Mindfulness is an ancient practice that is now a well researched and medically accepted method used extensively in the field of mental health that has shown fantastic results in the treatment of anxiety and depression. It is used to increase emotional and physical awareness in the present moment. This in turn stops the brain chatter related to past experience and future possibilities.
In the field of pelvic health, we use mindfulness extensively to teach awareness of breath, the physical status of the pelvis (an area of the body that is very often “out of sight and out of mind”), emotions, general physical status and then tie this in with very specific self-release or tension work.
This is particularly useful with pelvic pain syndromes such as:
Tight painful pelvic floor muscles
Irritability of the bladder (urgency, overactive bladder syndrome)
Vaginismus and vulvodynia
In essence, mindfulness is a very simple, yet powerful, technique for bringing you into the present moment increasing awareness, focus, concentration, relaxation whilst decreasing muscle tension, pain, stress and anxiety.
Although I am writing this blog in the context of the clinical application of this technique, I would highly recommend instigating your own daily mindfulness practice as a very powerful way to bring calm and control to your day whether you have any specific issues or not. Over the period of a few weeks, you will notice a significant difference in yourself both physically and emotionally.
Mindfulness exercises are very simple and only require a few minutes of focus. As with all new things, you will need to set time aside initially to focus on your mindfulness practice, but with time you will find that you can quickly “check in” with yourself throughout the day and will be able to feel what is going on – whether it is with your breath, muscle tension, emotions or thoughts.
Below, I have written a 4 step progression of mindfulness exercises. Steps 1 to 3 are generalised mindfulness practices. Step 4 becomes a lot more specific and requires 1:1 work with a therapist. If you are undergoing treatment with me I will teach you this stage and tailor it to your specific needs.
Step 1: Mindful Breathing
Initially set a timer for 5 minutes and find a comfy, quiet spot to sit.
Now focus on your breath - your normal breath. Don’t change it in any way. Just let it be what it is.
Feel the movement of air in, and out.
Bring your awareness to your nostrils. Feel the cooler air going in and the warmer air going out.
Now follow the air and feel it moving past your nostrils and deep into the chest. Still your normal breath. Just quietly observing. Feel the reverse on out-breath as the air moves out of your chest and passes out of your nostrils.
Is one nostril flowing more freely?
Bring your awareness to the movement of the chest. Where is the movement occurring?
Focus on all of the above for 5 minutes. If your mind wanders just acknowledge it and return your focus to your breath and continue feeling it move in, and out.
As you do this regularly, you will find that your breathing calms down as you focus on it and your chest and shoulders relax so that you feel it more as a diaphragmatic breath (in the low chest/upper abdomen). This calms your nervous system and relaxes you.
Step 2: Mindful Emotions
Once you are comfortable with the mindful breathing, progress to emotional awareness.
As for the mindful breathing, when progressing to a new level, set a 5 minute timer and find a quiet, comfy place to sit.
Connect with your breath as for Step 1: Mindful Breathing.
Once comfortable, become aware of your emotions. What are you feeling right now?
Remember that there are no rights and wrongs with mindfulness and what you become aware of. It is purely an observational practice to allow you to feel where you are at in this precise moment. You may find that you are feeling any range of emotions. If one emotion crops up recurrently that makes you feel uncomfortable it is worth asking yourself what may be causing that emotion and how might you change your situation to improve that feeling.
Step 3: Mindful Body
Again, start your practice by connecting with your breath and emotions.
Progress to becoming aware of your physical self:
Start at your head and work down through each section of the body – the neck, shoulders, arms, chest/rib cage, abdomen, pelvis, hips, thighs, calves, feet – observing any tension, tightness, floppiness, pain, normal sensations
Feel the areas where your body is touching clothes or the chair/floor.
Feel the air against your exposed skin.
Feel your heart beat.
Observe what is going on physically without the need for change.
Step 4: Therapeutic Mindfulness
Therapeutic mindfulness is mindfulness that has been tailored to your specific needs. It incorporates the general mindfulness of steps 1-3 then adds an extra level to really focus on your needs. This may be physical awareness of your pelvic floor muscles with specific release exercises or emotional awareness around specific triggers for your urgency or incontinence. It may be physical awareness when lifting or carrying with added pelvic floor activation to aid management of prolapse symptoms or it may be emotional awareness for recognising stress or anxiety with techniques to release this.
There is no limit to how it can be tailored to your needs but requires 1:1 work with your therapist to facilitate it.
For extra information and for a free app for your phone to assist you with your mindfulness practice go to: www.smilingmind.com.au