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Stress Reduction Can Come From Within

           It is something we do every minute of every hour throughout the every day.  The same breaths that sustain our bodies can revive our psyche and nurture our souls.  The simple act of breathing is not something we usually focus on as we go about daily activities.  However, taking a few minutes to focus on the sensation of breathing leaving and entering the body can have a calming, stress reducing effect.

          Mindfulness meditation is a therapy that combines aspects of meditation and yoga to bring new focus on stress and how each individual responds to it.  “This practice allows individuals to become more aware of their thoughts and feelings by looking at them from a different perspective,” relates Martin Sowa, MA, NCC, a board certified medical psychotherapist at Marian Community Hospital. 

          For many people the word meditation means focusing on one thing or mantra and excluding other thoughts as distractions.  While these practices are very calming, mindfulness encourages accepting of thoughts and feelings and observing them without judgment.  The practice of letting thoughts enter the mind and not reacting begins the process of feeling less caught up in thoughts and emotions.  This in turn gives a deeper perspective on reactions to everyday stress and pressures.

          Many individuals literally become “frozen” with stress, explains Mr. Sowa.  We are creatures of habit.  We hold onto stress and unexpressed feelings, which over a long period of time, produces tension in our muscles and throughout the body.  While illness and unhealthy lifestyles produce stress, we are often our own worst enemies and worry about things over which we have no control or fixate on past injustices or unhappy experiences.

          “Mindfulness releases stress by creating an energy flow and encouraging wellness to take place,” add the psychotherapist.  “During a mindfulness class, we encourage participants to be more aware of their breathing.  We do some simple exercises where we focus on breathing.  It is very relaxing to experience the sensation of breath entering and leaving the body.  Class members are often amazed that they not only feel less stressed, at the same time they feel energized.”

          The practice of mindfulness utilizes breathing and yoga to focus the mind.  Researchers in the field explain that it encourages participants to live fully in each moment, to accept the moment whether we like it or not and to embrace life to its fullest.  One of the most well-known proponents is John Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who has intergrated mindfulness in a structured and systematic approach to mind-body healing. 

          “A mindfulness approach can be beneficial to anyone, while those with an illness or injury can gain additional perspective,” outlined the psychotherapist who also serves as the therapeutic coordinator for the inpatient Mental Health Unit at Marian Community. 

          For these individuals, coming to terms with this segment of their lives is very important in terms of their treatment as well as their overall outlook.  With the new perspective that mindfulness affords, patients get a better understanding of their illness and their own response.  They can better explore this new situation and gain the understanding that they are a well person with an illness rather than a sick person.  They also appreciate that every life experience, both pleasant and unpleasant, contributes to who we are.  Participants who have cardiac problems, diabetes or cancer begin to understand that the illness is a part of their life, but not their whole life.  They also begin to appreciate the person they have become as a result of their response to their illness.”

          “Mindfulness touches every aspect of the spirit-mind-body connection,” concludes Mr. Sowa.  “People become well grounded and have a better understanding of who they are.  This practice can be a useful tool in putting one’s life in perspective and learning to understand one’s soul.  In our increasingly fast-paced life, there seems to be a growing interest in discovering what really matters . . . discovering one’s spirit.  Mindfulness is an opportunity to gain a better perspective and understanding.”

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