Practicing “Stealth Mindfulness” All Day Long

Our culture today seems to almost deify disconnection. Young schoolchildren have the latest iGadgets, 2-year-olds are adept at smartphones, and it’s not unusual to see everyone at family gatherings ignoring each other while tapping on their devices.

Connecting with others, however, is an opportunity to practice mindfulness—speaking, listening and interacting—and we can do it all day long. Faculty and staff at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center even have a term for that kind of practice: It’s called taking mindfulness “off the cushion” and into the world of “relational mindfulness.” In my training, “off the cushion” is called the “informal mindfulness practice” with everyday interactions.

Why is it important to get metaphorically get off the cushion or practice informal mindfulness? Because, say Center researchers, busy people today feel as if they don’t have time to stop and practice mindfulness. How, then, can mindfulness be incorporated into our everyday lives? Try some of these ideas:

  • Stay deeply present. When feeling spaced out, gently bring yourself into the present moment. And when interacting with others, display authenticity and love.
  • Be a mindful listener. Often, we cut people off, jump in and try to “fix” people, or turn the conversation toward us. If you listen attentively, people feel seen and understood.
  • Notice your body. It might be your feet touching the ground, hands on your lap, or back against a chair. For most people, noticing a physical sensation serves as a reminder to come back to the present.
  • Speak skillfully. Use words with care and intentionality. Talk authentically from the heart.
  • Keep internal awareness alive. Cultivate an inner awareness when you’re speaking, noticing, for example, when your cheeks feel flushed or how tired you are. This allows you to learn more about yourself and what’s happening in the present moment, says Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the Mindful Awareness Research Center. “It keeps an internal awareness alive.”
  • Practice when it feels right to you. Just be aware that you have opportunities 24/7.
  • Choose what you want to practice. It might be: listening, speaking authentically, or just putting away your phone to fully engage with the check-out person at the grocery store.

Finally, remember that no one needs to know what you are doing when you are practicing informal mindfulness because it’s a form of “stealth” mindfulness—mindfulness you can quietly practice all day long.

More information: https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-247/

Mindfulness Techniques Lessen Feelings of Anxiety, Isolation

Get “interconnected” with yourself, others, and the world.

Ever feel as if you’re living in a bubble, separate from everyone else? All of us have moments when we feel somewhat isolated from life. For some, however, this sense of isolation exacerbates anxiousness, creating feelings of despair, painful separation, and a longing to feel integrated with life.

Studies now indicate that two Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction practices can alleviate anxiety by helping sufferers get back in touch with themselves and the world around them.

 

Informal Reconnect Practice

This practice, which uses the power of interconnectedness, is designed to help you get a sense of being unified with your surroundings. “When you deeply reflect on the ripples of interconnection that pulse through your life, you can directly experience how you are never isolated,” says author and teacher Bob Stahl, Ph.D. “Recalling this unity can break through feelings of disconnectedness or isolation, bringing a sense of interconnection that can suffuse you, like the sun emerging from a cover of clouds.”

Do this simple practice as soon as you realize you’re feeling separate. It can be done in any position, but keep your eyes open and stay engaged.

Deepen awareness of your body. Become aware of the points of contact with the surface beneath you, a sense of weight as you rest in gravity, or a feeling of how you fully inhabit three dimensions. Relax any tension. Allow your vision to expand, and soften your gaze. Connect with your breath and your heart, be present, and actively bring kindness to yourself.

Engage your visual field and body awareness together. Open your peripheral vision so you’re aware of your hands on your lap, or more fully sense your entire body. Hear the sounds around you, feel sensations, and gently acknowledge any thoughts or feelings.

 

 

Formal Interconnection Practice

Set aside 20 minutes for this meditation practice. Do it seated, standing, or even lying down—just be comfortable and alert.

Pause to check in. Check in with yourself and acknowledge how you’re feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally. (Remember that mindfulness is a non-judging awareness in the present moment.)

Gently shift awareness to breathing. Be aware of naturally breathing in and out, tuning in to one inhalation and one exhalation at a time. Focus on your breath wherever you feel it most distinctly, like your chest, belly or nostrils. Let your awareness rest there… being mindful of breathing in and out. 

Feel your body’s connection. Feel the surface supporting you. Then notice how that surface is connected to the floor, which is connected to the building you’re in, which is connected to the Earth. Reflect on being in a safe place with nothing you need to do, nowhere you must go, and no one you have to be. “Just allow yourself to be held in the heart of the earth with kindness and ease,” says Stahl. 

