How Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction & Meditation keeps us healthy

Rooted in both ancient Eastern and Western wisdom traditions and practices, mindfulness-based stress reduction ("MBSR") and meditation techniques are currently practised widely in the medical and mental health communities. These techniques are based on the consistent practice of intentional, nonjudgmental awareness of moment-to-moment experience. Since MBSR and meditation have the effect of holistically integrating the physical and mental processes of our bodies, they are now utilized in a broad range of health sciences studies and have gained empirical validation for their effectiveness in both prevention and treatment. This has resulted in the cultivation of wellbeing and life-enhancing qualities for a large number of individuals.

Recent research by Dr. Daniel Siegel, co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, has found that the integration of our complex body systems resulting from the mindful-awareness practices inherent in MBSR and meditation might be a key principle underlying health at all levels of our experience. He advocates that the MBSR and meditation techniques of intentional "reflection", enhancement of "relationships" and encouraging "resilience" be embraced as fundamental cornerstones in any system of education as aspects of basic training. These mindful-awareness practices increase the production of the integrative fibres of our brains, balancing our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

By fully embracing these techniques and adopting the principles of MBSR and meditation into their daily routines, many lawyers and other professionals have experienced improvement in perceptual clarity, objectivity, concentration and focused resilience to stress. This happens because MBSR and meditation practitioners intentionally inhabit the present moment with a non-judgmental, patient and accepting attitude. By intentionally self-directing their awareness and attention, these practitioners enhance their internal attunement, thereby enabling them to embrace a more open and spacious perceptual view of what is happening in their lives. By doing so they enhance their capacity to respond more appropriately to situations, rather than reacting to stressful situations with rigid thinking and reactive and ineffective "autopilot" and "mindless" or chaotic responses.

Mindful awareness is a natural human capacity and a fundamental a way of Being rather than constantly Doing. It is a way of inhabiting one's body, one's mind and one's moment-by-moment experience so that stress is reduced and the following innate abilities are enhanced:

  1. Attention training;
  2. Self-efficacy;
  3. Awareness of one's characteristic safeguarding devices;
  4. Recognition of perceptual alternatives to situations, allowing one to respond to situations with emotional intelligence rather than merely reacting;
  5. Regulation of one's state of well-being and calming down;
  6. Integration and balanced perspectives of reactions and emotions without getting lost in them;
  7. Processing interactions and reactions;
  8. Creating deeper integration and coherence within our lives;
  9. Cultivating acceptance and courage of life's challenges and stressful situations; and
  10. Connecting with the wisdom of the body and enhancing the functioning of the immune system.

Mindfulness is about seeing clearly without one's conditioned patterns of perceiving clouded awareness, and without trying to force, control or frame things in a particular way. How a person perceives and frames the present moment generates his or her reality. For example, trainers in business and marketing courses have taught the importance of smiling before answering the phone as basic to effective communication. Mindfulness research has validated this principle by showing that a positive mental focus and a supportive nurturing attitude facilitates both interpersonal and intrapersonal attunement and resonance. It is now universally acknowledged that these are some of the most powerful, effective and useful effective communication tools because as humans we exist in a social context and through our nervous systems are hard-wired for connection. These techniques are particularly useful to lawyers as we are trained to use our minds, albeit in a different manner, and this takes advantage of one of our most developed capacities.

At the Lawyers Assistance Program we confidentially assist our clients, both individually and in groups, in developing and maintaining consistent and effective MBSR and meditation practices. We use the techniques of MBSR and meditation to assist clients with personal growth in overcoming repetitive unhelpful patterns of thinking or behaving. We combine MBSR and meditation with other techniques, such as cognitive behavioural therapy ("CBT"), to help those clients who seek our assistance when they are constantly flooded with intrusive and unpredictable feelings or thoughts, which can often lead to depression, anxiety or panic attacks if left untreated.