A questionnaire developed at the University of Rochester and reprinted in the Harvard Women’s Health Watch newsletter asks people if they recognize any of the following statements:
• I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.
• I snack without paying much attention to what I am eating.
• It seems I’m “running on automatic” without much awareness of what I am doing.
• I rush through activities without really being attentive to them.
• I tend to walk quickly to get where I’m going without paying attention to what I experience along the way.
• I find myself listening to someone with one ear and doing something else at the same time.
• I tend not to notice physical tension or discomfort until they really grab my attention.
If any of these sound familiar you might benefit from meditation and mindfulness training. Meditation is an ancient spiritual practice that finds expression in many religions and also in modern secular versions which stress the ability to focus the mind, relax deeply, and ground oneself in the present moment rather than allowing oneself to dart about in body and mind in fearful, anxiety, or depression inducing thought patterns. Mindfulness is a practice which allows one to pay attention to what one is experiencing from moment to moment without drifting off into disturbing thoughts of the past or worries about the future and without getting caught up in judgement and opinions about one’s moment to moment experience.
Scientific studies show favorable changes in brain wave pattern, brain electrical activity, immune response, and increased feelings of joy and serenity as a result of these practices. In 20 to 30 minutes a day these practices allow the practitioner improved ability to focus on the present moment in a peaceful way throughout the day. Deepened self awareness and self knowledge are wonderful side effects of these practices.
Those with a variety of health issues can benefit from meditation and mindfulness sometimes along with traditional medical and pharmacological treatment. Improved immune function may be possible for cancer patients and others. The lessening of anxiety and depression are health benefits for those suffering from heart disease or following heart surgery. Improved stress management and increased relaxation may benefit such conditions as high blood pressure, chronic pain, insomnia, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. The increased self awareness, inner calm, and improved thought quality resulting from the practice of meditation and mindfulness can be a real help for those with anxiety and depression as well as eating disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Several studies done in the United States and Canada have shown that these techniques combined with psychotherapy can prevent depression relapse. One study of recently recovered depression patients who had experiences several previous relapses showed that those receiving mindfulness training along with therapy were only half as likely to relapse again as those who underwent standard counseling and medication only.
Carol Weiss MA, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist offers training in meditation and mindfulness as an adjunct to psychotherapy. Herself a 30-year practitioner of meditation, she combines Jungian depth psychology, dream analysis, meditation and mindfulness practice to create a unique approach to treating stress related illness and providing an antidote to the strains of busy, on the go lives. She can be reached at 468-4006.