By F. Cal Robinson, PsyD
The rigors of contemporary life have left scores of people unwell in mind and body. For many, modern medical and psychological treatments haven’t satisfactorily addressed their need for health, peace and well-being. Thus, we’re witnessing a return to ancient and tested practices, including holistic health care, plant-based diets, naturopathic medications, meditation and mindfulness.
Mindfulness has been featured in the news lately, on TV, radio talk shows and magazines, and social media. What is it that’s generating so much buzz? How are business leaders using mindfulness to improve the lives of those with whom they interact, as well as to sharpen their own focus, leadership and relationship in the marketplace? Why are physicians and psychologists recommending it for their patients as an effective adjunct/alternative to medications or surgery?
For starters, it works and the proven results are based on sound science. It’s an effective treatment methodology for any number of behavioral health issues – anxiety, restlessness, depression, OCD, substance abuse and eating disorders. It’s shown to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, treat heart disease, lessen chronic pain, improve sleep and help with gastrointestinal issues. In business, those who practice mindfulness see an improvement in focus, concentration, problem-solving and conflict resolution ability. Overall, it contributes to improved life quality by decreasing worry and stress over the “what-ifs”.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing attention on the “now,” or the present, with purpose and non-judgmental acceptance. Thoughts and feelings are allowed to wash over a person’s consciousness freely, but without the nagging reminders or value judgments we tend to assign to each thought. Most wisdom traditions have a prayer or meditative component for a reason, and mindfulness is a reflection of that; it slows the mind and allows peaceful focus and contemplation on the larger issues of life.
I use mindfulness to treat many cognitive issues, but my main focus is patients with chronic, intractable pain, most of whom spend a majority of time trying to either avoid, discount or alleviate their pain. This leads to a life unfulfilled, as pain becomes the sole focus. Patients may ignore family, friends, work and their values as they search for relief. They may seek stronger medications and substances or undergo multiple surgeries to make the pain go away. It can be a horrible existence.
Mindfulness training can help by getting the patient to focus on the pain and accept it as a part of life, rather than wasting energy avoiding it. This doesn’t mean resigning oneself to pain. Rather, it means being with the pain and ending the struggle with it. By harnessing its natural healing power, we “re-train” the brain through mindfulness meditation. Meditation practices are shown to smooth the brain patterns of those with chronic pain. Over time, this reduction becomes hard-wired, resulting in less experienced pain. Clinical trials have shown a pain reduction of 57 percent by those who practice; very skilled meditators can reduce pain around 90 percent.
I am profoundly amazed at the capacity our brains have for learning and adapting to pain. The results I see in my own practice are gratifying for me and life-changing for my patients.
Dr. Robinson is a Board certified medical psychologist. He joined Orthopaedic & Spine Center in August 2015. Dr. Robinson received his Doctor of Psychology from the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology.