Mindfulness Meditation… Why It Works

by Dr Angel Adams, Dr Patricia Papciak

“Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

There are numerous studies on how meditation helps to lessen stress and improve overall well-being. Jon Kabat–Zinn, the founder of the Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, was a pioneer in recognising that mindfulness meditation could be helpful for adult patients suffering from chronic pain. He developed a secular version of the Buddhist practice, which he called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). There are currently over a thousand studies published in peer review journals. Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR program has been found to reduce not only chronic pain but also high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, alleviate depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders and substance abuse.

The executive functioning part of the brain is the most vulnerable in people who have ADHD. The circuits here have faulty firing of synapses which make it very effortful in attending to tedious low-level stimuli, like cleaning and tidying one’s room or work area, finishing homework, projects or books, staying organized, waiting and delaying gratification, or balancing a checkbook. Most people who do not understand ADHD think the person is simply stupid, lazy, or unmotivated. Fortunately, research has indicated that there are opportunities to rewire the brain circuits in people who have ADD/ADHD.

Image: A woman meditating©  Christine Peloquin, Inc.
http://www.christinepeloquin.com

A study of mindfulness meditation as a treatment for adults and adolescents with ADHD was published in the Journal of Attention Disorders (Zylowka, et al. 2008, 11, 737-746). One of the benefits of practicing meditation is to help make those specific difficult tasks mentioned above become better incorporated into one’s daily living. Mindfulness is defined as the “moment to moment awareness of our present experience, without judgment“.

The authors in this article stated that “Mindfulness meditation involves experiential learning via silent periods of sitting meditation or slow walking and purposeful attention to daily activities. Relaxation, although often induced during the training, is not the sole goal of the activity; rather, the main activity is a cognitive and intention-based process characterised by self-regulation and attention to the present moment with an open and accepting orientation towards one’s experiences.

Meditation helps to modify attentional networks, alter dopamine levels, change neural activity, and modulate EEG patterns. This can be enhanced by using meditation recordings that include Entrainment (a synchronization of two or more rhythmic cycles) and Binaural Beats that help the person meditating go from an alpha state to beta state. http://www.meditationiseasy.com/

Meditation invites one into the present moment, by slowing thoughts down and sweeping away those ideas that are buzzing around in a busy incoherent brain which prohibits the person from relaxing. The ADHD mind is likened to a screen which is rapidly flipping from one channel to another.

Meditation does not have to be complex, religiously oriented, boring, or expensive. There is a myth surrounding the practice of meditation that it is attached to eastern religion. Although it is true that Buddhist practice incorporates some form of meditation, the intention is to be at greater peace with oneself. Meditation can be thought of in the same way as other disciplines that might improve one’s overall physical, mental or psychological well-being. Like other forms of exercise, strenuous or not, each one must find a method of using the discipline so that they see improvement in their being.

Living with a depressed adolescent or a child with a disability is very stressful and meditation gives you a chance to let go of stress and give yourself a lovely self-indulgent gift in letting your mind flow into a peaceful space. You probably have little time to spend alone and enjoy a few quiet moments to get in touch with your inner being. You may just be too busy attending to the needs of others. If you are willing to get up 15 minutes earlier, and take this time to focus and quiet your mind, you may find it is one of your favourite things to do and may look forward to it each day.

There is no way to avoid stress in one’s daily life, but there is the possibility of addressing the stress with a healthy plan. People often say that they eat more when they feel stressed or they take some kind of mood altering substance in an effort to feel calmer. Instead of self-medication, why not try self-meditation? For those of you who are meditation phobic because you get too “antsy” or you don’t know if you are doing it right, just remember to keep it simple in the beginning. You don’t need to hire a trainer; you don’t have to pay loads of money to get a mantra. You don’t have to sit in the lotus position (unless you prefer it) and you don’t have to learn a complicated breathing technique.

