Not that long ago, a friend was put forward for a six month pain management programme at UCLH. Following circumstances which befell him a few years ago, he has been suffering constant pain in varying degrees which has taken its toll on aspects of his life such as his ability to work, rest and concentrate. For the most part, he has been able to hide his discomfort from those around him and he was therefore sceptical about how helpful this pain management course would be. There are some elements of the programme which he did find useful however, among which were techniques such as pacing, activity and mindfulness.
I wanted to share with you the method which overlaps into everyday life and is relevant for everyone: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is also known as Awareness (there is a difference between the two according to Buddhist etymology, but the practice is largely the same). In our day to day life, there are many factors which can impact our stress levels and concentration span. Meditation is a technique used to re-centre your focus and return an element of calm to your day. Do not be put off by the word meditation. Scientific and Psychological research have shown proven physiological benefits to your wellbeing and stress levels. Although the method seems too simple to have any real effect, results show that an impressive majority of those who practice meditation are calmer and more focussed.
Below is a step-by-step guide, which at first glance appears easy but you may find that you have to work at your technique in order to achieve the desired effect. If you are at all dubious, the best thing you can do is to try it a few times and let the results speak for themselves. There was a report on the radio recently which was documenting the results of teaching mindfulness in schools: One young lad could not get his head around the practice for a whole year until one day, when he had progressed to the next year group, it just clicked and now he employs the technique to prepare for exams!
How to get started:
1) Find a quiet and familiar place where you will not be disturbed. The ideal location would be somewhere you feel completely safe, and if you know this place well, then you are unlikely to be distracted by your surroundings. Outdoors is fine as long as it is quiet.
2) The optimum light would be natural light, but if you are meditating after dark, make sure there is a warm glow from a light source.
3) Set your alarm to ensure you are not checking your watch throughout your meditation. A peaceful and unobtrusive sound which does not startle you is the best choice.
4) Arrange yourself in an upright, seated position. You do not need to sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, although this is the most commonly adopted pose. Tucking your calves underneath you, or sitting on a chair with your feet flat on the ground, are both suitable poses. It is important that you are comfortable and can maintain the position throughout the duration. Sit up straight, finding your natural centre where your spine is not locked stiffly into place.
5) Concentrate on your breathing. Focus on each breath as it fills then empties from your lungs, breathing a little deeper than normal. If your mind starts to wander elsewhere and you find yourself distracted by your thoughts, accept your thoughts, acknowledge them, then return to focus on your breathing.
It is a good idea to meditate for at least 5 minutes when you are starting out. As you improve your technique and fall more naturally into the process, increase the time to 10 or 20 minutes. Try to meditate at least once a day. I found that three times a day was perfect for my mindset but unrealistic for my lifestyle. It is better to meditate just once for a small amount of time, than not at all – so set yourself a manageable routine which suits your schedule.