When I was 7 years old my mom and dad taught me my first version of meditation. It was walking meditation, which worked for me because I was always in motion as kids are.
Over the years I was exposed to many types and traditions of meditation. During a difficult time in my 20s when I reconsidered everything, as young people do, I felt confused and lost about how and if to meditation.
I went to teacher in my massage school at the time. He was a deep and introspective gentleman and I asked him how I should approach the problem of not being able to meditate any more. He said, “hold the Brieanna that does not meditate in the palm of your hand as if you are watching her. And love her”.
Meditation returned to my life through medical school but it had a new name in the 1990s, mindfulness based stress reduction. Jon Kabat Zinn’s work in the field was bringing a scientific evidence basis to effectively bringing oneself into the present moment with mind exercises or mindfulness techniques, many of which are forms of meditation. I read several of Jon’s books including my favorite, Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Suddenly I found myself in Pueblo, Colorado, rotating at the state mental health hospital with a brilliant psychiatrist Elizabeth Stuyt M.D. on the dual diagnosis unit for people with drug addiction and mental illness.
Along with all of the therapy and medications and social work that supported people during their court mandated 90 day stay, Dr. Stuyt would assign books to her patients from the center library. The books varied, but a series was on yet another approach to mindfulness, the Heartmath Solution. Heartmath writes a series of books and as a medical student Transforming Stress was the one to which I gravitated.
At the end of each chapter was a mindfulness exercise and instructions on how to slow your body down, specifically your heart rate variability to improve our “fight or flight response”. At my next cardiology rotation they were just implementing the Heartmath Solution for patients with heart disease to lower stress because of the great research behind stress reduction that was mounting.
In the last few years, I came across a Time magazine article on mindfulness and started using the app Headspace. It is the latest mindfulness tool that fits into my tool box. As Andy Puddicombe says, meditation is a tool to exercise the muscle of mindfulness. It is not stopping thoughts or getting rid of emotions. It is stepping back and seeing the thoughts clearly with a relax focused mind. Allow thoughts to come and go without all of the fuss. On average our minds are lost in thought 47% of the time. We reinforce the story line when are are “on the roller coaster” of the mind. Our minds are wired for going, doing, looking out of the dangerous and negative.
So why, as a Primary Care Physician and Osteopath, is mindfulness so important to me?
I am by no means an expert in mindfulness nor would I speak to myself being particularly “good” at it if there is such an achievement in this realm. As a clinician, I have seen it radically transform people’s health. Be it mental health, eating habits, quitting smoking or dealing with chronic pain, there is a place for mindfulness at the treatment table.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing series of articles with reference to the importance of mindfulness and stress reduction in our daily lives. My goal is not to become dogmatic or religious. My point is to help you learn a few tips for dealing with the day in and out process of your own brain.
The brain is powerful, wonderful and to be respected. But the mind is a monkey. It jumps around and around and fear, negativity and doubt are some of its favorite chapters to play repetitively. The mind is also very good at amplifying negative feelings, causing us to be sucked in to the roller coaster and ride ride ride the wave of intensity of pain, anxiety, discomfort or boredom that our mind is feeding us.
Mindfulness is not just getting off the roller coaster. It is seeing it, being aware of it and being the space that surrounds the busy, active bee of the mind. Or as my daughter puts it, it is finding the “life watcher” inside of you.
As the fall leaves change and fall, be aware of them crunching under your feet. Stop looking at your phone. Feel the crisp in the air. Thinking about that project? Back to the crunching under your feet. Bring the air back into your nose, feel the temperature, smell the scents, hear the world around. That is how one walks mindfully. And even seven year olds can do it.