Mindfulness, or mindful awareness, is a set of practices and techniques designed to increase your self awareness in the present moment, allowing your mind to be in the 'now' rather than constantly regretting things in the past or worrying about the future.
Have you ever realised that you are in 'tunnel vision' mode, usually when you are stressed, tired and busy, just going from task to task without stopping to appreciate each moment? You may not realise, but we tend to spend most of our time in this 'mindless' mode, in which we tend to detach ourselves from our bodily sensations and emotions, and just get lost in our jumble of thoughts - worries, tasks to do today, texts, emails, social media updates, news and the like. As the always-on culture of mobile devices has taken off, so has stress and mindlessness. Because of this, mindfulness is making a resurgence, and you can now find tons of great resources out there to help you get started.
Mindfulness for AS
One of the great benefits of practising mindfulness is in helping people cope with chronic pain. One of the central themes of mindfulness practice is acceptance - becoming more aware of yourself in the present moment, and relinquishing thoughts of anxiety, fear, frustration, disappointment, or whatever else may be causing you to worry about the past and future.
This acceptance can equally be applied to pain. The key principle is that pain does not (have to) equal suffering. This means that, although you may feel pain, pain is simply a bodily sensation - with enough mindfulness practice, it does not have to lead to you suffering.
For example, with guided meditation, it is possible to arrive at a mental state where you can observe your pain almost as if you were outside of your body looking in, and experience the sensation of pain with curiosity and interest rather than how we usually experience it (deeply unpleasant).
Another way mindfulness can help with chronic pain is by realising that:
pain X resistance = suffering
That is, pain multiplied by resistance equals suffering. Resistance refers to everyone's natural reaction to pain - aversion, fear, sorrow, anger - these feelings about pain are what magnifies the amount it affects you. By accepting that we have pain and relinquishing these negative reactions to it, we can relieve our suffering.
Mindfulness cannot remove pain itself - there is no easy solution. But given time and practice, it can significantly lessen it's impact on your daily life, mood and well-being.
- Mark Muesse's audiobook 'Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation' is available on iTunes, the Great Courses website and Audible. This is my favourite resource - Mark is clear, has a great voice for listening to, and has used mindfulness to control excruciating pain caused by cluster headaches. There is a whole chapter on managing pain.
- Calm.com combines beautiful natural scenes, soothing background sounds and short guided meditations, available through any web browser (great for a short break at work!) or apps for Apple iOS and Android, mostly for free!
- The Mindfulness Awareness Research Centre at UCLA has a collection of short but free guided meditation sessions for download
- Breathworks have some online courses and some free meditations