Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about paying attention, deliberately and without judgement, as best you can, to what is going on in your body and your mind and in the world around you.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn founder and former director of the world-renown Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic.

We spend the majority of our lives on automatic pilot, reacting to situations from habit and the largest cause of anxiety for most of us is not caused by outside events but by the thoughts we have about them. Our minds judge and categorise everything we experience as good, bad or indifferent. To test this pay attention to your thoughts for ten minutes as you go about your day. The endless analysing and assessing is exhausting and can make it difficult to experience peace of mind. The thoughts that circle while experiencing infertility are far more terrifying than the day-to-day experience. “What if I never get to be a parent?” “What if infertility conquers me?”
When we consciously slow down and check in with our bodies, our thoughts and our feelings, we open ourselves up to a wider perspective. We become an impartial witness to our thoughts and in this way they lose their power.

You can begin to practice mindfulness right now by bringing your attention to your breathing. Simply observe the coming and going of your breath and the subtle changes in your body. Studies have shown that practising mindfulness regularly can have a beneficial effect on your health, improve your sleep and reduce stress and anxiety. 
I had tried meditation before and labelled myself as a “bad meditator” as I could not stop my mind from thinking. I now realise that even monks who have been practising for decades cannot stop their minds from thinking, that is just what minds do. Mindfulness teaches us observe our thoughts rather than try to stop or manipulate them.
I believe that mindfulness is invaluable for anyone faced with infertility. I completed a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course through my fertility clinic and the techniques have been life changing. Over eight weeks I laid foundations in the attitudes of non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, non-striving, acceptance, trusting and letting go.

The cognitive behaviour element of the course teaches you to develop self-compassion, allowing you to be kind to yourself when you need it most. We are often our own worst critics and infertility can rob you of your self-confidence, trust in your body, even your faith in life. By asking, “How can I best take care of myself?” you develop a trust in yourself that you can handle anything that comes up. You realise that you are stronger than you first thought.

On my journey I have learnt that although I cannot control everything that happens to me, I do have a choice on how I respond to these circumstances. By taking the time to step back and observe, rather than reacting immediately, I have come to see new possibilities and outcomes that at first may not have seemed possible.

Finding acceptance while experiencing infertility is extremely difficult, but if achieved can allow you to re-focus your energy. Instead of denying and resisting what is, you are able to find new ways to support yourself and move forward.

Mindfulness allows us to change our perspective. We may view IVF as an overwhelming and stressful eight-week block of time but if we break it down into moments we will see that maybe we can handle each moment as it comes. A three second injection, a 20-minute procedure. The anxiety we build up around these moments in our thoughts can be far worse than the experience itself.

Letting go is a way of letting things be, without grasping or pushing away. In terms of infertility it does not mean letting go of your desire to be a parent. Mindfulness encourages you to relax your grip on how and when that might happen and let go of your fears and anxieties for the future.

If you are interested in starting your own mindfulness practice and learning more about the mindbody link then read about my new Embrace course.

Updated Nov 2013