Are you interested in Mindfulness? So are we.

Published on June 03, 2015

At Sydney Health Professionals we have been researching mindfulness as an avenue for our patients and as a tool to help our practitioners manager busy, stressful clinical roles. Mindfulness is a growing movement in healthcare and in business. As a therapy it has a useful role use in helping people deal and recover from things as diverse as bereavement, stress management, family conflict, parenting, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and degenerative disease.

Looking at mindfulness is a fascinating study into the interaction of traditional eastern practices and a western tradition of scientific inquiry. The most studied program on Mindfulness is the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program or MBSR for short. This 8 week program first blossomed within a western medical hospital. MBSR takes meditation skills long practiced in Buddhist traditions and teaches them within an explicitly non-spiritual context.

The innovative 8-week guided program was initiated by Dr Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts for assisting people with chronic health conditions. The beauty of the program was that once it was set up, the researchers were in a great position to measure the outcomes in each of the varied groups whom were referred to the program through the hospital. So far, the MBSR researchers at U. Mass. and other groups that have taken up the mantle have been able to show:

  • People show improvement on perceived stress scales after doing a MBSR program
  • Loneliness, which is a demonstrable risk for cancer and depression, is reduced by the MBSR program
  • The MBSR program demonstrated reduced levels of pro inflammatory cytokines in participants (find out more about the harmful effects of these here)
  • fMRI scanners have shown mindfulness improves symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • It increases self esteem levels in people with social anxiety
  • MBSR participation leads to thickening of regions of the cortex (nerve cells layers in our brain) associated with learning, memory, emotion regulation, sense of self and perceptive taking.
  • It also caused the amygdala to thin- this is the region of the brain associated with appraising and reacting to perceived threats! And fascinatingly this thinning was related to the degree of improvement shown on perceived stress scales mentioned in dot point one.
  • Mindfulness enhances cellular healing. In some of the most mind-bending findings MBSR programs reduced the effects of stress on a lab induced inflammatory process that produced blistering of the skin. Importantly this study included a control group that had a sham MBSR, of sorts. A health enhancement program designed to match the MBSR in all respects apart from the actually mindfulness practice itself. In the MBSR blister group the blister size was uniformly smaller. What’s more, in those who spent more time practicing the buffering effect was greater; i.e. they had smaller still blisters!
  • MBSR enhances the response to traditional psoriasis treatments- again indicating a role in improving cellular healing processes.
  • When given flu vaccines, MBSR participants have been shown to mount a more efficient antibody response in their immune system than control group participants.
  • In the same study mentioned above, MBSR participants showed changes in the way they processed emotions such as anxiety and frustration- changes associated with what we can think of as more emotionally intelligent ways of dealing with these emotions. This group was classified as a healthy but stressed group, and the MBSR was given in a corporate setting.

Finally a study showed that participation in a MBSR program reduced loneliness in adults aged from 55 to 85 years old. And this study also showed reduced expression of genes elated to inflammation, and lowered an inflammatory marker known as C-reactive protein, which has been linked with many chronic diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Heart Disease.

I don’t know about you, but when I read these research findings I get very excited about Mindfulness. Its what has excited so many people across different industries. It’s important to remember at this point that whilst mindfulness is very helpful across a range of contexts, it is NOT a panacea. It is a discipline. A practice. And its hard work to keep it up.

Tienne Simons is a teacher of MBSR through Headrest:Mindfulness training in Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west. She says, “Mindfulness provides a way to be hop off the feeling of being on a treadmill and be in the present moment. When we spend more time in the present, we are more aware of the texture of our lives, of what we need to do to care for ourselves and more able to connect meaningfully with our friends and families. It can feel so hard to do this when we are stressed. There are many ways to begin a mindfulness practice. Try the app: Headspace or the Smiling Minds app for kids. And if you’re looking to improve you health or soothe that frantic mind consider participating in an MBSR course”.

I (Edward Joel Clark) and another Osteopath (George Asproukos) at Sydney Health Professionals have completed multiple MBSR programs and incorporate aspects of it into our practice at Sydney Health Professionals. It is something we often suggest as an option for busy, stressed out patients or sick or suffering people.

My personal experience is that MBSR serves almost like an antidote to all of the glittering temptations of modern life- the ones that if you surrender yourself to all the time you can almost feel lost amongst them, or swallowed by them. You can learn to stop being chained to the beeping iPhone, the email inbox, to avoid the constant search for something that makes you momentarily “happy” or maybe distracted. If you look a little deeper into the practice you can glimpse insights into the nature of some of your most persistent dissatisfactions or your suffering, and maybe realisations about how your attitudes might be feeding these things. At least, these were my experiences.

It teaches, or reminds you, on a daily scale to stop and smell the roses. (Sometimes quite literally) It will ask you look at a blue sky and stand in simple appreciation of it. I continue my meditation practice on a daily basis. I would highly recommend it to any one who is curious about its benefits, or is suffering from more serious health problems or stress and needs help in managing.

For people interested in more reading, here are some resources we recommend:

The University of Massachusetts centre for mindfulness, health care and society:
http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/

Mindfulness on Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_(psychology)

Jon Kabat Zinn – a quick intro:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wP7Co6Txds

And for those of you looking to try out a guided meditation- this is a talk and guided meditation given by Jon Kabat Zinn at Google for their staff:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc

For those of you looking for more formal education in an MBSR course, try www.headrest.com.au or call Tienne Simons 0431842950.

Edward Clark,
Registered Osteopath
Sydney Health Professionals

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