Expand your awareness. Sense the connection of the Earth to the solar system, and then the vast universe. In this way, we’re all interconnected.

Feel the grace of this universe. Appreciate that you are an intrinsic part of this universe and can never be separated from it. Feel a sense of connection and interconnection; you are at home within your being.

Gradually return awareness to your breath. Feel how your entire body breathes in and out, from head to toe, to fingertips—unified, connected, and whole.  

View the article:

Feeling Separate When You’re Anxious: Two Mindfulness Practices to Reconnect

 

Mindfully yours,

Dr. Pamm

A 10 Minute Guided Meditation to Foster Forgiveness

Forgiveness Helps Us Let Go of Whatever Holds Us Back

I often work with clients who are weighed down by feelings of anger and resentment over old hurts. Sometimes they’re burdened by guilt caused by their own actions. Either way, peace comes through forgiving others and ourselves.

If there’s someone you’d like to forgive, but don’t know how to do it, I encourage you to listen Dr. Mark Bertin’s guided meditation below. Through the simple story of two monks who encounter a rude woman, he gently illustrates the way that we add to our negative experiences by fostering anger and resentment. Then, he leads us through a mindful release into a state of forgiveness. A transcript of the meditation is available on Mindful.org as well.

Peace,

 

Dr. Pamm

America Has Problems Dealing with Chronic Pain

Robert Bonakdar, MD, is Director of Pain Management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. In a recent editorial published in USA Today, he courageously disagrees with the United States Surgeon General’s campaign to reduce opioid drug dependencies through education and addiction awareness. The real problem, Dr. Bonkadar argues, is that there are other ways to manage chronic pain, but insurance companies won’t pay for them.

Chronic pain is a complex scenario that not only affects the back or shoulder, but one that over time can shrink the brain while creating or worsening fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxietyobesity and risk of suicide. The pain transformation called for by the IOM and most recently the National Pain Strategy requires not just a campaign, but an integrative, patient-centered approach to support someone whose entire existence is affected. – Dr. Robert Bonkadar[1]

The doctor does see signs of hope, however, that decision makers are beginning to understand the human benefits and corporate cost savings of pain management methods such as exercise and diet, biofeedback and nutrition, Tai Chi, yoga, acupuncture, CBT and mindfulness.

After focus groups with chronic pain patients found that ‘fix-it’ strategies were failing while also bankrupting the state, Rhode Island created the Ease the Pain Program, which uses case management and treatments like acupuncture, massage and manipulation. Similarly, starting this year, the Oregon state insurance program will cover acupuncture, CBT and more, based on findings that ‘lack of support for and knowledge of biopsychosocial pain self-management treatments are serious public health problems.’ [2]

If you are one of the 100 million Americans who suffer with chronic pain, I urge you to consider mindfulness meditation and other non-drug treatments as part of your pain management program.

 

Peace,

 

Dr. Pamm

[1] Robert Bonkadar, M.D., “Docs Need Help to Ease Opioid Epidemic,” USA Today, September 28, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

Deep Relaxation Changes Our Bodies on a Genetic Level

For many years now, scientific studies have shown that mindfulness meditation has a profound effect on our health and wellbeing. Still, new clients routinely express skepticism about meditation—they assume it’s just a timeout from the stress of everyday living with no long-term health benefits.

An article I keep handy to encourage these doubters appeared in the January 2012 SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, titled “7 Health Benefits of Meditation.” It’s worth reading the full article, but here’s my synopsis in case you’d rather spend your time meditating than reading.

7 Health Benefits of Deep Relaxation 

  1. Increased Immunity
  2. Emotional Balance
  3. Increased Fertility
  4. Relieves Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  5. Lowers Blood Pressure
  6. Anti-Inflammatory
  7. Calmness

Somehow we all know that relaxation is good for us, right? When we pause, take a deep breath, and let it out, it helps us to relax our bodies and clear our minds so that we can refocus with more clarity and energy. But is that all? What does science say about why intentional meditation for 10-15 minutes a day is so beneficial?

Meditation Changes Our Bodies on a Genetic Level

Researchers at Harvard Medical School did a comprehensive scientific study showing that deep relaxation changes our bodies on a genetic level and in long-term practitioners of relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation, far more ”disease-fighting genes” were active, compared to those who practiced no form of relaxation.

