Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Magic of Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices and meditation have recently become quite popular for stress relief and a variety of other health-related benefits. Mindfulness simply means the practice of paying attention to the experience of the present moment. Being mindful can simply entail stepping back mentally and noticing the specific elements of your present moment experience, paying attention to thoughts, feelings, sensations, and other aspects of present moment awareness.  (As opposed to getting lost in mind wandering and being caught up in a focus on past, future, worry, anxiety, judgement, guilt, and other negative mental and emotional states.)

The magic of mindfulness practice is that it allows us to fully appreciate whatever we are experiencing right this moment, and brings peace of mind and a much healthier state.  While this might seem a bit abstract, it also has some very practical applications as well.

Over the past several weeks, I've used a form of mindfulness meditation to significantly reduce and manage some rather severe flu symptoms.  Over the holidays we spent a lot of time with family members in intimate, enclosed spaces, many of whom were battling the flu bug that's been going around. My immune system apparently succumbed to the constant contact, and I came down with a really nasty case of the flu.
I began experiencing a hacking cough, fever, nausea and upset stomach, and a splitting headache.  In practicing mindfulness, in each case, I simply discipline myself to relax and pay attention to the particular discomfort, becoming aware of it as a sensation in my body, and also similarly become aware of my breathing and how it feels in my body as I take each inhalation and exhalation.
Even my seemingly relentless coughing has been calmed by this approach.  Almost without exception, as I become aware of the discomfort, I begin to realize that without being fully aware of it, I've been "resisting" the pain or discomfort.  For example as I experience the nearly unavoidable need to begin coughing my brains out, as I begin to pay closer attention to what I'm feeling in my body, I notice that I'm resisting the coughing by constricting the muscles in my chest, abdominals, and lower back, and that as I become aware of this, I can also feel that the tension itself has significantly increased my need to cough.  As I become more aware of the tension I'm holding, I'm able to release it, my breathing becomes less constricted, and my need to cough decreases, sometimes even going away entirely.
With the headaches, I also focus very specifically on the exact location and sensation of the pain and discomfort.  Almost without exception, I find areas where I'm resisting and holding tension, often in my facial muscles, neck, shoulders, etc., and to the degree that I can locate them and just "notice" them rather than resisting, I'm able to relax and relieve the discomfort.
The same is true with the other symptoms as well.
I've written briefly about a similar experience with this in my book: A Call to Magic - the Artful Science of Transforming Self and Worldhttp://bookShow.me/147932034X
Try this practice the next time you have a headache or other discomfort and see if you can learn to relieve your own symptoms through mindfulness.  It's certainly been a magical practice for me.

No comments: