3 Ways the Healing Art of Observation can Improve Your Health

Using the power of observation to connect to yourself.

Observation is a tool frequently used in meditation mindfulness to help focus the brain. When we take our attention to one specific object and not only helps to eliminate distracting thoughts, but we can also learn something about ourselves.

Recently I have deepened my studies in the practice of meditation. Learning that observations are powerful tool I’ve also started bringing this into my medical practice. I have offered patients prompts they can use to observe their mind and body.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how the power of observation is helped my patients to understand themselves and has allowed me to help them more effectively. Here are three ways in which observation can be used in your own healing journey.

Gathering data

The clinical encounter medicine can serve multiple purposes. Sometimes there’s a simple question that needs to be answered. Sometimes there is an emotional connection that will be made. Many times there is a transaction of information in which the patient must share. Data gathering, which often takes place in the form of history taking is extremely important.

Physicians and patients struggle with the exchange of information during the clinical exchange. Physicians are trained to think scientifically and to read patients like a book. Patients experience their symptoms in a linear fashion that is often noted to coincide with life events. Physicians become easily frustrated when patients share details that are often on the surface irrelevant to why they’ve come in.

When I’m working with a patient that’s having trouble relaying information, I will ask them to make observations about what their experiencing. This isn’t to be judgmental and it is definitely not to lay blame. But with a few gentle prompts, patients can start to make observations about their symptoms that are very helpful.

Dealing with addictive habits or self sabotage

Primary care physicians often act as health coaches. It is not unusual to offer more coaching advice rather than diagnosis. This can include inspirations to achieve a healthier lifestyle such as through nutrition or healthy movement.

Addictions and self-sabotaging behavior a much more common than most people realize. Patients often have a real struggle coming to groups with why they would return to a habit that’s hurting their bodies.

I have found that teaching patients about the power of observation and asking them to perform 90 seconds of observation before engaging in a destructive habit is extremely powerful. The instructions are simple. Before you pick up the cigarette set a timer for 90 seconds. During the 90 second seconds, observe how you feel prior to smoking. Then when the timer goes off observe if you wish to still smoke the cigarette, proceed with lighting the cigarette.

In the case of addiction, that observation period can often help the brain rewire itself and calm down the reward system in the brain.

Obervation to Empower

Traditionally the practice of medicine was based on a paternalistic model. This meant that the doctor gave orders to the patient that were accepted and never questioned. Times have changed. This is no longer an acceptable way to practice. Due to complexity of healthcare patients must participate in their own care.

Patients that have not felt empowered in most of their life will have a struggle with this. When it is time to make a decision about treatment options they may feel like throwing up their hands and want the physician to make the decision for them.

3 Ways Meditation Can Heal Burnout

Healing the 3 Pillars of Burnout

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy (1).

The topic of burnout has been growing and frequent in the healthcare industry for several years. Burnout doesn’t impact just doctors and nurses. Burnout is prevalent among teachers, where it can affect student test scores (2).

Any activity that is performed for a vocation can create burnout, particularly work that requires care of other humans. Work that can create burnout tends to be stressful, complex and likely requires specialized training.

3 Pillars of Burnout(1)

  • Exhaustion
  • Cynicism
  • Feelings of Personal Inefficacy

What Causes Burnout?

Burnout is associated with jobs that are emotionally taxing.  This can include health care, educations and first responders. Work that is emotionally draining in combination with being technically difficult increase the risk of burnout.

The ultimate solution for Burnout Syndrome is to repair the systemic issues that lead to the condition. Because this is always possible, those working ins stressful environments should know how to help themselves.

3 Ways Meditation Can Help Burnout.

Meditation to Rest the Mind

Exhaustion is one of the pillars of burnout. This is best relieved with a break when feasible. And fortunately, many of the individuals suffering for burnout don’t have the luxury of taking time away from work.

Meditation and serve as a mini vacation. Even practicing for 5 minutes allows the brain to relax.

Use this video to meditate to release what no longer serves you. Use this for a 3 minute meditation break.

Meditation can allow the brain to take a break from mentally taxing efforts. Although 15-20minute sessions can do wonders, even 3 minutes of deep breathing can allow for the circuitry of the brain to cool off.

Gratitude Meditation to Heal Cynicism

One the most devastating effects burnout can have is that those in a healing profession will lose contact of the heart of what they are doing. These individuals will have trouble with empathy, which can lead to poor outcomes, particularly in patient care.

Gratitude can be used as a form of meditation. Keeping a Gratitude Journal is a way to help focus the attention on the positive aspects of life. Have a listen to teh above podcast to hear fomr of the benefits of a gratitude practice.

Self Compassion for Feeling Ineffective.

If a work environment is making employees ineffective, there’s likely multiple layers that are causing this problem. Unfortunately, any complex system requiring more than a few humans, is likely to be complex and fraught with error.

Mindfulness meditation reminds us to bring ourselves to the here and now. We were reminded to focus on what we have in the moment, which is the breath. Forming a real life meditation can help heal the feelings of being ineffective and unworthy.

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References

1.Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual review of psychology, 52, 397–422. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397

2.

Daniel J. Madigan, Lisa E. Kim, Does teacher burnout affect students? A systematic review of its association with academic achievement and student-reported outcomes,
International Journal of Educational Research, Volume 105, 2021,101714, ISSN 0883-0355, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2020.101714.

3 Ways to Reduce Anxiety

Three ways you can lower anxiety in a few minutes

Most people don’t become aware of their anxiety until they have a severe symptoms. What most people don’t realize is that well before the sentinel event of anxiety that makes most people reach out for help, there were symptoms leading up to it that may have been going off for weeks or months.

Although all anxiety requires medical attention, there are things you can do for yourself to lower your anxiety in a few minutes.

The following the tips I wish the share. Having experienced anxiety myself, I wished I had had these exercises to help prevent my first anxiety attack.

Grounding

Grounding is a term used frequently in the holistic and metaphysical realm. It involves visualizing your biofield and bringing the excessive energy down to your legs and feet. Grounding exercises can be done at any time, even if you’re busy doing something else. The idea is simply to help with worry thoughts and create an energy pathway to take all that excess energy out of the head and into the legs and feet which is calming.
Download a free copy of the ebook 9 ways to ground your energy.

Have a listen to the podcast Understanding Anxiety

Download a free copy of the Ebook “9 Ways to Ground Your Energy”

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Inhale and Exhale

It’s that simple. Taking a deep breath in and exhaling out of your mouth it’s one of the fastest ways you can decrease your own anxiety

One of my personal favorite mediation and mindfulness techniques is the Ujjayi Breath. This is a Yoga breathing technique that is easy to perform and can be done at any time of day.

Here are the steps:

  1. Take in a deep breath through your nose, filling up your belly and chest
  2. Exhale through your nose, with your mouth closed. Slightly constrict the back of your throat, which will create a hissing sound. This slows down your exhale.
  3. Repeat the cycle

You can try Ujjayi breath for one minute initially.  You may want to try checking your pulse, then doing a round of Ujjayi breath for a minute then checking your pulse again.  Notice any difference?

Meditate

There are many ways you can use meditation to reduce your anxiety. I have created a short meditation you can use to transmute worry thoughts and positivity.

Want to try a meditation to channel negative emotions? Click here

Tap it Out

Eft, also known as the emotional freedom technique, is a healing modality that is gaining popularity. EFT involves repeatedly tapping acupressure points which has been clinically shown to remodel the brain and create immediate as well as long-lasting changes.
You can use tapping on what’s called the quote karate chop points quote in which you will rapidly but gently tap the outside of each hand together while taking deep breaths.
There are many wonderful online resources for tapping that you may want to check out here
The Tapping Solution

Creating Your Meditation Practice to Heal Chronic Pain

Chronic pain from various diagnosis is the most common issue I treat in my medical practice.  This finding is confirmed by studies showing that “one in 10 adults in the general population report chronic widespread pain with possible sociocultural variation.¹”  The options for patients suffering from chronic pain remain limited.  I have been advising my patients that starting a meditation practice as part of the treatment plan in dealing with chronic pain. Patients with the diagnosis of Chronic Pain from any source typically are being treated  by a number of specialists and practitioners. 

They are often spending significant hours weekly pursuing and receiving medical treatments. My biggest worry with patients is that if opioids are being used, without a clear endpoint for treatment that the opioids will become needed for a long duration.  Reliance and dependence on opioids for chronic pain creates a host of issues separate from the original source of the pain.

Learn about types of Chronic pain in my podcast

Chronic Pain Part I

In this post, I am offering my recommendations to approach adding meditation as a treatment regimen for those suffering with chronic pain.

Deciding on a Meditation Instructor, Course, or Free Resource

Cost

Starting a meditation practice can be done for free, but there may be reasons to invest in formal training or a course.    Working one on one with a Yoga or Meditation Instructor may be the most expensive option, but this will also provide the best way to initiate or continue your practice.  One on one work is not mandatory, but for those that are used to pursuing care in this fashion it will be easy to start working with someone.

Least expensive will be finding free meditation resources online.  This is a perfectly fine option.  I often recommend free online resources knowing that my patients may be spending thousands of dollars on healthcare monthly.  Naturally, you won’t have the benefit of one on one attention. Using a free resource such as YouTube allows you to try meditation without investing any money.

Time

I strongly recommend that someone who is new meditation to start with short intervals, no more than 5 minutes.  In the 21 Day Meditation Challenge at Healing Arts Health and Wellness, the majority of exercises are under 6 minutes.  Longer meditations can reap more benefit, however, physical comfort must be considered.  If you have chronic pain, you will have to recognize that the beginning of your meditation journey that your physical needs may limit you to short intervals which is perfectly fine. Luckily, technology has provided so many ways to pursue a structured meditation course.  This will be ideal as it will take away guessing at what meditation to do next, but may require some time to perform daily.  