The study showed that regular meditation practice turned on genes that protect from disorders such as

  • Pain
  • Infertility
  • High blood pressure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Inflammation
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Cancer
  • Immune system deficiencies

How can relaxation have such wide-ranging and powerful effects?

On a biological level, stress is linked to fight-flight and danger. In survival mode, heart rate rises and blood pressure shoots up. Meanwhile muscles, preparing for danger, contract and tighten. And non-essential functions such as immunity and digestion go by the wayside.” Relaxation, on the other hand, is a state of rest, enjoyment and physical renewal. Free of danger, muscles can relax and food can be digested. The heart can slow and blood circulation flows freely to the body’s tissues, feeding it with nutrients and oxygen. This restful state is good for fertility, as the body is able to conserve the resources it needs to generate new life. – Dr. Jane Flemming [1]

How to switch off stress 

The researchers found that yoga, meditation and even repetitive prayer and mantras all induced the relaxation effect. Try one or more of these techniques for 15 minutes once or twice a day:

  • Mental Body Scan
  • Breath Focus
  • Mantra Repetition
  • Guided Imagery

I hope you’ll learn more about those methods by reading the full article, or explore the Mindfulness section of this website.

Peace,

Dr. Pamm

[1]7 Health Benefits of Meditation,” SYDNEY MORNING HERALD,
republished on Food Matters, Jan. 26, 2012.

18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation

Emerging Science Examines Benefits of Mindfulness Practice

This month’s issue of Mindful magazine has an excellent article by Emma Seppälä, who looks at the emerging science around the benefits of loving-kindness meditation.

Start with Kindness

First, the author notes the confusion and possible misconceptions—or even biases—that some people have about meditation. As she notes, there are many forms of meditation practice that we may have tried once or twice, before concluding they weren’t helpful for us.

I agree with Dr. Seppälä that a great place to start or renew a meditation practice is with Loving Kindness Meditation—or Mindfulness Practice, as I refer to it. It’s an easy one to begin with, because it evokes a very natural state in us: kindness.[1] As the author explains,

Loving-kindness meditation focuses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards others … compassion, kindness and empathy are very basic emotions to us. Research shows that loving-kindness meditation has a tremendous amount of benefits [including] relief from illness and improving emotional intelligence.[2]

For the scientific evidence that supports the author’s 18 Reasons below, I urge you to read Dr. Seppälä’s full article. If these reasons intrigue you, then you may also enjoy the author’s TEDx talk—a recording of the loving-kindness meditation she uses.

Scientific Studies Reveal Benefits of Mindfulness Practice

  1. Increases Positive Emotions & Decreases Negative Emotions
  2. Increases vagal tone, which increases positive emotions & feelings of social connection
  3. Decreases migraines
  4. Decreases chronic pain
  5. Decreases PTSD
  6. Decreases schizophrenia-spectrum disorders
  7. Activates empathy & emotional processing in the brain
  8. Increases gray matter volume
  9. Increases respiratory Sinus Arrythmia (RSA)
  10. Increases telomere length—a biological marker of aging
  11. Makes you a more helpful person
  12. Increases compassion
  13. Increases empathy
  14. Decreases your bias towards others
  15. Increases social connection
  16. Curbs self-criticism
  17. Is effective even in small doses
  18. Has long-term impact[3]

The science is increasingly clear on the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Countless patients of mine—and I suspect some of your friends and acquaintances—will also attest to its helpfulness. May your own practice bring you peace, healing, and joy.

 

With gratitude,

 

Dr. Pamm


[1] Emma Seppälä, “18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation,” Mindful, Oct. 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Mind Over Matter: Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Management

Recent research on the neurobiological mechanisms of pain is providing insights into the ways mindfulness practice can help with pain management. Researcher Sara Adaes’ article “Mind Over Matter: Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Management” is a fascinating digest of recent studies that I encourage you to read in full.

I’m a big proponent of mindfulness meditation to reduce pain and improve health. Research continues to support my view and I hope you’ll consider starting your own mindfulness practice. Here are a few key points of Adaes’ article that I hope will convince you to learn more.

