Looking for a way to reduce anxiety? This could help
I have arrived. I’m sitting with 18 others in a circle at a mindfulness meditation course. We all have our own reason for being here: insomnia, anxiety, pain relief, anxiety, and…anxiety. 10 years ago I would never have seen myself taking a course like this. Being a personal trainer, my meditation came through high intensity exercise, sweating it out and feeling the burn. But, here I am: scrambling to find a work life balance and feeling like life is passing me by.
Mindfulness meditation is simplistic in its practice: you focus inward and try to develop a state of non-judgement and calm. While meditating, you only notice your breath. You notice sensations in your body. You allow whatever uncomfortable feelings to come up and then you let them go. The informal practice consists of letting yourself slow down and focus inward during everyday tasks. When you are eating you are only thinking about eating, noticing the flavours, textures and smells of the food. When you are walking you focus on how your feet hit the pavement and how your hips feel as you step, not what you’re going to make for dinner or the assignment to finish. When you feel the rise of anxious feelings, anger or pain, you take three breaths. When in conversation, you listen without interrupting or nodding your approval or disapproval to the other. When you speak, you do so without analyzing how the other person is reacting to you.
So there I was, weekly log in hand, charting the minutes I sat in meditation or laydown doing my body scan, unable for even 10 seconds to clear my mind or stay awake long enough to make it through the body scan. I think “I kind of suck at this.”
My back hurts often, I feel antsy. Yet I persist. I remember this is a practice. On the days I skip meditating, I miss it. As the weeks pass I start to feel lighter. I naturally take a deep breath before I react to a potentially unpleasant situation. I notice I’m not rushing around as much. I’m worrying less about planning my days but I’m still getting things done. I start to wonder where some of my usual anxiety has gone. Does this actually help? Something is changing within me and there’s science to support it.
The Buddhist monks have been practicing meditation for a long time, but the science behind its positive effects is relatively new. In the late 70’s, Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered research into using simple mindfulness meditation techniques to help alleviate chronic pain and debilitating medical conditions and found it effective. His research served as a breeding ground for more studies into mindfulness. According to Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, “studies show that the ways we intentionally shape our internal focus of attention in mindfulness practice induces a state of brain activation during the practice. With repetition, an intentionally created state can become an enduring trait of the individual as reflected in long-term changes in brain function and structure. This is a fundamental property of neuroplasticity—how the brain changes in response to experience. Here, the experience is the focus of attention in a particular manner.” (Siegel, Daniel J. “The Science of Mindfulness” www.mindful.org. Sept. 7, 2010)
The alarm jolts me awake at 6:30am. My mind starts racing: I’m tired, why’d I watch another episode of Orphan Black? I’ll meditate later, I’ll just hit snooze, I forgot to get milk…then I pause, take three breaths and settle into a seated position. I’ve arrived. Ok, let’s do this.
For more information about local mindfulness courses, visit http://www.mindfulnessmeditationtoronto.com