BY GENEVIEVE MULLINS
The human brain is renowned for its ability to engage in maladaptive ruminating thoughts. Though an automatic process, repetitive negative thinking can have profound effects on one’s psychological and physical health.
Originally an Eastern Buddhist concept, Mindfulness has gained popularity in Western secular settings over the past decade. Mindfulness is described as a state of being attentive to the present-moment experience in a non-judgmental way.
Benefits of Mindfulness:
The practice of mindfulness is found to assist with reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, risk of heart disease and improvement to immune system and cell aging.
Stress, Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms
Worrying about future events and ruminating of the past is found to increase cortisol levels. A study has recognized that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) significantly reduces stress levels in healthy people.
Originally developed for patients with chronic pain, MBSR is of particular importance to cancer patients. In fact, anxiety and depression is known to spike during the first year following cancer diagnosis. Reflecting on the past (e.g. ruminating about the cause of cancer) and apprehending the future (e.g. fear of increased physical and psychological suffering) are common sources of stress, anxiety, and depression among cancer patients.
A review of ten studies, examining the effectiveness of MBSR on the mental and physical health status of various cancer patients, found a significant improvement in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Coronary Heart disease is one of the leading causes of fatal physical diseases worldwide.
The time interval in between each heartbeat cycle, known as Heart Rate Variability (HRV), is found to be an independent predictor of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association has scientifically revealed Transcendental Meditation, a concentrative technique focusing on silent repetition of a word or mantra, to modestly lower blood pressure. The results suggest meditation can be used as a strategy to help people at risk of hypertension and heart disease.
Evidence suggests mindfulness meditation is associated with changes in select biomarkers of immune system activity. Mindfulness has proven to increase levels of T-cell activity in patients with HIV or breast cancer. Noticeably, meditation appears to improve a variety of biomarkers that might indicate progression of the disease.
Put simply, the more mindfulness meditation is incorporated into daily life, the more T cells you have and the more your immune system can fight pathogenic invasions.
Understanding our cellular biological processes is a key component of predicting human longevity.
Though Telomere length (TL) shortens with chronological age, stress is also a known contributor to the rate of TL shortening. Research has observed the link between oxidative stress and telomere shortening. A review, examining the link between telomere length to cognitive stress and stress arousal, has emphasized the impact mindfulness practice can have on decelerating cellular aging and increasing hormones that protect the telomere.
How to incorporate Mindfulness into Your Life
As it is recognized as an innate capacity of human consciousness, mindfulness can be adopted and experienced by all untrained laypersons. Instead of turning away from physical and emotional discomfort, mindfulness teaches the mind to accept and acknowledge the pain and intense bodily sensations.
Mindfulness-based practice encourages the individual to redirect intrusive thoughts to arbitrary concrete focus, such as body scan and breathing exercises, simple yoga exercises, walking meditation, and prolonged periods of sitting meditation. Though it may seem like a tedious chore lacking immediate results, mindfulness practice – incorporated into your daily life – provides moment to moment acceptance of internal and external stimuli, and promotes longevity.
Solaris Cancer Care invites you to join its Mindful Movement for Pain Management course on September 14. You can find out more information here.