Monday, December 27, 2010

MINDFULNESS AND SLEEP

"... [H]e grants sleep to those he loves." (Ps 127:2) [NIV]

In this frenetically paced world far too many people find themselves unable to turn their brains off at night. In time, these people often develop insomnia. Even when they manage to get to sleep, they still worry subconsciously.

I have seen this happen to so many of my former students-at-law, especially those who now work as lawyers in the “big end of town”. The pressure of billable hours often leads to anxiety about the future. “All that worrying, obsessing, and ruminating can increase risk of illness and disease. When the mind worries, the body responds,” says Dr Jeffrey Greeson, a clinical health psychologist at Duke University.

Greeson knows what he’s talking about. He conducted a study that followed 151 generally healthy but stressed adults. They underwent some 8 weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training which involved, among other things, instruction in and use of various meditation techniques.

The study showed that MBSR training resulted in statistically significant improvements in the participant group, including a 26% increase in overall sleep quality, a 16% reduction in sleep disturbances, a 25% decrease in the frequency of prescription or over-the-counter sleep medication use, and a 28% reduction in participants reporting sleepiness during the day.

Other studies, too, have found that Mindfulness can be therapeutic for sleep disturbances. See, for example, this 2005 journal article which reported on a study examining the effects of an 8-week MBSR program on the sleep quality of a heterogeneous sample of 63 cancer patients. Overall sleep disturbance was significantly reduced and participants reported that their sleep quality had improved. In addition, the patients experienced a significant reduction in overall stress, mood disturbance and fatigue.

Mindfulness teaches you not to resist whatever arises in consciousness. If there’s worry, you note and observe it, and acknowledge the worry thoughts. With regular practice, you learn to remain calm and alert and unfazed by what would otherwise throw you into a spin.

If you are having trouble either getting to sleep or staying asleep, bring your attention and awareness to what is going on in both your mind and your body. Are you worrying or thinking about something? Notice that, label the thoughts or emotions if you wish, and simply bring your mind back to observing your thoughts and emotions. Don’t fight them or resist them. Let them be. Give them no power. Do the same with your body. Bring your full attention to, and scan, your body.  Are you holding tension in any part of the body? Note it, and let it be.

Although I am a great believer in the "power of positive thinking" and a fan of its leading progenitor and expositor Dr Norman Vincent Peale (for more on him see this address of mine), with Mindfulness there is no need to replace every negative thought with a positive one. You simply note and acknowledge the negative thought, but you don’t allow it to cause you distress.

So, practise Mindfulness ... and sleep well ... naturally. (This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.)



IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided
on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org

Thursday, December 23, 2010

MINDFULNESS AND ADHD

There is a steadily growing body of material attesting to the usefulness, as a form of complementary treatment, of Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation as respects the self-management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). (For a short video on ADHD see this link.)

Studies at Duke University, the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and elsewhere have highlighted how Mindfulness can help persons diagnosed with ADHD stay focused, with emotional equanimity, in the present.

It has been estimated that between one and three per cent of Australians suffer from ADHD.

People often say that persons with ADHD are incapable of paying attention. That is not so. One may want very much to pay attention, and yet find the task too difficult. The very name for the condition is a bit of a misnomer. All people have the innate ability to concentrate, and persons with ADHD are often the brightest of the bright.

Australian researchers (the chief investigator being A/Prof Alasdair Vance from the University of Melbourne) found in 2007 that brain scans of children with ADHD had a dysfunction in the part of the brain which controls the ability to develop coping strategies. Persons with the neurological disorder work overtime in an often futile attempt to feel in “control” of their situation, which tends to result in increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, anxiety and even aggression.

Mindfulness is all about staying focused and attentive in the present moment, and having an attitude of openness, curiosity and acceptance in relation to whatever unfolds from moment to moment. Thus, when it comes to the effects of conditions such as ADHD (for there is a wide variety of attention-related disorders, and ADHD can manifest with or without hyperactivity or behaviour disorders), you get quiet - that in itself slows the mind - and simply watch, and mentally note if need be, your seeming inability to concentrate.

Consistent with the practice of Mindfulness, you do not judge this seeming inability to concentrate or maintain control nor chastise yourself for it.  Nor is it helpful attempting to stop yourself doing it or fighting against it in order to get “control” over your mind. Just sit and watch it. Quite often, that is sufficient in itself to stop the leaping about.

