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Emotions empowering patients Happiness Letting Go Meditation mindfulness Preventive Health Self-care stress management Wisdom

An Introduction to Mindfulness

by Davidicus Wong, M.D.

This is a handout I share with my patients to introduce them to the practice of mindfulness and principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. I consider these to be two fundamental emotional wellness skills that every adult and child should learn.

Like any other skills we wish to master, practice – particularly daily practice – is essential. Through the power of the human brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity (to change itself), we learn new skills – including new ways of thinking and feeling – through repeated practice. In the words of the pioneering Canadian neuropsychologist, Donald Hebb, “Neurons that fire together wire together.”

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION helps us to centre our minds, increase our awareness and calm the nervous system that modulates how we experience pain and other sensations. The practice of mindfulness teaches us a less reactive approach to the rest of our lives. We become open to accept and experience every aspect of our lives, our selves and our sensations, without clinging, aversion or judgment.

We begin meditation by spending 15 or 20 minutes each day just sitting in a quiet place in a comfortable position. We turn our attention to the natural flow and sensations of the breath without trying to control it in any way. This becomes a safe and calming anchor that we can return to at any time.

We can then turn our attention to sounds as they arise in our immediate environment, just attending to the arising and disappearance of different sounds as they come and go from our awareness. We don’t have to label or identify each sound. We simply remain aware of them as they arise.

We can centre our awareness on different physical sensations in the body, perhaps the pressure at points of contact, warmth, coolness, vibrations, pulsations, tingling and even pain. We can move awareness to different areas of the body, and if a sensation such as pain in one part of the body is difficult to manage, we can shift our attention elsewhere, to the part of the body that is most comfortable or back to the anchor of the breath.

With practice, we are able to maintain awareness and attention to every sensation without reacting to it, without aversion, clinging, judgment or identification. With time, we recognize that everything within our awareness is ever changing; nothing is constant – no sensation (not even pain), no mood, no emotion and no thought.

We are able to attend to each thought as it arises without getting carried away in a train of thoughts or a story in the remembered past or imagined future. We can note thoughts as they arise, without judgment or identification and let them go. We can do the same with the transient feelings and emotions that arise without getting caught up and carried away with them. We experience moods, feelings and emotions but we are not our moods, feelings or emotions. We can see them as transient, temporary conditions like a mist, a fog or a shower. They pass through us or we pass through them.

We can be mindful when walking, attending to the sensations of each step, the sounds and pressures on the feet and the movement of the legs. This becomes a mindful anchor from which what we hear, see, feel and think arises in our open and accepting awareness. 

Mindfulness can be practiced while eating, attending to the taste and texture of each bite of food; swimming, attending to the sensations of buoyancy, flowing water on the surface of the skin and rich sounds of moving water and air; and even driving. Mindfulness only begins with meditation. When you apply the healthy attitudes of non-reactive acceptance, gratitude and compassion to everything in your life throughout each day, you will discover a deeper level of peace, happiness and meaning. 

Mindfulness when diligently practiced can bring serenity to your mind and body throughout each day – an open, accepting and nonreactive approach to your life. It can foster in you greater compassion for others and yourself.

COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY trains us to uncover our underlying beliefs and assumptions, choose our conscious thoughts, reframe our situation and shape our emotions. We can discover that we can improve our moods, thoughts and function in life through healthy self-care – eating regular healthy meals, ensuring adequate rest, daily appropriate physical activity and spending quality time with supportive friends and those loved ones who naturally lift our spirits. Mindfulness meditation can help us identify unskillful thoughts (those that increase suffering) and help us choose skillful ones.

MORE RESOURCES (I’ve put my favourites in bold)

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Mindfulness (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom (Joseph Goldstein)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (Joseph Goldstein)

Radical Acceptance (Tara Brach)

True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart (Tara Brach)

JackKornfield.com, TaraBrach.com Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach’s videos, guided meditations and lectures are available for free on these websites. By listening to these teachers, you will quickly see how the attitude of mindfulness can be applied to your everyday life.

Local mindfulness retreats: Westcoast Dharma Society http://www.westcoastdharma.org

MicrodosingMindfulness.com will show you how to fit in routine mindfulness breaks in just a few minutes a day

THE PRACTICAL SCIENCE OF NEUROPLASTICITY

Hardwiring Happiness (Rick Hanson)

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom (Rick Hanson)

COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment(Martin E. P. Seligman)

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (David D. Burns)

Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think (Dennis Greenberger, Christine Padesky)

Anxietybc.ca has many useful resource including the Mindshift app for smart phones

Checkingin is a free mindfulness app for your smart phones

DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (a synthesis of mindfulness and cognitive therapy)

            The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for AnxietyBreaking Free From Worry, Panic, PTSD, & Other Anxiety Symptoms (Alexander L. Chapman)

For an effective technique for establishing healthy new habits, check out TINYHABITS.COM

Categories
Burnaby Division of Family Practice Emotions Happiness Healthy Living mindfulness Uncategorized

Mastering Your Emotions

I will be speaking on the topic of finding inspiration on Saturday, March 3rd at Century House 620 Eighth Street, New Westminster. Century House’s annual Inspiration Day events run from 10 am to 1 pm. Tickets are $8.00 ($6.50 for Century House members). Please call 604-519-1066 for more information.

inspiration-day

Everyone wants to be happy.

