SPARC Mindfulness and Health in ASL

“Mindfulness” is a connection between our thoughts and feelings. When we are mindful, we observe our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise without reacting to or trying to change them. It can be defined as paying attention to one’s inner and outer experiences in a non-judgemental manner. The term “mindfulness” was coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The goal of mindfulness is be more aware of and more connected to the present moment. Most of the time, we are immersed in a constant stream of inner experience without being aware of it. It can be easy to disconnect from the present – we may be worried about the future, concerned about illness, concerned about illness, or focusing on future goals. These tendencies can make us feel angry, anxious, or depressed. Instead, mindfulness teaches us to live in the present moment, step back from our inner and outer experience, freeing us from habitual patterns of reacting to it or judging it. Practicing mindfulness can help us to improve both mental health and physical health. Incorporating mindfulness practice into everyday life can result in relaxation and a calm mind. It is a skill that can be applied to be present with any state, including arousal, habitual reactions, and physical or emotional pain. Mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years in different spiritual traditions. For example, meditation and Buddhism both incorporate mindfulness. Using mindfulness for medical purposes began more recently. In 1979, Dr. Jon Zabat-Zinn developed a mindfulness-based curriculum at UMass Medical Center to help medical patients incorporate mindfulness practice into their medical treatment. He developed and disseminated a curriculum to help patients use mindfulness in their daily lives to cope with stress, chronic pain, and other chronic medical conditions. and other chronic medical conditions. This program, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), has been replicated around the world and helped spark the popularity of mindfulness practices. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has undergone a number of adaptations: (1) Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) (1) Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for the prevention and treatment of recurring depression; (2) Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) (2) Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) for the prevention of substance abuse (drug or alcohol addiction), and promotion of recovery; (3) Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for the prevention of emotional dysregulation by better integrating logical thinking with one’s emotional experiences through the skill of “wise mind;” through the skill of “wise mind;” and, (4) Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and, (4) Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for the prevention of rumination about situations that are out of our control, shifting our energy to situations that we can change. Now we will review some of the research about mindfulness. Mindfulness-absed interventions have been found to be beneficial for a number of psychological and physical conditions such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety, addictions, and personality disorder. It has been shown that participating in an 8-week MBSR training produces changes in the brain function and immune system that are conducive to wellness. Research has shown that mindfulness practice leads to improvements in brain functions that help us respond better to stressful and upsetting situations, reacting in a healthier, more calm manner. The UMass Center for Mental Health Services Research is conducting research on how mindfulness affects physical and emotional well-being. In one project, we are developing a mindfulness-based intervention for people with lived experience of trauma and addiction in prison. for people with lived experience of trauma and addiction in prison. In another project, we are collaborating with other UMass researchers to study changes in brain circuitry involved in the beneficial effects of mindfulness. For another project, we are studying the benefits of mindfulness trainings at Worcester State Hospital and the UMass Department of Psychiatry, collecting information from medical students, residents, staff, and patients. Mindfulness is developed through a variety of formal meditation practices, as well as informal practices. Formal practices include (1) sitting meditation; (2) body scan; (2) body scan; (3) mindful yoga; (3) mindful yoga; (4) walking meditation; (4) walking meditation; and, (5) loving-kindness meditation. and, (5) loving-kindness meditation. Informal practices bring full awareness to everyday activities such as brushing our teeth, such as brushing our teeth, walking, eating, walking, eating, washing the dishes, etc. washing the dishes, etc. Mindfulness skills develop by using these formal and informal practices in everyday life. The stress response is our body’s way of dealing with any threat, pressure, or demand. This stress response is often triggered by our automatic or habitual reactions to situations. When an emergency occurs, the stress response activates our “fight or flight” mechanism of self-protection. Chronic or repeated activation of the stress response can result in habitual responses, like smoking as a means to reduce stress. Mindfulness works to reduce stress and increase our ability to enjoy life by bringing awareness to these automatic reactions and breaking the chain of habitual responses. Mindfulness helps us replace old cycles or habits with newer, more healthy responses. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) can help people to take responsibility for improving their holistic health and well-being. Learning to pay attention and be present with whatever arises in one’s present experience encourages the development of health-promoting behavior changes and changing unhealthy behaviors like smoking, emotional eating, and alcohol and drug use. Rather, one can practice more positive behaviors, like nutritional awareness, improved sleep, and informed exercise. Mindfulness offers a foundation for creating a “culture of wellness” in healthcare. Doctors involved in a person-centered approach to healthcare can use mindfulness to focus on the whole person, including all three domains of physical, mental, and spiritual health, to allow for more holistic medical care. In addition to healthcare organizations, many employers are now offering mindfulness training to their employees because it confers benefits such as improved stress management, reduced anxiety, reduced stress, and reduced burn-out. These employers offer mindfulness programs because they value their employees’ health and well-being. The benefits of mindfulness can be experienced by anyone. Recent research provides evidence that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) helps replace unhealthy behaviors like smoking or yelling with more positive, healthy behaviors. Other imaging research shows significant brain changes due to MBSR. One study conducted in a workplace setting found EEG results that demonstrated found EEG results that demonstrated that MBSR participants had a shift in left-sided activation over the prefrontal cortex, an area associated with positive affect. Participants without MBSR training did not show the same shift in activation. This study also found that participants trained in MBSR had significantly greater immune response following influenza vaccine compared to controls who had not received MBSR training. Another recent study used imaging to compare brain structures between MBSR and non-MBSR participants. This study found increases in the volume of the hippocampus, a brain structure associated with learning and memory. a brain structure associated with learning and memory. a brain structure associated with learning and memory, a brain structure associated with learning and memory, a brain structure associated with learning and memory, among MBSR participants only. They also found reductions in the volume of the amygdala, a brain structure associated with fear and stress reactions (e.g., “fight or flight”). Those participants who had undergone MBSR showed decreased amygdala volume, which correlated with reduced stress levels. Those participants who did not experience MBSR had increased stress and anxiety. Together, this research suggests that mindfulness helps us to improve our body, mind, and spirit.

Jerry Heath

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