A Word on Mindfulness:
Most of us struggle to remain focused in the present, given the tendency of our mind to drag us into the past or future, where it is impossible to undo the past or predict and control what lies ahead. The value in mindfulness exercises, according to Forsyth & Eiffert (2007), is that they are an avenue for learning that we can not control the thoughts and feelings that come into our awareness. However, we can choose "what" we pay attention to, "how" we attend to it, and "what" we do. The following exercise will help you do just that.
In this exercise, we focus on the breath because our thoughts and physical sensations are constantly changing, like our breathing. This exercise will help you develop the skill of paying attention to a single focus, such as breathing, while allowing thoughts, feelings, or sensations to come and go without becoming tangled up in them. The purpose of this exercise is not about making you feel different, better, or relaxed. This may or may not happen. The idea is to "make room" for anything that comes into our internal world and appreciate that we can hold both pleasant and unpleasant experiences without being consumed by them, and commit to those activities that give our life purpose and meaning.
Get into a comfortable position in your chair with feet flat on the floor, arms and legs uncrossed. Take a few moments to notice the movement of your breath and sensations in your body, especially to sensations of touch or pressure, where your body makes contact with your clothing, the chair, or floor.
Now, slowly bring your attention to the rising and falling of your chest and abdomen as you inhale and exhale. Notice the coolness of the air as it enters the nostrils, and then moments later, how much warmer the air feels as it leaves the nostrils. Notice the rhythm of each breath, like ocean waves coming in and out. Let go and enjoy this wonderful act of breathing and allow the body to do the work for you.
Notice where your mind takes you; specific concerns, images, or bodily sensations. You may want to acknowledge your experience, "I had the feeling..." or "There's an anxious thought..." or "I had this picture..." When you become aware of these internal experiences, see if you can allow them to occur without attempting to change them or push them away. Just watch these experiences. Some will grow stronger or weaker, others may stay the same. Continue to breathe through them.
If you are unable to focus on your breathing because of intense physical sensations or discomfort, shift your focus to the actual place of discomfort, and outline it in your mind, but stay with it and continue to watch it. Again, notice what your mind says about it; "This is horrible...scary...I can't stand this..." and remember that you are the "eyes" behind this experience. You can have these unpleasant or painful experiences and see them for what they are---just unpleasant thoughts or feelings and they do not represent the totality of who you are. When you've had enough shift your attention to the sounds around you and then slowly return to your surroundings.
Remember, mindfulness requires practice. Stay with the exercise as long as you can tolerate the experience. There is no right or wrong to this. Everyone comes away with a different experience. You can modify it to your liking. For example, you may choose to focus only on physical sensations at first, and then gradually identify thoughts and feelings. Try to practice at least twice weekly and see what this experience brings to you.
More than the programs ...
At The Pain Center, all of our doctor's and therapists see patients outside of the programs. If you have a new injury, significant stressor, severe pain flare-up or need to adjust your home exercise program - come back to the team that you trust. We're happy to help.
Have a question about a flare up?
You are still a part of The Pain Center family. If you ever have a question, please give us a call at 616.233.3480 and we'd be happy to answer it.