  • Mindfulness meditation is not merely a placebo effect; a 2015 study in The Journal of Neurosciencecompared the effect of active mindfulness meditation with a fake technique – “one that would lead the participants to believe that they were practicing mindfulness meditation, but that would only engage relaxation mechanisms. The study found that mindfulness meditation decreased pain intensity and unpleasantness beyond the analgesic effects of placebo or sham mindfulness meditation.” [1]
  • In that 2015 study, “effective mindfulness meditation engaged brain mechanisms that were indeed distinct from those of placebo-induced analgesia.[2]
  • A follow up study in The Journal of Neuroscience explored the mechanisms that are affected by mindfulness meditation. “Using naloxone, a drug that blocks the effect of opioids, it was shown that the inhibition of the opioid system did not affect analgesia induced by mindfulness meditation. In the control group, on the other hand, the blockade of the opioid system induced an increase in pain perception, as expected … the fact that [the opiod system] apparently has no influence on the mechanisms of mindfulness meditation-induced analgesia is intriguing.”[3]
  • “Mindfulness meditation may be a complex, cognitive process that likely engages multiple brain networks and neurochemical mechanisms to attenuate pain.”[4]
  • A reduced activity of the thalamus has also been reported [as a result of effective mindfulness meditation, which] … indicates that it may somehow diminish sensory processing, or that it may prevent this sensory information from reaching conscious awareness.”[5]

I agree with Ms. Adaes’ conclusion that we have more research to do before we fully understand why mindfulness meditation is effective for pain management. I also know from my own experience and others that it works. Give it a try!

Peace,

Dr. Pamm

 


 

[1] Sara Adaes, “Mind Over Matter: Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Management” BrainBlogger, May 1, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

New Mindfulness Group Begins September 12, 2017

Mindfulness Training

Eight one and a half-hour group sessions

 Mindfulness practice is a wonderful opportunity to “wake up” to your life and to encounter emotions, thoughts in the mind and sensations in the body with curiosity and non-judgment.

Dr. Pamela Cappetta, LPC, LMFT, will be offering an eight-week group experience to explore your struggles, joys, confusion, depression and anxiety through the lens of mindfulness. She will teach you a variety of mindfulness practices for inclusion in your daily life.

Mindfulness—waking up to what is—is a non-judging awareness in the present moment.  Mindfulness arises when you pay attention on purpose in a way that is friendly and non-interfering.  It is possible to develop and to bring mindfulness into all activities of daily life, both internal and external.

Paying attention on purpose, carefully and with sensitivity, can be done as a formal meditation, or informally, as a way of noticing the flow of your daily life.  The benefits of mindfulness include lowering stress and increasing calmness in the mind and the body.  Developing insight and wisdom into the habits of judging, thinking and reacting that are at the core of stress reactions will be addressed.  Ultimately, by becoming more mindful, you will learn to make stronger and deeper contact with the moments of your life.  The growing medical research suggests that mindfulness developed as a meditation skill and practiced daily offers benefits that impact both psychological and physical conditions.

Each group will be limited to 8-10 people and each person is requested to commit to attending each session. High levels of confidentiality will be expected and a commitment to daily practice outside the group will be a piece of the commitment to the mindfulness training.

Please arrive early to find your seat and settle in.  You may bring beverages into the group room.  Please do not wear any perfumes or fragrances (lotions, hair products, etc.) due to the sensitivity of some of the group members.

Please Note:  If you are new to Dr. Cappetta’s practice, you would need to schedule an individual appointment with her before the start of the Mindfulness Training group.  This way she can get to know you and we can determine if your health insurance would cover the cost of the group.  Also, all people registering for the Mindfulness Training group are required to pay a $100.00 deposit (with check, cash or via PayPal) to hold their place in the group.  This deposit becomes non-refundable seven days prior to the first group session.  

When:  Tuesdays, 5:45 PM-7:15 PM

Dates: September 12-November 7, 2017 (we will not meet on October 24) 

Cost: $400.00 (check or cash, or under special circumstances we can bill your insurance company)

For more information or to register, please call

757-253-5708

How to Make Mindfulness and Compassion Your Automatic Response to Stress

In “A Basic Meditation to Strengthen Neural Connections,”[1] Dr. Christopher Willard gives us a peek into his upcoming book Growing Up MindfulHe notes that just as we take care of our bodies with nutrition and exercise, we can also “change our brain, boosting concentration, flexibility, and intelligence and building new neural pathways and networks, by working out our brain” with mindfulness practice.

Are you skeptical that this could work? Why not try Dr. Willard’s simple exercise:

Before you begin, adopt a posture that is both comfortable and sustainable for a few minutes, and then set a timer for three minutes.

  • First, bring your awareness to an anchor: sensations or movement in your body, the breath, ambient sounds, counting, or even an image you found powerful or calming. Anything can be the anchor for your attention. Just invite your mind to rest there.
  • Pretty soon, you will notice your mind begin to wander. That is completely normal. Each time you notice it wandering, notice where it goes and then gently guide your awareness back to your anchor.