Here are some simple tips to help you get started:

  1. Get up 15 minutes earlier than normal and meditate before you do anything else such as breakfast. It is too easy to get caught up with all the responsibilities and tasks of the day.
  2. Get out of bed, and go to a place where you can sit with your back straight. Don’t lie down because it is easy to fall back to sleep. You want to stay alert and be in a state of mindfulness. Some people like to light a candle, burn some fragrant incense, or have some freshly cut flowers nearby.
  3. Image: A painting of purple flowers© George Buchanan

  4. Make sure there is nothing and no one there to disturb or interrupt you. (Put your pet in another room, turn off the mobile and unplug the phone). The environment must be quiet, unless there are natural sounds like birds singing in the garden or the gentle sound of running water from a fountain.
  5. Start by breathing naturally and focus on your ‘in’ and your ‘out’ breath. You are not controlling your inhalation and exhalation; you are simply paying attention, becoming more aware of your body, and listening to your breathing.
  6. You will notice some tension in your body, perhaps in your hands, shoulders or back. Relax them, let the muscles become loose, and notice the difference you feel.
  7. When your mind wanders, which it will, bring it back by focusing on your breathing. As thoughts and feelings arise, simply acknowledge them and then let them go as if they were big white fluffy clouds just floating away in the sky.
  8. Choose one or two beautiful or significant words that you feel are uplifting and want to achieve such as calm or peaceful. Say them to yourself as you breathe in and out. When your mind wanders, you can return to your centre by breathing and repeating your word(s).

People have been using Angel cards around the word since the 1970’s to accompany meditation. They were developed Joy Drake and Kathy Tyler and are basically a box of 72 illustrated playful cards that represent essences of wisdom. You can order the small box from the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland and receive it in just a few days.

http://www.findhorn.org/inspiration/angels.php?tz=0

Every morning you can pick a card at random and use it in your meditative practice. Today the card I picked was “Respect” which was the focus of my meditation as well as a guide to use throughout the day to respect myself, others, animals, and the planet.

Whether you use these essences or not, the 7 steps are all you have to do for a start. If you don’t feel it is beneficial at first, don’t give up. Give yourself several days to adjust to your new practice. Like anything worthwhile, you need to do it every day as part of your morning ritual and this requires dedication and discipline. Eventually it will most likely be something you relish doing.

You can also listen to some free mediation tapes to help you get started:

http://www.project-meditation.org/

http://www.secretsofmeditation.com/

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/np/download.php

If you decide in the future to explore meditation further, you can take a course in mindfulness, or a course in The Art of Living, or go to Plum Village in France and spend a weekend with Thich Naht Hahn, who wrote these two books among many others:

The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

Another great book on mindfulness is: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle.

I look forward to connecting with you again next week.


Inspirational poem to read during the recession:

How Much Would This Cost?
By Courtland W. Sayers

One midnight deep in starlight still
I dreamed that I received this bill:

Five thousand breathless dawns all new;
Five thousand flowers fresh in dew;
Five thousand sunsets wrapped in gold;
One million snowflakes served ice cold,
Five quiet friends; one baby’s love;
One white-mad sea with clouds above;
One hundred music-haunted dreams
Of moon drenched roads and hurrying streams,
One June night in a fragrant wood;
One heart that loved and understood.
I wondered when I woke that day
‘How much this would cost if I had to pay?’


Image: Ask Dr Adams logo

Ask Dr Adams

Question: I have a 13 year old daughter who is 5’8 tall, a lot bigger than me. When I try to discipline her, (i.e. send her to her room for misbehaving by using a time out or loss of privileges, she refuses to go). She is extremely aggressive and abusive particularly in the evening when watching TV. How do you enforce the loss of privileges in this situation? I cannot physically get her to her room and she fights me tooth and nail. I believe she has ADHD but has not had this confirmed. She had delayed speech as a child and we have had problems with her for years but she has become particularly disruptive and aggressive lately. How do you enforce a punishment?

