and fall of your chest and tummy. It’s a wonderful feeling to sit still. Especially in this crazy, high speed world with demands pouring in digitally and otherwise. Simply recall that whatever comes your way, it is your perception that counts. You are in charge of that perception. Make a choice. Create calm so that your body systems can do their job and slip out of protect mode and into health mode. On-going stress accounts for and contributes to most of the modern day ills–chronic pain, infertility, headaches, chronic inflammation, IBS etc etc. To think effectively about stress we need to look at it as a societal, cultural, physiological, personal phenomena.

So, I thought I would write a book about it as well. A very short one. Coming soon.

Mindfulness practice is part of the Pain Coach programme; a complete strategy to overcome chronic pain | t. 07518 445493

02Apr/15
Healthy revision tips

My tips for healthy revision

Easter holidays are here! Bunnies, chocolate eggs, Easter bonnets, spring and…..revision. Chatting to my younger patients, they all tell me that this holiday will be dominated by revision. So it is not so much a holiday but instead, 2-3 weeks of homework. Perhaps Easter Sunday will be a day off.

This appears to be the way of school life in the modern world. The demands increase, the pressures increase, the stress and anxiety increase, and the pains increase. Is this right? 1:5 children reporting chronic pain. Chronic pain is the number one global health burden and depression is at number two — and frequently they come as a pair.

Body systems are on alert. They are working hard for survival instead of orchestrating the biology of health. In adults we used to call the effects ‘burn out’. These systems that protect us can only function at that level for a finite period of time.

Of course there is nothing wrong with hard, conscientious work. But, we need to regularly put the heavy bags down and take a break.

If you or your kids are entering the revision season, here are some handy tips for them to reduce the risk of ill-health, persisting stress responses, and flare-ups of existing aches and pains. We not only need to be physically fit, we also need to be emotionally fit. The two are not exclusive but instead come together to form the whole person. The whole person is not in isolation to their environment, beliefs or what has been before. Dwelling on negative events in the past and anticipating an unpleasant future both create suffering, until you realise that both are in our minds. The problem is that we play these out in our body, e.g. tension, pain, anxiety. It is not the situation that is important, but rather how we respond.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Shakespeare (Hamlet)

My Tips for Healthy Revision

  1. Make a timetable that incorporates your best time of day for learning, chunks of 40 minutes, exercise, movement.
  2. Motion is lotion: change your posture every 15-20 minutes; stand up and move around every 40 minutes
  3. Take 3 breaths every 20-30 minutes (when you breathe out, muscle tension naturally relaxes, which you will notice if you pay attention). The breaths can be slightly deeper than normal. Of course you can do this for longer and more often if you wish. Focusing on breathing anchors you to the present moment which means that you are putting down the heavy bags of ‘past’ and ‘future’. The bonus is clarity of thought and hence performance, memory and learning can improve as you become more efficient.
  4. Exercise before you start working; e.g. a walk, a jog. And a little more later as well; 20-30 minutes is good.
  5. Test yourself on the material you are learning — many people tell me that they copy their notes out again and again. You will have a nice pile of notes, but how much do you know?

** BONUS tip 1: set up the right environment – your desk space, the lighting, odours (don’t under-estimate the effects of smell; e.g./ use an infuser for a fresh ambience).

** BONUS tip 2: dress for work and sit for work – this will put you in the right mindset. We respond to our body language as much as our body language communicates how we are feeling. Keep moving (motion is lotion) but concentrate and engage more by sitting up.

** BONUS tip 3: make sure you have enough sleep — minimum 8 hours, and if you are tired, have a power nap between 1pm and 3pm for 20-30 minutes. You need to refresh and renew and you need sleep to learn.

Pain CoachFor more information about Pain Coach programmes and wellbeing programmes for health and performance, call us today 07518 445493

08Mar/14
Mindfulness for pain, health and performance

Want to feel happier, suffer less pain & anxiety, think more clearly?

Mindfulness for pain, health and performance

Mindfulness for pain, health and performance

Mindfulness programme

The brief practice of mindfulness for just 10 minutes each day has a positive affect upon physical and psychological health.

