Live well with stress, pain and illness with mindfulness practice
Mindfulness practice allows you to develop skills for self-care, natural health and wellbeing to use in your daily life to manage stress and personal challenges and restore balance and ease in your life. There is scientific research evidence that daily mindfulness practice can help to reduce stress, improve sleep patterns, rebalance emotional reactivity and allow you to live well with pain and long-term health conditions .
There is an increasing body of research data indicating that ongoing mindfulness practice can change the structure and function of the brain for the better. Mindfulness practice helps us to develop a new relationship to life’s ups and downs, so that our problems don’t overshadow our lives. We learn to move from reacting automatically to responding with greater awareness, allowing us to feel more in control of the choices we make.
Research has shown that the more time spent practising mindfulness meditation, the greater the levels of stress reduction. Clinical trials have also shown that mindfulness can improve mood and quality of life associated with long-term health conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic lower back pain, IBS and multiple sclerosis. Other studies have shown that meditation improves control of blood sugar in type II diabetes and also enhances heart and circulatory health, by reducing blood pressure and lowering the risk of hypertension.
Through formal mindfulness practice when sitting, lying down or in mindful movement, you learn to use the sensations of the breath and body to focus your awareness and settle you at times of difficulty. You are encouraged to notice thoughts, feelings, and sensations, with a sense of patience and self-care, letting go of any tendency to be analytical, judgmental or self-critical.
By bringing mindfulness into your daily activities, you can slow down from time to time, so that you can start to respond to life’s ups and downs with choice and awareness. This can help to shift your perspective, restoring a sense of ease, contentment and wellbeing.
How can mindfulness help me?
Why does practising mindfulness make a difference to stress?
The pressure of modern life means that we tend to live in a constant state of automatic reactivity to whatever is happening in our lives. Whilst autopilot can be helpful, it can lead to harmful patterns, which go un-noticed. We can forget to take lunch breaks or rest breaks and keep on working when we feel exhausted. If these patterns continue they will in time adversely affect our health and wellbeing.
Our automatic tendency to get caught up in feelings of pressure, overload and worry can mean that our body is in a constant state of stress reactivity, as if being chased by a dangerous animal. This stress reactivity can have harmful consequences on our health. Mindfulness helps us to notice our stress triggers and reframe life’s challenges. We can learn to rebalance our negativity bias and appreciate the good things around us, while recognising and accepting the things that we can’t change.
By learning to tune into our sensory experiences through mindfulness practice, we can give our body and mind a chance to reset themselves. This can help our immune system to work more effectively and reduce inflammation, potentially relieving pain and discomfort. Our breathing and digestion can improve and we can slow down and start to choose how we respond to life’s challenges.
When we bring mindfulness into our daily lives, we can acknowledge that although we can’t always change the world around us, we can change our reactivity to it and give ourselves the best possible chance to stay healthy, build positive relationships and develop personal resilience, calm and ease.
How does mindfulness help pain and long-term illness?
When we’re suffering from pain or long-term illness, we tend to hold our breath and tighten our body, making us feel even worse. In addition our mind can spiral out of control, analysing, judging, ruminating and catastrophising about our situation. We can find ourselves entrenched in negative thoughts, often unable to think about anything else or distracting ourselves with alcohol or drugs to take our mind off the problem. Our unhelpful thinking patterns activate the body’s natural stress reactivity, causing further distress, anxiety and depression, increasing our risk of heart disease and harming our nervous and immune systems.
Through mindfulness practice we learn to manage the challenges of our mind, by shifting our relationship to our reactive patterns of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. We learn to become an observer of our experience, acknowledging whatever arises with a sense of patience, self-care and self-nurture, rather than getting lost or caught up in our difficulties. We start to recognise that our thoughts may not necessarily be true and we can choose whether to engage with them or not.
Mindfulness practice involves body scans, breathing exercises and movement to help us develop a more compassionate awareness of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. We explore using the breath as an anchor to help calm and settle us no matter what is happening. Through mindful movement we learn to become more body-aware so that we can learn to pace ourselves and recognise when we need to rest or when we need to move.
When we bring mindfulness into our daily activities, we can train ourselves to notice our reactive patterns and then respond to situations in a way that we choose. We learn to pause for a moment from time to time and tune into the natural gentle rhythm of the breath, helping us to feel calm and grounded. We can start to recognise our negativity bias and begin to appreciate the good things in life. When we practice on a daily basis we can start to sleep better, feel more at ease and restore a sense of contentment and balance in our lives.