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Mindfulness & IBS

November 2,2018

Stress and anxiety play a key role in IBS symptoms. It can exacerbate symptoms or even trigger them. Using mindfulness as a tool to help manage your symptoms can wind down the entire nervous system, including the nerves in the gut. This can quieten them down, minimise symptoms and make flares more manageable.

Today I have a guest post from Debbie Schultz, founder of BlueSkyMinds. Debbie specialises in delivering research-based organisational mindfulness programmes designed to deliver measurable individual and business benefits. ​

​Debbie is one of a very few organisational development professionals in New Zealand who is also a qualified (Level one) mindfulness teacher, certified through the globally recognised programme delivered by MTIA Australia

WHY MINDFULNESS?

Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. Mindfulness allows you to focus on what you are experiencing in the moment, thoughts, body sensations and emotions, as well as what’s happening in your environment, with an attitude of openness and perspective. Through practice, you will become more attuned to your direct experience with increased awareness. You will notice when you are dwelling on past or future events, and how emotions and impulses affect your decisions, relationships and behaviours, and have an increased awareness of your relationship with chronic pain and illness.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Mindfulness works on many levels: cognitive, emotional, neurological and behavioural. In recent years, research in neuroscience has made compelling discoveries about the brain’s capacity to grow and change, including empirical proof that mindfulness helps to create new pathways in the brain that increase our ability to be more positive and creative. Research has found that people on an eight week evidence based mindfulness programme increased density of grey matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy. Mindfulness also has been proven to help us better manage chronic pain and illness.

HOW DO I BUILD UP A MINDFULNESS PRACTICE?

The best way to experience the benefits of mindfulness, is to try it out for yourself and see what happens. Here are some starter exercises you might like to explore, as well as some great books to read to find out more.

ONE-MINDFUL MINUTE

This is a very effective technique to settle the mind on the go and only takes one minute! Time one minute and count the number of breaths you normally take. Then you can count to this number of breaths in any situation to help bring your attention to the breath and the present moment.

1. Stop and become aware of your breathing
2. Follow your breath in and out, counting.
3. Rest your mind on your belly or your chest or at your nostrils.
4. Just be aware as you breathe in and aware as you breathe out for one minute.

THREE STEP BREATHING SPACE

This is an extended version of the mindful minute.

STEP 1: BECOMING AWARE

Turn your attention inwards and start by bringing your awareness to what is here right now. Closing your eyes can be helpful.
What thoughts are going through the mind? What feelings are here?
What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness etc, acknowledging the sensations, but not trying to necessarily change them in any way.

STEP 2: GATHERING AND FOCUSING ATTENTION

Now, redirecting the attention to a narrow ‘spotlight’ on the physical sensations of the breath
Move in close to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen . . . expanding as the breath comes in . . . and falling back as the breath goes out.
Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. Use each breath as an opportunity to anchor yourself into the present.
And if the mind wanders, gently escort the attention back to the breath.

STEP 3: EXPANDING ATTENTION

Now, expand the field of awareness around the breathing so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture and facial expression, as if the whole body was breathing.
If you become aware of any sensations of discomfort, tension, feel free to bring your focus of attention right in to the intensity by imagining that the breath could move into and around the sensations.
In this, you are helping to explore the sensations, befriending them, rather than trying to change them in any way. If they stop pulling for your attention, return to sitting, aware of the whole body, moment by moment.
Turn your attention outwards

PHYSICAL PAIN OR UNCOMFORTABLE BODY SENSATIONS

Adapted from a handout of the Center for Mindfulness, UMass.
It is not unusual to feel pain in the body – maybe a backache, pain from a chronic illness or even a headache. It is also not unusual to try to ignore these sensations by taking medication to mask these uncomfortable experiences. The body holds a lot of information, so when you feel pain, usually this means that your body is trying to tell you something. It is vital that you start paying attention. The next time you experience pain in your body, try the following steps.

  • Scan the body
  • Pay attention, with a sense of curiosity, making no judgements as best you can
  • If you notice discomfort or pain in a particular part of the body, pay attention to understand what is happening as precisely as possible
  • Ask yourself: What is this sensation here right now? What is the feeling in my knee, stomach, my back, my leg?
  • Exactly where is it? What qualities does it have? What is the shape of it?
  • Soften and open to what is present. Holding all in a spacious container with acceptance of what in in this moment, not rejecting or holding onto anything
  • Use the breath by imagining you are breathing into the area of intensity
  • If you need to move, allow yourself to take a few more moments of exploration and then move your position mindfully as a response rather than a reaction.

The nature of the body can only be understood as a whole, for it is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body, that physicians separate the soul from the body.
Hippocrates

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

  • Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world – Danny Penman and J. Mark G. Williams.
  • A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled – Ruby Wax (Ruby has a masters degree in Mindfulness based cognitive therapy).
  • Mindfulness in Eight Weeks: The Revolutionary 8 Week Plan to Clear Your Mind, Michael Chaskalson.
    Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, by Saki Santorelli

COURSES

Not all mindfulness programmes are created equal! The very successful and well researched MBSR Mindfulness programme developed by Professor Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts, is widely considered the global gold standard for mindfulness training, given it has 30 years of evidence based research to support its benefits.

MBSR is typically eight weeks long, research suggest it takes eight weeks for behavioural, emotional and neurological changes to stick. BlueSkyMinds offer programmes in New Zealand (contact us on info@blueskyminds.org) also Openground offer a MBSR courses all over Australia and online.

A FINAL NOTE

The more frequently you work out at the gym, the more benefits you notice. Mindfulness is no different! To get the full long lasting benefits of mindfulness, it’s great to develop a range of mindfulness practices, both on the fly and using formal sitting mindfulness sitting meditation for extended periods of time.

You can connect with Debbie on LinkedIn for regular articles on mindfulness and wellbeing. Alternatively, if you would like to find out more about building your own mindfulness practice please get in touch with Debbie at debbie@blueskyminds.org