“The journey toward health… is nothing less than an invitation to wake up to the fullness of our lives…” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness Meditation researcher
It is not surprising that in today’s hectic, mile-a-minute culture, many of us experience a great deal of stress. We get the kids off to school – then drive to work – get through the work day – pick the kids up – get them to soccer practice – pick them up after soccer practice – plan dinner – clean up – on, and on, and on. The pace of life can be dizzying.
As we scramble through our days, we foster a culture of busyness that simply doesn’t allow for enough rest and relaxation. As most IBD patients will tell you, high levels of stress are extremely counterproductive when trying to keep one’s symptoms in check. This is precisely why mindfulness meditation can potentially be so beneficial to people living with IBD – it is a proven tool for reducing stress and anxiety, and for improving mood and sense of wellbeing.
Related Video: Dr. David Rakel discusses a benefit of regular meditation.
In the minds of many people, meditation is closely linked to the concept of internal spiritual reflection. While prayerful introspection is certainly one application of meditation, today many healthcare providers teach patients to apply the same principles in a secular manner to derive measurable health benefits. In fact, over the last thirty years, scientists and investigators have generated an exciting, growing volume of research focused on the specific physiological and psychological benefits of meditation. Individuals with no spiritual or religious inclination can still benefit from the therapy.
At present, many psychology practices, numerous highly-respected universities, and over 240 medical centers and clinics nationwide offer stress reduction programs based on the core tenants of mindfulness meditation. A 2007 government survey found that nearly 20 million Americans (about 1 out of every 11) meditated in the past year. The individuals studying these techniques and taking these courses are doing so in order to better cope with stress, pain, illness and the mental challenges of daily life. In a very real way, meditation has crept into the mainstream.
So what exactly is mindfulness meditation? At its core, mindfulness-based stress reduction (abbreviated MBSR) is self-directed practice for relaxing the body and calming the mind. The University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society – where much of the research on MBSR has been conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. – defines mindfulness this way: paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.
If you find that definition a bit vague, don’t worry. There are plenty of resources available online to guide you through the process. And as you read on, you’ll come to understand the critical components of the technique much better.
A key aspect of MBSR involves focusing one’s mind on the present moment, while controlling the flow of your breath. To be mindful is to be aware of one’s thoughts and actions in the present, without casting judgment on those thoughts or actions. When thoughts come up in the mind, they are not ignored or suppressed, but simply noted, while the individual remains calm and uses their breathing as an anchor. Mindfulness is not about changing our current state of being or focusing our thoughts on a specific thing. Rather, it is about being unconditionally present in the moment, so we can increase all aspects of personal awareness, including greater knowledge of our own bodies and minds.
While mindfulness has its origins in Eastern philosophy, there isn’t any necessary religious component to mindfulness — anyone, with any belief system, can enjoy the benefits of MBSR. And while it is frequently practiced while sitting quietly, in theory the techniques can be applied while standing, walking, listening, or working. The key is to find a way to relax our minds through non-judgmental and peaceful contemplation, while using the flow of our breadth to still our senses, relax our bodies, and calm the activity taking place in our intestinal tract.
Purported benefits of MBSR include:
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 Elias, Marilyn. USA Today. “‘Mindfulness’ meditation being used in hospitals and schools.” June 8, 2009.
 The University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing. 2010.
 Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Stress Reduction Program. 2010.