Respiratory disorders are an increasingly common ailment experienced by the general population. By their nature these illnesses are persistent and irritating. Often their persistence seriously affects the patients' quality of life; this is where I believe the following treatment is of some use: mindfulness. While it does not 'cure' the patient, it has been shown that it does certainly improve his or her subjective wellbeing and allows them to enjoy an enhanced quality of life while afflicted with respiratory problems.
What is Mindfulness
|Mindfulness and serenity|
Mindfulness has its origins in ancient Buddhist tradition, going back 2500 years. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Mindfulness is simplicity itself. It is about stopping and being present”. We will explore what this entails duly. Mindfulness has recently enjoyed something of a resurgence in self-help and medical circles owing to the undoubted benefits it brings the practitioner. These benefits include:
- Improved self-control
- Reduction in chronic pain
- Reduction in Blood Pressure
- Improved ability of enjoy life's pleasures
- Improved concentration
- Improved sleep
- Reduced anxiety/anger
Those are just some of the benefits.
How can I practice Mindfulness?
First of all, anyone can practice mindfulness: no special equipment or tecnhiques are involved. After reading this blog, you will be ready to try it. It should be said at the outset that it's effects are progressive and long-term, and as such it is a long term practice. Therefore a period of time should be set aside each and every day in order to practice mindfulness: this is a very important caveat.
Mindfulness is simply about 'being in the moment'. Let's take any simple, repetetive and routine activity we do each day: it could be getting dressed in the morning, having a shower, going upstairs, eating a meal or washing the dishes. I will focus on this last activity in this post but what follows can be applied to innumerable daily tasks and activities.
Let's say you are washing the dishes after dinner. If you are not a mindfulness practitioner, I can bet I know where your thoughts are whilst engaged in the washing-up: you will be thinking about what you did presviosuly that day; you will be thinking about what you are going to do after you have finished the washing up, you will be thinking of a friend or a family member who is not here at this moment...
In short your mind is everywhere except on what you are doing. A tiny fraction of your mind is engaged in the washing up, the rest of it is far away, indeed. This is not mindfulness!
Lets get started
|An everyday task: washing the dishes|
OK, this sounds so easy it almost seems silly! Let's say you're standing at the sink about to engage in washing up. (As I said all of this is applicable to many different activities we do, especially repetetive ones). First, take a moment to review how your body feels: are there any areas of tension? Any areas which are sore or hurting? If you can relieve the tension, go ahead and change position (it's amazing how often we stand or sit in uncomfortable positions without realising it!); if you're noticing a sore spot then just let it be, but notice it and focus your attention there for a moment.
Now, reach out with your hand to the tap and open it. Notice just how much effort is required to turn the tap: does it turn easily or does it require more force. Watch and listen to the water emerging into the bowl in the sink: just look at the scene before you and concentrate on that to the exclusion of all else. As you squeeze the detergent into the bowl notice the citrus smell that wafts up, see the foam form inside the bowl.
Reach out to grab a plate (notice with how much force you grab that plate – we often hold things much more tightly and use much more muscle power than is actually necessary) and place it in the bowl. As you wash the plate, focus on the sensation of the cloth wiping around, listen to the squeaking sounds and the noise of the foam bubbles bursting, feel the temerature of the water...
It is clear that this style of thought is different from our everyday one: the mind is competely focusssed on the 'here and now', on all the sensations the body is experiencing. That is mindfulness.
Of course, while you are attempting mindfulness, other thoughts will inevitably creep into your head: like bubbles they will arise. Let that be, don't kick yourself for having thoughts. Allow the thought to arise but just don't follow it up. These things can wait until later, after you've finished the dishes you can revert back to 'normal mode'.
Don't expect to reap the benefits overnight; this is a long-term therapy which is of benefit to many in society, not just those with respiratory illnesses. In enabling the mind and body to co-exist in the present moment, mindfulness and help those with many chronic illnessses to become stronger and more resilient, thus gaining some ground over their malady.