Pretty simple, right? So simple, in fact, that it might seem like you’re not doing very much. But don’t be fooled. Every aspect of this practice is building the muscles of your mind. In fact, one of my patients even likes to use the image of his brain getting a little bit bigger with each moment of mindfulness.[2]

Dr. Willard explains why this simple mindfulness practice works:

  1. Each time you focus on or return to the anchor, you are building your concentration
  2. Each time you focus on the anchor, you detach from your thought stream. This is a practice of letting go in the moment, which translates to letting go in the rest of the world.
  3. Each time you notice that the mind is wandering, that is the moment of mindfulness—not a moment of failure.
  4. Each time you are kind to yourself when your mind wanders, instead of criticizing yourself, you are exercising and strengthening your self-compassion for challenging moments in the rest of your daily life.
  5. Each time you notice where the mind is wandering, that is an opportunity for insight into your mind’s habits and patterns—what we might call wisdom or self-understanding. ?[3]

I hope you will try mindfulness practice and discover its benefits! Over time, you’ll find it becomes almost second nature. As Dr. Willard states so well, “each of the mental actions in this practice strengthens neural connections that, with practice, rewire your brain, over time making mindfulness and compassion the automatic response to stress.”[4]

Peace,

 

Dr. Pamm

[1] Christopher Willard, “A Basic Meditation to Strengthen Neural Connections,” Mindful, May 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Return to Happiness with Mindfulness

Elisha Goldstein’s good article in this month’s Mindful magazine reminds us to avoid 5 common traps that can get us stuck in a depression loop and keep us from attaining happiness:

  1. Doubt
  2. Emptiness
  3. Irritation
  4. Sluggishness
  5. Restlessness[1]

It’s natural to feel these things occasionally, but when they keep us from enjoying life, mindfulness practice can get us back on track.

Do you struggle with voices of doubt that prevent you from trying new experiences? Do you feel that you can’t do enough or be enough? Do minor irritations grow into resentments? Are you too tired, busy, or distracted to do the things you like to do or to be with the people you’d like to spend time with?

If you answered yes to these questions, I encourage you to read Mr. Goldstein’s article “The 5 Major Mind Traps that Hinder Happiness” and consider mindfulness practice.

Peace,

 

Dr. Pamm

[1] Elisha Goldstein, “The 5 Major Mind Traps that Hinder Happiness,” Mindful, March 18, 2016

Eight Weeks to a Better Brain

Meditation changes brain regions associated with memory and stress

Mindfulness meditation practitioners have long reported a greater sense of relaxation, peace, and wellbeing—that alone is reason to try it. But some people need reassurance that mindfulness is not simply a “mind over matter” placebo. We now have reason to believe that meditation produces changes over time in the brain’s gray matter to improve brain health.

Research findings in the Harvard Gazette report that an an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.[1]

This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing. [2] —Sara Lazar, MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program

The researchers used magnetic resonance (MR) images of the brains of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program. They compared those images to a set of MR brain images of a control group of non-meditators.Bottom of Form Analysis of the meditators’ images found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. They also observed decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. [3]

The importance of these findings is well stated by neuroscientist Amishi Jha:

These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an eight-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amygdala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. [4]

 

Peace,

 

Dr. Pamm

 

[1] Sue McGreevey, “Eight Weeks to a Better Brain,” Harvard Gazette, January 21, 2011.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Kindness Curriculum Improves Students’ Grades

What if we taught kindness in schools?

Researchers recently tested a 12-week curriculum in six schools in the Midwest where pre-kindergarten kids were introduced to stories and practices for paying attention, regulating their emotions, and cultivating kindness. Results of the study suggest that this program can improve kids’ grades, cognitive abilities, and relationship skills.[1]

Described in detail in the February 2016 issue of Mindful magazine, the curriculum used creative methods to teach the students the “ABCs” of mindfulness and kindness:

  • Attention
  • Breath and Body
  • Caring
  • Depending on other people
  • Emotions
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude

The researchers found that

“Students who went through the curriculum showed more empathy and kindness and a greater ability to calm themselves down when they felt upset, according to teachers’ ratings … They earned higher grades at the end of the year in certain areas (notably for social and emotional development), and they showed improvement in the ability to think flexibly and delay gratification, skills that have been linked to health and success later in life.[2]

Mindfulness and kindness practice isn’t just for adults, but can clearly benefit all of us from a very young age.