Thank you,
Mary Keats, Cornwall, UK

Dear Mary,

There is nothing more frustrating and stressful then to have your child be disrespectful and defiant when you are asking her to do something and trying to discipline her when she is non-compliant. I have seen how painful it is for families who are walking around on egg shells and their home feels like a prison where they have to be hypervigilant to avoid their teen’s abusive and oppositional behaviour or their child’s next melt-down. They feel helpless and hopeless when they can’t enforce limits. There is no easy answer to this, but I can give you a few important principles and practical strategies that may help.

  1. It is important to seek out an assessment for your daughter at your local CAMHS as soon as possible to find out whether or not she has ADHD or any other co-existing conditions. Then you will know exactly what you are dealing with and if need be can educate yourself about her neurodevelopmental and/or mental health problems. A qualified professional can also help you with your daughter’s behavioural problems.
  2. Choose one problematic behaviour to deal with at a time and work out a plan for it.
  3. There needs to be a timetable posted up on the wall of her daily schedule that clearly shows what time is allotted for her to watch TV. This can be done in conjunction with the use of timers, particularly if she has ADHD, as this will also help her with time awareness. You can initially make the schedule together and collaborate on certain activities, but ultimately you will need to be the one to finalise the healthy boundaries for her (e.g. when there is no TV and what time she begins her bedtime routine, etc). Now the schedule becomes the boss. You remind her in a business like fashion to use it, thereby avoiding power struggles and arguing with her. Disengage with her immediately if she becomes abusive and walk away.
  4. Understand what the triggers are to her abusive behaviours. I’m not sure why she is more aggressive in the evening when she is watching TV. Perhaps she is watching something that is too stimulating and has a provocative content. Perhaps it is because you say “no” to her watching TV. You need to talk to her about what are the triggers that set off this challenging behaviour and why. Help her to understand them. As her speech and language have been delayed, she may also have a difficult time expressing her needs and thoughts, and you may have to help her put those feelings into words.
  5. You need to get engaged in collaborative problem solving with her about these issues and work out a solution together. You must do this at a time when both you and she are calm and in a good frame of mind. Not during the time that she is aroused and argumentative. Do not discipline with anger. That only fuels the fire.
  6. When things are going well, tell her what you will do next time if she becomes abusive in that situation again (the consequence). Start off with empathy. For example, you understand how hard it is for her to turn off the TV when her favourite programmes follow, or you know that other parents let their kids stay up later or that you can see how she hates going to her bedroom, etc). And (not but) in your home the rules must be respected. You therefore will remove the cable from the TV, or and put it in another bedroom with the door locked, etc. if she continue to break the rule.
  7. Follow through with the consequence as soon a possible if she breaks the rule. If you are a single mum and want to avoid a physical altercation, then you may need to remove the cable the next day when she is at school. If she is being abusive, then it is important to tell her at the time that there will be a consequence (delayed), but it is said in a firm but unemotional voice and walk away. Get help from a friend or relative with a back-up plan. You can also call Parent line for support http://www.parentlineplus.org.uk/ until you are receiving the appropriate professional help. You need to be a loving authority figure in her life and know that you are the one in charge when it comes to these important family rules. Kids actually feel safer when they know their parent is the one that sets the boundaries, respectfully and consistently.
  8. The consequence should be task oriented. Thus, she can earn the TV back by specific behaviours such as following the schedule with no swearing or yelling for a certain period of time. Don’t make it unreasonably long otherwise this can be a set up for failure.
  9. I recommend that you read the book entitled “The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene. http://www.explosivechild.com The entire focus is on collaborative problem solving so that your child will develop critical thinking skills, which in the long run, help your child develop self-regulation. Otherwise, parents just become reward and punishment robots.

Do you have a question for Dr Adams? Email your query to us and your question may be answered in an upcoming issue of Motivational Monday Newsletter.


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