Impulse control is often a problem for persons with ADHD. The regular practice of Mindfulness can assist here, because we learn that we do not have to act upon every, or indeed any, thought. We can simply watch the thought … and let it go. We lean to put some “space” between the thought and the act. (As Thomas Carlyle wrote, “Thought is parent of the deed.”) When we become aware of, say, a tendency on one’s part to act impulsively we can choose not to so act next time the impulse arises.

Mindfulness assists us all in developing and maintaining a present moment awareness, irrespective of whether or not we have been formally diagnosed with ADHD. In the age of the computer, the internet and so-called “multi-tasking” (oh, how I hate that word, for there is no such thing, the truth being that we “shift” from one task to another), we are all over-stimulated. Unfortunately, with over-stimulation comes distractibility and lack of focus and attention. The regular practice of Mindfulness increases focus, attention and impulse control, and decreases distractibility.

Today, in the lead up to Christmas, I say to you all, “Slow down, be still, get quiet … and all will be well.”

(This post sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.)


IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org



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Friday, December 17, 2010

MINDFULNESS AND SELF-HARM

On 12 December 2010 SBS presented a documentary called The Silent Epidemic about self-harm. The documentary specifically looked at the use of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as a treatment for people who use self-harm (which includes such things as self-injury and self-poisoning) as a coping mechanism.

Here is a link to the program, and here is the trailer.

By way of background, in 2008 Professor Graham Martin OAM (pictured below), the Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at The University of Queensland, and Clinical Director of RCH Health Service District Child and Youth Mental Health Service, conducted The Australian National Epidemiological Study of Self-Injury. The results of the study showed that 1.1 per cent of the Australian population in the 4 weeks before telephone contact with the researchers and 8 per cent of the population in their lifetime had engaged in deliberate self-harm.

Now, there is already considerable scientific evidence in the form of brain scans, MRIs, etc, that Mindfulness can change the wiring (neural pathways) of the brain in relation to problems such as depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and so forth. I have referred to those and other issues in previous blogs.

The SBS program referred to brain scan evidence of the positive use of MBSR in cases of self-harm. However, it needs to be stressed that the evidence in question related to a person who had done an 8-week course of MBSR and who had been treated regularly by a psychiatrist for some 6 years. Nevertheless, it’s all very interesting, and the result comes as no surprise to those familiar with the use and practice of Mindfulness techniques generally.

Self-harm ordinarily begins with thoughts of self-loathing, self-blame and self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy. Often, there is a desire to feel better and experience a "high" from the act of harming oneself. Ultimately, those thoughts, desires and feelings, unless otherwise restrained or given positive expression, will manifest themselves in a negative way ... and sometimes in various forms of self-harm.

In order to end self-harm, one needs to change one’s whole relationship with oneself, and how one sees oneself. A good starting point is with one’s thoughts. Mindfulness keeps one fully grounded in the present ... in the presence of the action of the present moment. Mindfulness helps one to observe and note thoughts, positive or negative, without feeling the need to act upon them.

It’s only the beginning.

(This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.)


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IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org


