Mindfulness and RA
I recently had the opportunity to take a great workshop that centered on mindfulness and the practice of Tai Chi which was amazing. Along the way I discovered that using mindfulness as a technique can be yet another tool in managing RA.
First of all, mindfulness, loosely defined, is the practice of staying in the present moment. By keeping our thoughts centered on the here and now, we learn to not get lost in negativity and worry, emotions which are based on our past experiences. Instead, by locking into the present moment, we make clearer and more “mindful” decisions, free of judgement, of ourselves and of others. That leads to far fewer conflicts and a more positive style of interacting with your world. If you let each experience stand alone, with no attached judgements or worry, you will be surprised at how liberating it is!
Although it is not possible to turn our thoughts off on a whim, it is possible to take note of them, acknowledge them, and then let them pass through without hinging our beliefs on them.
There are several techniques used to begin practicing mindfulness.
First of all, deep, simple breathing techniques. The simple practice of focusing on the breath, where it goes in your body, how it feels and sounds requires that immediate attention be paid to it. That means being in the here and now. I was amazed at how fast time went by when I spent time really attending to my breath. Studies show that this helps with pain relief, lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety.
Secondly, find an affirmation that you can repeat to yourself that helps to redirect your thoughts on a positive path, away from feelings of failure or the negative energy of harsh judgement. For instance I like to tell myself “in this moment there is more right with me than wrong”. That is true for most of us and will put you in a safe and positive place. When dealing with a disease that robs us of many of the things that once defined us, it can seem impossible to find a place within the current framework of RA that is positive in nature. But it does exist! I turn to what I am able to do NOW not in the past and by doing so, I have discovered new adventures and skills I never thought possible.
Third, look for a class or workshop that teaches mindfulness or meditation. Having a mentor to guide you through this technique as it relates to your own unique circumstances is priceless and will make the likelihood of success much higher. Finding someone who can understand the true nature of RA, or at least chronic disease and pain would be perfect. Touch base with your medical team or your nearest Arthritis Foundation office to see if they are aware of any workshop offerings that might work for you. Our local hospital has a community education department and they have been a wonderful source for me.
Practicing mindfulness has sharpened my focus on the here and now, opening my eyes to what is right in front of me, allowing me to set aside both the past and the future, thereby making me a more satisfied and contented person. Having those characteristics translates into me being a much more positive and proactive manager of my RA.
Check-in: As we start a new year, how are you feeling?