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How Mindfulness Can Influence Health

Suruchi Arora (Certificate in Mind-Body Healing)

 

Mindfulness

Mindfulnes is the moment to moment non-judgemental awareness of our own mind and body. It can be practiced in several ways like breathing mindfulness, sitting mindfulness, Hatha Yoga mindfulness, walking mindfulness, everyday activity mindfulness. Mindfulness has been known to connect us to our centre, raise our awareness to higher levels of consciousness, relax and calm us, convert unhealthy stuck energy into healthy unstuck energy, change our mindless reactions into mindful responses to situations, and increase our feelings of love, compassion and well-being.

In addition, mindfulness has been noted to have several health benefits. Therapeutic interventions that incorporate training in mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular, but to date, little is known about neural mechanisms associated with these interventions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate psychiatric and stress-related symptoms, reduce perception and impact of pain, improve blood pressure, cardiac disease, immunity, and help combat addictions. Mindfulness related changes in cells and body may also reduce the risk of cancer and complement anti-cancer treatments in improving chances of recovery from cancers.

Stabilising Vital Signs

Observing your own breathing is the most common form of mindfulness technique. Just the observation of breath brings about a sense of peace, calm and centring which, in turn, slows the breathing down. This improves blood flow and oxygen supply to brain and other vital organs, slows down heart rate, reduces blood pressure. A lower BP and heart rate, along with the reduction of stress, contribute to a reduction in the risk of diseases like heart attack, diabetes and stroke.

Body Awareness

Body scan is a type of mindfulness exercise used in MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) programmes. It is a process in which we pay attention to each part of our body, observe it and then move to the next part. In doing so, we register the quality and type of feelings in each part non-judgementally. This allows us to let go of the excessive attention to the affected region and move to calmness and stillness. We do not expect a reduction in pain, but are receptive and accepting of it in a neutral way, allowing for a reduction in the perception and impact of the pain in the area, which in turn alters our feeling of well-being.

Pain

Medicine treats acute pain better than chronic pain, for which, quite often, no cause or cure is identified. Although pain is a natural part of response of our body, suffering is not necessary in response to pain. Suffering caused by the pain brings depression, loss of work, loss of pleasure. Mindful observation of pain in any part of body or a chronic illness improves our acceptance of the condition as is. This, in turn, reduces the reaction to that pain and our resistance. This process can reduce the perception of pain. Acceptance of what is and focussing in the wonder that the rest of our body is still working can improve our response to medication, improve healing after surgery and reduce pain.

Research has shown that higher cognitive and emotional pathways can modify the perception of pain -dramatic clinically significant reduction in pain in 8w of mindfulness training has been observed in MBSR clinics. Mindfulness encourages participants to enter pain rather than ignore it because experiments have shown that tuning into sensations is a more effective method of dealing with them than distracting from them. Mindful awareness is not substitute but complementary to contemporary medicine in treating chronic pain conditions.

Addictions

Energy in the form of observations like sight, smell, sound, thoughts, ideas, emotions enter our body and are converted to matter in the form of neurotransmitters and hormones at the level of our awareness. Mindfulness shifts our awareness to high energy planes, creating an overall positive response to all situations and experiences. This creates a sense of well-being and stillness within us, helping us break the cycles of addictions at a much deeper level than everyday self-control and resolve, rendering mindfulness an effective method of treating eating disorders, weight gain, smoking, alcoholism and drug addiction.

Stress

Stress has long been identified as a causative factor in several diseases like high BP, heart attacks, auto-immune diseases, strokes, rheumatoid arthritis and even some cancers. Mindfulness is known to reduce stress through feelings of relaxation, inner peace, stability and stillness. Functional and structural neuroimaging studies have begun to explore the neuroscientific processes underlying these components. Evidence suggests that mindfulness practice is associated with neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network, and default mode network structures, establishing a process of enhanced self-regulation and reduced stress response. Reduction in stress levels reduces the risk of above mentioned diseases, enhances their recovery, or improves the well-being of participants even in conditions where the disease condition itself is not treated or altered.

Immunity

A significant increase in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation group have been reported compared with those in the control group in several researches. The magnitude of increase in left-sided activation in response to meditation predicted the magnitude of antibody titer rise to the vaccine, indicating a direct correlation between the two. PNI (psycho-neuro-immunology) also explains this phenomenon of improved immunity in response to reduction in stress through the stimulation of hippocampus, neurotransmitters and neuropeptides.

Observing (Biofeedback)

Simply observing and being aware of our own health and watching the benefit brought by mindfulness can bring better health by motivating us. Observing the thoughts and feelings associated with the pain or illness are important. We make casual remarks like “This is killing me” Such thoughts and emotions worsen our reaction and effect of illness or pain, they are not accurate remarks but affect our outlook and make things worse. Altering this thinking through mindful awareness makes us more accepting of our condition.

Awareness also helps us listen to our bodies and its symptoms, responding to them in timely manner rather than allowing the conditions to get worse and cause more serious disease.

Mindfulness does not bulldoze its way through illness but works on the edges, a bit here a bit there, slowly altering our well-being. It does not replace contemporary medicine in diagnosis or treatment but works efficiently and positively in conjunction in bringing a holistic approach to healing from within.

References:

Books

  • The Catastrophe of Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Re-inventing the body, resurrecting the soul: How to create a new you by Deepak Chopra
  • Placebo by Dr Joe Dispenza

Websites and Articles (accessed between Dec 2017)

  • Frantic World
  • Baer et al 2012. Weekly change in mindfulness and perceived stress in a MBSR: Journal of clinical Psychology
  • Bostoket et al (2013). Can finding headspace reduce work stress? Randomised controlled workplace trial of mindfulness app. Psychosomatic Medicine 75 (3) A36-A37
  • Davidson, R.J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., et al. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564-570
  • Umass Med 

 

View Course: Certificate in Mind-Body Healing

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