Sunday, December 12, 2010

MINDFULNESS IN THE PRESENCE OF ANXIETY OR PANIC

As I have mentioned more than once before in my blogs, most kinds of meditation are designed to take you away from the present moment. This is nothing more than temporary escapism, distraction and diversion, affording, at best, only temporary relief from the signs and symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks and the like.
Not so with Mindfulness, which is the most effective kind of meditation for dealing with the signs and symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks and the like. When we learn to remember to be, and stay, in the present moment, and to remember, purposefully and receptively, and non-judgmentally, what is present, thoughts and feelings from the past (eg bad memories) or fears, “predictions” and anxieties concerning the future have no power over us.
Mindfulness teaches us that states such as anxiety, panic and phobias do not really "happen" in the present moment. Yes, that’s right ... strange though it may seem. Those things happen only when we focus on bad memories from the past or on fears and concerns about the future. Yes, if we aren’t thinking about the present, we can only be worrying about either the past or the future.
Mindfulness teaches us to stay fully grounded and focused in the present, where everything is just as it is. It has been said that 40% of our mental states are about the past ... 50% about the future (imagined “events” the majority of which will never happen, as Sir Winston Churchill [pictured below] once pointed out) ... and only 10% relate to present-day matters!
Thoughts, feelings and sensations - positive or negative - only have the power we choose to give them. In and of themselves, they have no independent reality. They are simply “mental movies”. Watch them come and go. They are just passing entities ... all part of a seemingly endless stream of consciousness. Simply note them, with detachment. Don’t hold on to them. Don’t resist them ... and don't identify with them as if they were a vital part (such as a bodily organ) of the person you are.
The regular practice of Mindfulness Meditation teaches us to stay in our body and become aware of our body. With the mind “embodied”, note what the body is experiencing ... thinking thoughts, feeling fear. Note any tension or stress in the body in the present moment. Accept that ... deliberately keeping the mind at the level of bare attention. Remain calm, steady, stable, engaged, focused ... and yet at the same time detached.
Practise measured breathing (and, if possible, whilst walking around slowly). Inhale sharply through the nose – one sharp and short breath, immediately followed by a long breath. Hold the long breath for 5 seconds if possible. Then exhale through the mouth – again, one sharp and short breath, immediately followed by a long breath. Do this several times. (A deeply relaxed person breathes about 5-8 times a minute, at the very most.) Also, be mindful of, and relax, your jaw and face.
With regular Mindfulness practice, we can decide to let our thoughts and feelings be, to not react to anxiety or tension, and to focus on what is happening in the present moment. Is this possible? Yes, it is ... with acceptance and understanding, not reaction and fear.
Unlike most kinds of meditation, Mindfulness Meditation is not about stopping the mind or stopping thoughts. Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation is about allowing thoughts to be present but not letting them run you. The thoughts and feelings about ourselves or others are not us. We have a choice ... we can choose to identify with our thoughts and feelings (especially the negative and self-destructive ones) or we can simply observe them. We are not thoughts or feelings which are but a passing stream which we merely observe. We are entirely separate. 

This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org


Monday, December 6, 2010

MINDFULNESS AND OBSESSIONAL THOUGHTS

Mindfulness is simply the presence of a calm, alert, steady, deliberate but choiceless (that is, accepting, non-judgmental and imperturbable) awareness of, and bare but curious attention to, the action of the present moment ... one’s body, body functions and sensations, the content of one’s consciousness (thoughts, feelings, images, memories, etc) and consciousness itself. Mindfulness is training in self-culture, self-improvement and self-help.
Most, if not all, kinds of meditation can be relaxing, but relaxation, in itself, is not a solution for negative psychological states of mind including obsessional thinking. Most kinds of meditation are designed to take you away from the present moment. This is nothing more than temporary escapism, distraction and diversion, affording, at best, only temporary relief from the signs and symptoms of obsessional thinking.
Mindfulness takes meditation, in its most simple and natural form, and applies it to one’s whole life. The regular practice of Mindfulness ... the practice of paying attention in the present ... is the most effective kind of meditation for dealing with the signs and symptoms of obsessional thinking. Here’s why ...

