Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Peace of Mind to Einstein Patients
Mindfulness meditation was once considered a fringe pursuit of the eccentric. But it’s now an effective mainstream approach to alleviating pain, stress and worry, and patients at Einstein Healthcare Network will soon have the opportunity to learn how to practice it.
Mindfulness involves training the mind to stay focused on the present moment and accept whatever thoughts or feelings are being experienced without judgement or resistance. The acute awareness of the moment reduces stress by minimizing rumination about the past and speculation about the future, and lessens the impulse to do emotional battle with negative experiences.
“There are three decades of research that show mindfulness has an enormous impact on people,” said Laura Romano, MSW, director of Spiritual Care and Mindfulness at Einstein. After teaching several different types of mindfulness programs for employees this year, Romano will now be offering these opportunities to patients as well. One is an hour-long “introduction to mindfulness” class. Another is the “gold standard” Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, an eight-week program with eight two-and-a-half-hour sessions, and one six-hour extended session.
“We know that mindfulness can’t make a chronic illness or cancer go away, but it can help someone going through it to have many more moments with a better quality of life,” Romano said, adding that cancer survivors and family members also benefit from it.
The fear of recurrence, for instance, is very common among cancer survivors, Romano said, and can become a source of constant worry. Anticipatory fear of the side effects of cancer treatment can do the same thing. Mindfulness meditation helps train the mind to more often return to the moment instead of focusing on negative expectations of the future.
“It’s not about trying to make the thoughts, fears and anxieties go away and replace them with better thoughts—we usually just end up judging ourselves at not being good at that. Mindfulness is recognizing the thoughts and allowing them to be there, but bringing our attention to what else is there, too,” she said.
And when the side effects of treatment are actually making you sick, she said, “our tendency is to tense up and resist it, physically and emotionally—making it even worse than it already is.” In a frivolous but apt example, Romano said it can be likened to being stuck in a traffic jam. You can fume and fret, or you can consciously relax the muscles you’ve tightened and find music you enjoy on the radio. The circumstances don’t change, but your reaction mediates your misery.
Romano starts her intro course by dispelling myths about her mindfulness programs, including:
- The course is not religious, though some people experience it as spiritual and others don’t;
- It doesn’t require you to sit in a Lotus position on a mat, and;
- It’s not a quick fix.
“Although there are some short-term mindfulness practices that can bring some stress relief for a few minutes, for lasting results a person has to make more of a commitment to learning and practice.”
Romano said the feedback from people who’ve taken the course “has been incredible.” One recent participant, for example, said, “This has given me back my life.”