Mindfulness and the Survivor
Post on 13/10/16
It is not unusual to feel lost and depressed after stroke. Dr Kinjal Doshi shares how simple mindfulness practices can help you see the beauty of life through a different lens.
To be mindful is to pay attention to what is happening in the present moment without trying to change it — to be kind, patient and accepting of your present experience, in spite of its challenges. As simple as it may sound, some stroke survivors may find it uncomfortable to bring attention to themselves because they feel that their current experience is not what it should be.
Yet, there are clear benefits to practicing mindfulness, particularly if you have survived a stroke and continue to face certain challenges that you may not have had before your stroke.
Mindfulness Helps Your Brain…
Having survived a stroke, we are now working towards healing ourselves by reconnecting our brains with our bodies. As we recover, our brain has to re-learn skills that previously felt automatic. Our brain is constantly re-wiring, and by giving it all the information it needs to re-form these connections anew, it can help us recover the use and function of our body. Our capacity to pay attention and take in information in the here-and-now can facilitate this re-integration. By practicing mindfulness, we will develop this capacity to pay attention. Paying attention will first make us notice what our difficulties are, which will help us determine how we would like to work towards rehabilitating them. As we work on rehabilitating ourselves, being mindful will promote the development of neurological connections between our brain and our body. Thus, the simple act of observing ourselves with kindness and patience as we practice our many rehabilitative exercises, can improve the progress of our recovery.
… and Your Heart
Mindfulness also heals the heart. In willing to be present with ourselves just as we are, and not fighting with ourselves for not being what we were, we can start to relax. Fighting with ourselves is stressful and painful, and this gets in the way of healing. By being mindful, on the other hand, we stop the struggle inside and allow ourselves to experience calmness. In this state of relaxation, we gain the ability to see ourselves anew.
While we may not be exactly the person we were before the stroke, we do not have to remain a person afflicted by stroke. We may even take notice of how we are constantly changing and growing as a person. By practicing mindfulness, we come to appreciate and learn to accept and work with ourselves just as we are now and not in conflict with the person we wish we were before the stroke.
A stroke is a life-changing experience. For some, the fear of having a stroke again overshadow’s the pleasures of life we used to enjoy. Practicing mindfulness, we can reclaim the awe and wonder that life still has in store for us. By paying attention to what is happening around us, we can reconnect with the world around us and discover richness in the simplest of experiences. It could be as effortless as taking notice of the nature around us or savouring the smell and taste of our favourite foods. When we are mindful, even a gentle touch of a loved one, or experiencing a hug from them, can help us feel alive to the present moment.
Simple Mindful Habits for Survivors
Begin by making it a daily habit to practice mindfulness — that is, paying attention to a present-moment experience without struggling to change it, or wishing that it were different. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself.
Your experience during your rehabilitation exercise is the optimal opportunity to help heal the connections between your brain and body, so make a concerted effort to pay attention to and be fully engaged in the activity. Pay mindful attention to the subtle movements you you make as you exercise your limbs, or to the changes in the sounds as you practice your speech. Stay in this mindful state of gentle attention.
To calm your heart, take a minute everyday to bring attention to the rhythm of your breath — the sensation everytime you inhale, and everytime you exhale. Notice how your body feels and moves and you breathe in and out. Whenever you find yourself fighting with yourself, gently take a moment to reconnect by paying attention to your breath.
When you interact with the world around you — places, people, and things — pay mindful attention to the sensations you feel. Put aside your judgments, suspend your expectations, and silence the urge to describe it. Instead, completely immerse yourself in the unadorned experience of simply listening, smelling, tasting and touching. It is in the honesty and purity of these mindful moments, that you will discover that life continues to be rich and beautiful.
Dr Kinjal Doshi is a clinical health psychologist with the Department of Neurology at Singapore General Hospital. She practices, teaches and does research on mind-body interventions. Her work is centered around helping those with chronic medical conditions manage the many stressors of life so that they can have more fulfilling lives.
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