Mindful practice forms part of our treatment and proactive training programmes for chronic pain and health problems. However, learning the practice is beneficial for anyone who wishes to reduce feelings of tension, anxiety and stress; improve sleep, concentration and clarity of thought; and overall have a healthier and happier experience of life.

Mindfulness itself is very simple and practical. Much like we train our body in the gym to be fitter and stronger, mindfulness trains our ability to be aware of what is happening in the present moment, and without judgement.

How much time do you spend on autopilot? How much time do you spend noticing what is going on right now as opposed to dwelling on the past or constructing a future in your mind? Does the past or future make you feel bad or anxious? Do you relive scenarios that make you feel unhappy? The problem is that the brain does not distinguish between what is happening in reality and what is happening in our mind. The body still responds, often by protecting itself using different systems in the body such as the nervous system, the immune system and autonomic nervous system (‘fright or flight’). Gaining insight into the mechanisms and becoming skilled at being present not only creates time, but also disarms the effects of drifting into the past or the future.

Enhancing the potency of mindfulness

Alongside the practice of mindfulness, a simple exercise habit that includes strategies at work will create the conditions for the body systems to cultivate health. A rounded programme of physical and mental training that interlaces with normal living improves performance, sleep, clarity of thought, sense of self, social interactions and immune responses. These factors are related and positively affect each other once healthy habits are learned.

Call us now to book your first mindfulness session: 07932 689081

The Specialist Pain Physio Clinics in London – expert treatment and training to tackle the problem of chronic pain and injury.

15Feb/14
Brain~Body

Bear traps and how to avoid them

My old headmaster would warn us not to fall into bear traps. By this he meant pay attention to what you are doing so that you do not make a simple mistake. He would set a few bear traps and see if we were concentrating or if we were on autopilot. It was also a way to note tomfoolery.

As clinicians we can also fall into bear traps by not attending to or challenging our own thinking and beliefs. This is especially true with pain, where we can so easily rely on our own beliefs about pain and what we should do in response to pain. We know for example, that GPs can give advice about back pain according to what they would do if they suffered back pain — rest or remain active.

Cultivating awareness of our understanding, beliefs and noticing the messages that we give to patients is a simple habit. It takes practice but allows us to ensure that we are giving the best possible advice and information, perhaps in the form of a metaphor. This includes the mode of delivery: body language, tone of voice, timing of the message and the environment in which the message is given.

Here are a few simple tips:

1. Before each patient, gently notice your breathing — in, and sense the chest rise and expand; out, and feel the body tension ease. This helps to create an awareness of what is happening now, including preconceptions and thoughts that could flavour the coming session.

2. Listen deeply — by continuing to breath, remaining present and listening to every word and noticing the patient’s body language, we can learn all that we need to intervene in the right way. The most potent way for that moment.

3. Speak with compassion — our brains are wired to thrive on kindness. We can create an effective session by both listening and communicating in a mindful way without the clarity being lost by intrusive thoughts that obstruct effective messages being passed.

The Specialist Pain Physio Clinics in London provide treatment and training programmes for pain and dystonia based upon the latest neuroscience of pain, brain and mind. The approach is comprehensive, addressing the problems and influences in a compassionate and encompassing way. If you are suffering with chronic pain, call us now to book your first appointment: 07932 689081

30Jan/14
Mindfulness for pain, health and performance

5 reasons why mindfulness is part of our treatment programmes

1. Mindfulness reduces suffering: pain, anxiety, tension.

2. Mindfulness promotes clarity of thought.

3. Mindfulness develops a sense of calm.

4. Mindfulness creates an ability to focus ones attention where you want to, and not in response to the wandering mind.

5. Mindfulness changes physiology, triggering restorative processes: e.g./ healing, digestion, sleep, anti-inflammatory action.

For pain, stress, anxiety, performance, concentration, call us to make an appointment: 07932 689081

14Jan/14
Turned on?

Are you turned on?

Turned on?

Turned on?