I recommend assigning a specific time to meditate and possibly treating it like a doctor’s appointment.  This will help to train your mind and body that this time is sacred and intentional.  My own observation is that different types of chronic pain seem to do best with meditation at various times.  If you are suffering from chronic joint pain from arthritis, starting your day with mindful movement may assure increased energy and reduced pain for the rest of the day.  Chronic neuropathic pain, such as diabetic neuropathy typically benefit from evening or night practices.  Settling the nervous system prior to bedtime is a fantastic way to calm the pain of neuropathy.  Patients taking chronic opioids should consider an evening practice, particularly if you are taking opioids more than every 8 hours.  Opioids disrupt your sleep, and when possible it is best to avoid them at bedtime.  Having a relaxation plan to reduce the need for nighttime opioids can help to improve sleep quality. 

Special Considerations for Meditating with Chronic Pain

Once you have decided how you still start your meditation journey, also consider if it may be worthwhile to invest in any special equipment.  One example is you want to use a special chair designed for meditation. Finding a comfortable position will be top priority.  If you are dealing with chronic pain from the lower back, laying down with your legs supported may be your best option.  If your chronic pain comes from neuropathy in your legs and feet, it may feel better to elevate them.  If you have chronic neck pain, having support under your head and neck with a special pillow may be needed.

Getting Advice from Your Physical Therapist

Likely if you are suffering from chronic pain, you are under the care of a physical therapist.  This is an invaluable resource as they will understand the physiology and challenges you experience with your pain.  I would recommend asking your physical therapist for guidance for positioning yourself in your meditation practice at home.  Your physical therapist will likely have useful solutions that can eliminate any barriers in getting started.

Preparing Yourself for Your Meditation Practice

Finally, make your meditation practice as pleasant and sensual as you like.  Consider adding aromatherapy in the form of high quality essential oils.  You may want to invest in candles or nice lighting.  A warm blanket also helps the body relax.  Covering your lap with a warm blanket during a seated practice really helps in relaxing. Also reduce distractions as much as feasible.  This may mean putting your phone on Do Not Disturb.  You may want to let household family members know that you wish not to be disturbed during your meditation practice. Review your medications with your physician. Are there medications you may want to avoid before meditation? Are there medications you may want to consider taking to help you be comfortable with meditation? Would you benefit from adding heat therapy or cold therapy at that time as well?

Chronic pain is difficult, frustrating, and currently has little rapid solutions in our current care models.  Adding meditation is a low risk, high yield activity that augments the treatment plan for any chronic pain diagnosis.  I have created a 21 Day Meditation Challenge, a 21 day course that will allow you to try multiple meditation types in short durations. This course will be a way to start your meditation journey easily.

21 Day Meditation Challenge

Click the link above to learn more about the 21 Day Meditation Challenge


References:

1. Mansfield, K. E., Sim, J., Jordan, J. L., & Jordan, K. P. (2016). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of chronic widespread pain in the general population. Pain, 157(1), 55–64. https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000314

Meditation as a Lifestyle

We are learning in times of crisis that some things are out of our control and our best way to recover is by tapping into our inner strength and healing.  It seems counterintuitive that sitting still and looking inward helps to cope with the ever changing external world.  I believe that having a personal meditation practice can help to create a lifestyle in which you can recover from the challenges that life throws at you.

I started my meditation journey 20 years ago when I accidentally discovered yoga in a discount book store.  I was in medical school, and at the time, I did not fully appreciate what a treasure I had discovered.  

Meditation can become part of your lifestyle.  There are so many reasons why I believe it’s worth carving out the time for this, allow me to share a few of these.

Sustainable energy

As we move through life we’re all aware of things that can add to our energy and make us feel alive such as laughter, love  and joy.  We’re also aware of things that deplete us such as anxiety, dealing with energy vampires, or depression. We have to consider what we feed our minds and our bodies.  We want pure, clean fuel to keep our energy going.  Meditation can be energizing.  Giving your brain a few minutes of rest and closing your eyes even for a few moments is wonderful.  When you slow down your breath and let your diaphragm work to its fullest capacity, you allow the oxygen level in your blood to rise.  Your brain will love that feeling, trust me.

four rock formation
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Self-care is mandatory

We are all learning during the pandemic of 2020 that while we have systems in place to provide care those systems are getting depleted. and one way or another we almost find a way to take care of ourselves. Self-care is no longer an option or a luxury. It is mandatory for survival.

I believe meditation can be part of a healthy, holistic lifestyle. It is a perfect compliment to a lifestyle that revolves around self-care and healing. Meditations, in combination with having a reliable care team, a healthy whole foods diet, and movement of the body that feels good is a powerful combination.

Resilience when avoidance of pain is not possible

During the year 2020 everyone was affected in one way or another. We have all been affected either personally, emotionally, financially and physically.   We are learning that there are times when pain is unavoidable. We are learning that sometimes we must find a way to recover from what has happened.

I have personally heavily on my personal meditation practice to help me during times of uncertainty.  Meditation has helped to calm some of my anxiety related to uncertainty. 

I have created a 21 day Meditation Journey you may want to consider if  you are wanting an introduction to meditation, or would like to have support in developing a daily practice of meditation.  Sign up for my newsletter if you would like updates.