1.      Obsessional thoughts (ruminations) tend to arise when we are not fully grounded in the present moment, more particularly, when we obsess, often incessantly, about some person, place, thing or situation from the past to which we are still psychologically “attached” in an unhealthy and upsetting way.
2.      Mindfulness is simply the presence - note that word, presence - of the choiceless awareness of, and the paying of bare but curious attention to, the action of what is present in the moment, and to whatever arises in the present moment ... from moment to moment ... both inside and outside of us. Mindfulness "occurs" when we remember to be, and stay, in the present moment, and remember, purposefully and receptively, and non-judgmentally, that which is present. This takes much practice, so please be kind, nonjudgmental and patient with yourself at all times.
3.      Thoughts, feelings and sensations - positive or negative - only have the power we choose to give them. In and of themselves, they have no independent reality. They are simply “mental movies”. Watch them come and go. Even the most obsessional, intrusive and seemingly incessant of thoughts are still just passing entities ... all part of a seemingly endless stream of consciousness. Simply note them, with detachment. Don’t hold on to them. Don’t resist them. In the words of Professor William James (pictured below) of Harvard University, “The essence of genius is to know what to overlook” ... that is, pass by, “skip”.
4.      Remember that you, the person that you are, are not your thoughts. Thoughts come and go. Some come back more frequently than others, but you need not feel overwhelmed. Take heart. You can de-sensitize yourself to unwelcome thoughts. You can become immune to the adverse effects of your thinking. You need not be victimized by your own thinking.
5.      The regular practice of Mindfulness Meditation teaches us that we think “thoughts”, not “reality”. Your thoughts are only thoughts. They are a manifestation of consciousness. In and of themselves, they have no reality, and have no power to hurt you. The only way a thought, or a series of thoughts, can harm you is if you give them significance. If you don’t, they have no power to hurt you at all. Simply note what the body is experiencing ... thinking thoughts. Note any tension or stress in the body in the present moment. Accept that ... deliberately keeping the mind at the level of bare attention. Remain calm, steady, stable, engaged, focused ... and yet at the same time detached.
6.      With regular Mindfulness practice, you can decide to let your thoughts be, to not react to anxiety or tension, and to focus on what is happening in the present moment. Is this possible? Yes, it is ... with acceptance and understanding, not reaction and fear.
7.      Unlike most kinds of meditation, Mindfulness Meditation is not about stopping the mind or stopping thoughts. Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation is about allowing thoughts to be present but not letting them run you. Intrusive thoughts are not the problem ... only habitual thinking. Remember, the thoughts and feelings about yourselves or others are not you. You have a choice ... you can choose to identify with your thoughts and feelings (especially the negative and self-destructive ones) or you can simply observe them.
8.      The practice of Mindfulness is based, at least in part, on the psychological and metaphysical “law of non-resistance” (also known as the “law of indirectness”). Remember this important truth ... “Whatever we resist, persists.” Never try to dispel directly a troublesome thought, feeling or sensation. Don’t resist it. Don’t fight against it. Don’t try to drive it out or away. Don’t dwell on it nor hang on to it. Don’t even think about it, let along analyse or evaluate it. Don’t “fuel” it in any way. Even Jesus is reported to have told his followers, "Resist not evil" (Mt 5:39). The American spiritual teacher Vernon Howard, whose writings and lectures have had a big impact on my life, said this: ''Resistance to the disturbance is the disturbance." Get the picture?
9.      As soon as a troublesome thought appears, become aware of it or the fact that you are thinking. If necessary, say to yourself, interiorly, “Thinking ... Thinking”. While you are aware of the fact that you are thinking, all thinking tends to stop.
10.    As soon as you notice your mind wandering off, gently refocus it in the present moment. Stay in the now. If your thoughts are not in the here and now, simply bring your attention back to the present moment, focusing, for example, on your in-breath and out-breath or the rise and fall of your abdomen.
11.    Watch, especially, when the mind enters “neutral” (eg during repetitive tasks). Keep your mind occupied by listening to inspirational tapes and music, and so forth. Be on the alert for “reinforcers” (eg mental fantasies, conversations, routines, past associations). Obsessional thoughts and fixations are maintained by reinforcement. Watch for “triggers”. If you remain ever vigilant, and mindful, the presence of your awareness in the present moment will result in the withdrawal of the reinforcement, and the obsessiveness will eventually lose its grip on you and stop.
12.    Mindfulness makes us more accepting of whatever is, for whatever is, is best! Why? Because that is what is, and as Krishnamurti said, “In the acknowledgement of what is there is the cessation of all conflict.”


Now, what does one do when obsessional thinking is, well, so obsessional as to be virtually incessant? The long-term solution is to undergo a total and complete psychological revolution ("mutation" or "transformation") that I've spoken and written about in other posts. In the short-term or interim, in order to deal with pressing exigencies, here is a very useful suggestion from Krishnamurti:

      "[I]n order to understand ourselves we must become aware and to study ourselves thought-feeling must slow itself down. If you become aware of your own thinking-feeling, you will perceive how rapid it is, one disconnected thought-feeling following another, wandering and distracted; and it is impossible to observe, examine such confusion. To bring order and so clarity, I [suggest] that every thought-feeling be written down. This whirling machinery must slow itself down to be observed, so writing every thought-feeling may be of help. As in a slow motion picture you are able to see every movement, so in slowing down the rapidity of the mind you are then able to observe every thought, trivial and important."




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            IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org