At the risk of sounding ambiguous, many people are turned on. In particular, city dwellers and workers who are being hit with innumerable stimuli, bombarding the senses, triggering on-going responses by the brain, the mind and the body. Whether it be the noise of the traffic, the lights at night, the phantom vibrations of the phone, pollution or close-quarter travel on the train, outputs are being generated by the nervous system, the immune system and the endocrine system that are experienced as thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, some being pleasant, others not so.

Once a chronic state of arousal has been reached, the on-going energy demands can eventually result in burn-out or a gradual state of declining physical and mental health — the two being inextricably linked.

How does this manifest?

The all-too common conditions that we see include general body-wide muscular aches and pains, headaches and migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anxiety, indigestion, pelvic pain, fertility issues. The thread that ties these seemingly unrelated problems is stress. Stress however, is a physiological response to a situation that is perceived to be threatening. Two people can give entirely different meanings to a particular scenario, thereby having diverse experiences — it is all about an individual’s perception. Our perception is based upon beliefs about the world, sculpted over the years by exposure and influences.

stress-2The biological response to threat involves the autonomic nervous system and the motor system at least, preparing to either flee from the danger or confront the situation. An incredible set of responses, they evolved from the need to deal with wild animals. Fortunately this does not happen too often these days, but there are plenty of potential threats including the thoughts that pass through our mind. The brain does not differentiate between a thought and actually being present. The response is similar and usually thinking about something unpleasant that may happen will lead to feelings of anxiety — tingling in the tummy, tension, increased pain.

If these systems are persistently triggered by stress, there is less opportunity for smooth digestion, conception, healing and clarity. Being chronically turned on hence results in digestive issues, sensitivity of the bowel (bloating, pain etc), difficulty conceiving (thoughts of sex and conceiving are not going to be high on the brain’s agenda if there is a constant perception of danger) and pain that results from gradual changes in the tissues. In fact, every body system is impacted upon by the chemicals released during an on-going stress response. And not in a good way. Performance is affected, mood varies, sleep is disrupted, concentration is poor, catastrophising becomes rife and negative thinking about life predominates.

How do we turn off?

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics in London for pain, complex pain and injuryRelaxation or having the ability to switch off is often a skill that requires learning and practice. Going to the gym, having a cigarette or a coffee is not turning off. These are all stimulating a system that is already fraught. It is the calming, restorative, digestive and healing mechanisms that need to be fortified.

Promoting calm in a habitual way across the day is a potent way of re-programming the right responses for the right scenarios. Checking in on the body and thought processes, attending to the present moment rather than automatically drifting into the past or future, avoiding stimulation (e.g./ electronic screens, coffee, cigarettes, sugary foods and drink, certain reading material), mindful practice, breathing techniques and cultivating focused attention are all ways in which we can build our positive bank account in terms of energy and feeling good. Creating good habits. Exercise although stimulating, and certainly in a gym with bright lights and loud music, should form part of a routine for the overall healthy benefits. It is the best wonder drug that we know of and it is free.

Changing behaviours is difficult but it is achievable with the right programme that addresses both body and mind. Cultivating a routine around sleep, movement, diet, exercise, mindfulness, work and family will groove a healthy, resilient, positive and happy path forward. Turn off.

For more on our healthy programme and treatment for painful conditions, stress and anxiety, call us now on 07932 689081

03Jan/14
The fulcrum point

Changing pain and suffering in 3 steps

The fulcrum pointLogically, anecdotally and empirically, understanding one’s pain is a foundation from where action can be taken to initiate change. Conversely, lacking insight into the cause of pain and being unaware of the contributing factors creates anxiety that forms its own cycle of problems. This is certainly true when pain persists with no obvious structural or pathological reason — a common scenario.

The initial feeling of pain could be termed the primary sensation. The location, quality and intensity are noted, motivating responses: have a look, move, perhaps touch and seek advice. From the primary feeling comes an automatic thought that is deeply grounded in a belief system about pain, injury, life, health and the landscape of our world. This automatic thought triggers a range of emotional and physical responses that are experienced as secondary effects. The secondary effects of limitation, suffering, further pain and sensitisation — an often downward spiral accompanied by despair,  a perceived loss of control — accounting for much of the impact upon quality of life.