Peace,

Dr. Pamm

[1] Laura Pinger and Lisa Flook, “What if Schools Taught Kindness,” Mindful, Feb. 9, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

A Healing Response to Pain

Mindfulness Practice and Pain

When you’re in emotional pain, do you resist it, ignore it, or try to push it away? Those are all very common reactions to pain, but as Cindy Ricardo explains in this month’s Good Therapy blog, there’s a more healing and compassionate way to respond to our pain.[1]

The author explains how the pain itself isn’t the worst thing?rather, it’s the way we react to the pain that can rob of us our energy and distract us from responding in ways that could actually help. Without mindfulness and compassion for ourselves and the pain we’re experiencing, we can blow it out of proportion, worry, obsess about what happened, and futilely try to figure out how to make it go away.

If these ineffective reactions to pain go unchecked, they can morph into more serious problems such as addictions, distractions, or unhealthy mind state, which will add to the pain and create deep suffering.[2]

I encourage you to read the article for yourself and learn to become aware of when and how you’re reacting to or resisting pain, which is the first step to responding to it. The author gives several good tips on using simple mindfulness techniques that can transform your relationship to pain, and help you stay present to the both the challenges of life and all of life’s joys and sorrows.

Peace,

Dr. Pamm

 

 

 

[1] Cindy Ricardo, “A Healing Response to Pain: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion,” GoodTherapy.org, Feb. 9, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

Manage Stress by Listening to Your Body

As Mark Bertin says in his excellent Mindful article, “Stress—it’s not all in your head. The body acts as an early warning system, and people who pick up on its signals are more resilient.”[1]

It’s true that people with better body awareness tend to feel less stressed. One way to have more body awareness is to practice mindfulness. The concept is simple, really: mindfulness practice develops our attention. For example, if we do a body scan, observing sensations from our toes and gradually moving up to our head, we take time and become focused on subtle physical shifts that occur in our bodies. We notice the beginning sensations of stress and can choose to step out of the cycle of anxious thoughts and emotions before they escalate.

I encourage you to read Mr. Bertin’s article and to consider beginning a mindfulness practice. As the author notes, “catching the cycle of stress early, we can more easily adapt and redirect it.”[2]

Peace,

Dr. Pamm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Mark Bertin, “Manage Stress by Listening to Your Body,” Mindful, Jan. 20, 2016

[2] Ibid.

How Meditation Reduces Pain

Time magazine this month previewed the results of an exciting study on the efficacy of mindfulness practice in pain management. The study by Dr. Fadel Zeidan, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, will soon be published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Dr. Zeidan has studied mindfulness for 15 years and has observed improved health outcomes as a result.

“But what if this is all just a placebo?” he wondered. “What if people are reporting improvements in health and reductions in pain just because of meditation’s reputation as a health-promoting practice?” He wanted to find out, so he designed a trial that included a placebo group.[1]

In the study, one group was the control, one group received a placebo pain cream, one group learned a fake mindfulness practice, and the fourth group learned real mindfulness techniques.

“People in all of the groups had greater pain reductions than the control group. The placebo cream reduced the sensation of pain by an average of 11% and emotional unpleasantness of pain by 13%. For the sham mindfulness group, those numbers were 9% and 24% respectively. But mindfulness meditation outperformed them all. In this group, pain intensity was cut by 27% and emotional pain reduced by 44%.”[2]

Considering that opioid morphine reduces physical pain by 22%, the mindfulness numbers are impressive, indeed. But Dr. Zeidan was even more surprised by the MRI results, which showed that the mindfulness practitioners appeared to be using different brain regions than the other groups to reduce pain.

“There was something more active, we believe, going on with the genuine mindfulness meditation group,” Zeidan says. This group had increased activation in higher-order brain regions associated with attention control and enhanced cognitive control, he says, while exhibiting a deactivation of the thalamus—a structure that acts as the gatekeeper for pain to enter the brain, he explains. “We haven’t seen that with any other technique before.”[3]

As a mindfulness practitioner, I’m not surprised to hear this news, but I’m delighted to see good studies supporting what many of us have experienced. I look forward to upcoming studies that will help us to understand more about the process and under what circumstances mindfulness practice can be of most benefit to pain sufferers.

Peace,

Dr. Pamm

 

[1] Mandy Oaklander, “Meditation Reduces Emotional Pain by 44%: Study,” Time, Nov. 12, 2015.

 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.