Researchers in mind wandering believe that we spend an average of half our waking hours daydreaming. If taken together with sleep, it means we are not present or in a dream for 2/3rds of our day. Although this can have benefits, such as dreaming of a holiday or pleasant memory, unfortunately the majority of our mind wanderings are negative- worrying about a future event, or ruminating about something that happened and wishing to put it right. We tend to have repetitive, “sticky” thoughts, going over the same old scenarios – money worries, relationship worries, time and time again.
Mindfulness offers mind training that brings us into the present moment. Through practising meditation we can recognise when we have wandered into a dreamlike state and gently bring ourselves back using a “support” such as our breathing. Like everything, the more we practise, the better we get at it. Through observation of our internal experience – thoughts, emotions and feelings in the body, we can become open, curious and accepting of these experiences, even ingrained, uncomfortable ones. Why do this?. As Buddhist commentator John Aske says “What is suppressed is expressed. If you push it out of sight in one place, it just pops up somewhere else in another guise”.
Mindfulness calms the body and improves our body awareness as well as improving emotional regulation. Our fight- flight response calms and helps us experience the unfolding of our lives in real time. Viktor Frankl a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor said “ Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom”.
It helps us to become more empathetic, compassionate and exhibit better judgment.
Importantly from a pain perspective, mindfulness has effects on reducing biomarkers for stress and inflammation. It also reduces activity on areas of the brain that are important for the feelings of aversiveness and unpleasantness of a stimulus. This has the effect of causing mindfulness practitioners to refrain from engaging in thought processes that ultimately lead to suffering. These might be thoughts such as “I can’t bear this”; “I want it to stop”; “It might get worse”, thoughts I am sure that many people dealing with pain and anxiety experience on a regular basis. Although long term meditators have been shown to have quite different responses to pain and stress on brain scan, the benefits of mindfulness can be felt quite soon after starting to learn the techniques.
Graham has studied mindfulness on the Masters course at the University Of Aberdeen and taken teacher training with the Mindfulness Association , a recognised provider of quality teacher training of mindfulness.
Graham sees clients on a one to one basis and is happy to use mindfulness on its own, or to integrate it into a treatment programme for chronic pain. Apart from the treatment of pain mindfulness can be especially helpful if you suffer with stress, anxiety and low mood. You don’t even need to have a problem to benefit from mindfulness, you can simply learn it because it helps us in our daily lives.