There is a fulcrum point between the primary and the secondary that is so potent; a fulcrum point being the place where leverage can be applied to affect a process. In physical therapy — for this is my background — this could be the careful and reasoned application of a hands-on technique to effect change in the way the brain processes sensory information from the body; the basis for relief as the brain alters it’s outputs and hence the sense of physical self. Similarly, to intervene at the point of feeling pain so as to minimise or even prevent the secondary effects that are driven by the automatic thought is a practice that can be cultivated.

  • Pain -> thought — meaning? -> increase in pain, tension, suffering
  • Pain -> thought — mindfulness -> reduced pain, tension, suffering

3 steps to easing pain & suffering 

There are several steps to developing the practice. Firstly, understanding your own pain is vital. What are the biological mechanisms and sources? And what can influence this biology? The latter includes stress, fatigue, movement, thinking, beliefs and the environment. A further point to consider is always that of perception. We all have our own unique perception that is created by our mind~brain, again based on our view of ourselves and the world, moulded by years of experience that blends with our genetics. No matter what the situation, our own reality is the one we respond to, and in the case of pain and sensitivity, the responses can increasingly be triggered by non-threatening situations and environments that are perceived now to be threatening.

The second step is to develop awareness of one’s own thinking and perception at the point that pain is noted. It is by becoming aware that we can then make the necessary change and apply leverage. To be aware means that you must be present as opposed to the autopilot mode where the mind drifts into the past, replaying tapes of previous events — that can equally trigger emotional and physical responses — ruminating on what has been, or fantasising or constructing a future. Neither fundamentally exist, yet we respond and behave as if this is the case; it is our reality for that moment. In doing so, the present moment is missed and we follow the mind and it’s wanderings. All minds do this, this is normal, but if the wanderings create suffering, angst and discomfort, it does not bode well for a happy existence.

The third step is to practice. Being aware is being mindful; the way in which pain and suffering can be eased. Creating a habit of regular practice is certainly achievable with a little motivation, guidance and support. Within a few weeks, people often report a significant difference in how they feel in terms of pain but also in their ability to deal with pain, their resilience. Mindfulness practice changes how the body physically feels and there is a fortified sense of facing life. The release of tension, the removal of the sandbags from the shoulders is welcome in all cases.

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics in London for chronic pain and injury — mindfulness is part of a comprehensive treatment and training programme to reduce pain and suffering, and guide individuals back to a fulfilling life — call us on 07932 689081

01Jan/14
Specialist Pain Physio Clinics in London for pain, complex pain and injury

Mindfulness programme

The light out of the darkMindfulness commonly forms part of a comprehensive treatment and training programme for pain, anxiety and stress. The origins of the practice stem from many years ago but in a modern sense, mindfulness is mind training that is akin to physical training used to improve fitness. A great deal of time is dedicated to physical activity for health, less so on the mental side, however the two are inextricably entwined. For one you simply need the other, and to combine the training is the most potent way of cultivating the conditions for healthy living or recovery from pain and injury.

The modern day use of mindfulness is to create health, foster clarity of thought, increase awareness of thoughts and actions for self-improvement and to reduce stress, anxiety and pain that occurs as a consequence of simple practices. Mindfulness is not steeped in religion, but is a philosophical framework to attain a more fulfilling existence.

See Vietnemese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh speaking here 

Thich Nhat HanhA programme of mindfulness activities, followed week by week over a period of 8-10 weeks is an excellent way to groove the habit. It is a learning process that increasingly develops awareness in order to make the necessary changes to promote health. Many activities and thought processes are automatic or habitual, but do not point us towards a positive, fulfilling existence. To change this situation requires practice, in essence to re-wire the way we are working via the characteristic neuroplasticity, a feature of the nervous system that underpins learning and adaptation.

Over the 8-10 weeks the practice of a variety of mindfulness activities creates a healthy habit. Several daily sessions of 12-20 minutes focused training is the goal. In addition, forming a routine of performing tasks in a mindful way is a powerful way of regularly enrich awareness; this is simply by paying attention to a normal activity such as cleaning, making a drink or walking. Attend to the sounds, the feel, the aroma and physical sensations thereby standing in the present moment rather than drifting automatically into the past or building a future.