While we consume much of our time, attention and energy in the pursuit of happiness, the experience of happiness may seem transient and fleeting; we may enjoy pleasure, satisfaction and even joy for a time but these feelings always fade, and we’re back on the hunt for happiness.

Although emotional health is as important as physical health, most of us haven’t been taught how to foster emotional wellbeing. We recognize when we are sad, angry, anxious or happy but we usually ascribe the cause of these emotions to our circumstances.

We are sad when we suffer a loss, angry when we are insulted, anxious when facing adversity and happy when luck comes our way. Sometimes our emotions can be so strong that they narrow our thoughts. When anxious, we overestimate the challenges before us and underestimate our ability to meet them. When depressed, we think negatively about our selves, our situation and the future. When angry, we can only see our own points of view and how we have been harmed.

Our emotions exist because they helped our ancestors survive in the primitive world of the past. They have served important functions. Sadness helps us appreciate what we value most. Anger moves us to defend our selves and our loved ones. Anxiety alerts us to potential danger.

When a situation arouses our emotions, the less evolved early mammalian areas of the brain (the limbic system) are activated, highjacking our higher cortical functions, including our thoughts. That’s why judgment can be so impaired with anger . . . or when we fall in love.

The drama of human history and our own personal narratives arise from the sea of our emotions in which we toss and turn under the apparent influence of outside forces – what happens to us by circumstance or the actions of others. And throughout history, we have sought relief outside of our selves by consuming alcohol and other mood-altering chemicals.

Today we have reached a momentous time in history. Although we see daily in the news the best and worst in human behaviour, neuropsychology has essentially unveiled the user manual for the human mind. The established therapeutic approaches of mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy have been shown to change how our brains function and help us manage our own thoughts and emotions.

In upcoming columns, I’ll share these proven strategies to tame our emotions and foster emotional wellbeing.

I’ll be speaking on the topic of Emotional Wellness on Monday, March 5th at 7 pm at the Bob Prittie Metrotown Branch of the Burnaby Public Library in a free presentation put on in partnership with the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients public health education program. I’ll talk about how emotional health is as important as physical health, affecting every aspect of our lives; recognizing the symptoms of stress, anxiety, mood and other psychological conditions; key emotional health skills including emotional awareness and mindfulness, stress management and the managing of thoughts and feelings; and where to find help. Because seating is limited, please register online at www.bpl.bc.ca/events or in person at any branch. For more information, call 604-436-5400.

Davidicus Wong

Categories
mindfulness Relationships

Have yourself a mindful holiday season

Christmas tree at the Edmonds Community Centre, Burnaby - Davidicus Wong
Christmas tree at the Edmonds Community Centre, Burnaby

I wonder if Santa knows how many adults dread Christmas. Mrs. Claus certainly does; she manages the North Pole and their social calendar.

We are definitely stressed by the debt of spending, the busyness of doing everything that needs to be done, checking off every item on an endless list and obligatory social events.

Unhealthy eating and excessive drinking stress the body. With others celebrating around them, those who are missing out, alone or hungry suffer even more.

Many families gather together but without the harmony of a Bing Crosby Christmas special. Instead of singing favourite Christmas carols or playing out the Nativity scene, family members sing sad and angry songs of years gone by and take on the old family roles dating back to childhood.

But we don’t have to carry through the holiday season the same old ways. There is a way to enjoy this time of the year with less stress and more joy. At the heart of all tradition is intention. Let’s celebrate more mindfully.

At each year’s end, I review the family calendar and I am amazed at all that has happened in just 12 months. This past year, my daughter started her second year at UBC. My wife and I enjoyed our longest trip away without the kids, my two sons landed positions at Amazon as software development engineers, and my oldest moved out of town.

As we act through our usual holiday traditions, we are reminded of holidays past and how our lives have changed, who is here and who is not, and how relationships evolve. We are reminded of our connections with one another in the past and present and in our exchanges of good will, our connectedness with all humanity.

When we are mindful, we appreciate that everything changes. Our lives are finite, relationships end, we grow and we grow older. All things good and bad will pass.

When I think of wish lists, I am reminded of all the things I wanted when I was younger, thinking that they would bring happiness, but craving for what we don’t have never brings lasting satisfaction. All things grow old. There is always something new or better.

There is a pervasive myth that we will be happy when we get what we want – the perfect gift or when everything is just right – the perfect life. In mindfulness, we learn to accept all things in this world just as they are. We don’t have to like everything but we have to accept reality and what we can’t change. We can still work to improve our lives, our relationships and our world.

We can love our selves and one another just as we are: imperfect and human.

You can forever pursue happiness by wanting what you don’t have, or you can appreciate what you have and be happy today. What we take for granted today is what we will miss tomorrow.

This will be our 15th Christmas without my mom, but instead of feeling blue, I’ll remember how she celebrated the holidays better than anyone I’ve ever known. She infused an unmatched depth of love and thought into each card she wrote, present wrapped, meal prepared and hug given.

She inspired me to pass the same love forward in all that I do.

This year, have yourself a mindful holiday season. Be present for every moment for it will come and go too fast.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician in Burnaby, British Columbia. His Healthwise columns appear regularly in the Burnaby Now, Vancouver Courier and Richmond News.