Typically over the period of training, the practice of mindful breathing to cultivate awareness of the effects of thoughts upon the body and vice versa, the body scan to regain a sense of the physical body and how it constantly changes and responds, mindful movements that combines awareness with comfortable motions that nourish the body tissues, working with the pain and suffering and developing compassion towards oneself and others.

For further information or to book, please call us: 07932 689081

31Dec/13
Matthieu Ricard

The habits of happiness | Matthieu Ricard speaks

Matthieu RicardPreviously a scientist, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, talks about happiness and the ability to train the mind to cultivate well-being, serenity and fulfilment.

How can we nurture happiness?

Ricard describes how we can do this in order to lead happier and fulfilling lives, blending the fundamentals of mind training with science.

Many people who are starting the journey towards changing their pain, begin from a start-point of unhappiness. Beginning the treatment and training programme by creating a positive mindset builds a strong foundation from where one can move forward, by both understanding pain and cultivating the practice of specific mind training techniques.

23Dec/13
lion

Thoughts can be threatening

lionA threat can arise in many forms. Years ago, it would have been a wild animal that posed a potential danger, responded to with a fight or by running away — flight. Nowadays we don’t often face the physical threat of an animal attack, more likely it being the menace of street crime or the risk of an injury whilst undertaking activity. The context of each of these scenarios is very different with distinct and personal meanings that result in varying responses.

The key point about a threat is that is must be interpreted as being dangerous in order to arouse activity in the autonomic nervous system. This system is the link between what we think, the meaning we ascribe to a circumstance and how the body responds. With connections that reach far into the body systems, in particular the cardiovascular system and the gut, the autonomic system is a major player in creating awareness that something is potentially unsafe and hence drives behaviours to approach or avoid.

Most of the time we do not face a physical threat. However, familiar feelings in the body signify anxiety most likely on a daily basis: tension, butterflies in the stomach (actually changing blood flow that triggers neural activity), increased heart and breathing rates and perhaps a sense of panic. Why? Because of our thoughts.

Thoughts can be threatening. A thought that is lived, given significance, engaged with or is considered to be self-defining, will evoke emotional and physical responses. If the thought is one that plays a tape of an unpleasant past experience, fashions an image or a story that is troubling or builds a future of uncertainty, the autonomic system will be aroused. This happening over and over ensures that the system becomes more easily switched on and vigilant to a range of cues, even normal situations that can become threatening in some cases.

Feeling anxious is normal. It warns us that we need to place our attention upon the trigger and take the necessary action. Once this has been done, there is no need to continue to feel anxious, but often the association continues. Automatically there is a response to a thought, or waves of thoughts, and without control over this, the spiral continues. How can we gain control?

Mindfulness is a very potent way of tackling stress. The bodily feelings of stress are triggered by our perception of a situation being negative, risky, dangerous and somehow threatening to our beliefs about ourselves and our world. At the point where a thought or a situation prompts an automatic thought that is negative, these emerging from our belief system that has been evolving from a very young age, this propels us into greater suffering, pain, and sensitivity with increasing impact. Mindfulness practice refines the awareness of this process, maintaining a presence that prevents the dwelling upon the past or a leap into the future. Neither of these actually exist as they are constructs of our mind. The problem is the brain’s response to past or future thinking is very similar to actually being there — a lack of discrimination means that the same autonomic actions are triggered.

In the short-term, the autonomic responses are adaptive and useful. If they persist, the chemicals released over and over become problematic as certain systems are shut down due to the perception of danger. For example, the gut and reproductive system are not needed when we are escaping the clutches of a wild animal. But, similarly, chronic stress from an on-going negative assessment of a situation, thinking, will have the same effect. This is often a feature of infertility when the reproductive system is being impacted upon time and again.

The biological reality then, is that no matter what the situation, it is the individual interpretation that is key in determining what happens next. In developing mindfulness practice and emotional intelligence at the fulcrum point that is the automatic thought popping into consciousness, suffering, pain and on-going stress responses can be subdued and dissolved as presence and awareness rules over.

For further details about our treatment and training programmes for persisting pain and stress, call now 07932 689081