Is your mind full or are you being mindful? There is a big difference and since figuring out this difference, my mind and body have been so much more in sync. I wake up every morning, count 10 deep breaths then slowly assess my body from my head to my toes. I ask myself, “Is this pain a new pain? Do I feel stiff?” I feel the warmth of my sheets and listen to the chirping of the morning bird.
This is a big change from how I used to stomp out of bed every morning and begrudge my body for feeling stiff and my mind for being so foggy. This comes from having rheumatoid arthritis and SLE (systematic lupus erythematosus) since I was a teenager.
When I talk about mindfulness I don’t want you to think, “She can’t have it that bad if a few deep breaths solve the problem.” That is not the case at all; mindfulness doesn’t solve the problem but it helps support my mind.
My daily ritual used to be to wake up, stretch and instantly resent the way my body could not do what my mind was forcing it to do. Some mornings I would get up so fast without a thought and as my feet hit the carpet, my knees would buckle and my feet would explode with pain as the weight bore down on my joints. I would look down at my swollen feet and remember I needed crutches to walk and again condemn my body for its weak state. I would carry on my day always playing the ‘hero’ and never letting my body be in control of how I wanted to live my life, always keeping these thoughts and feelings of hurt inside.
What is mindfulness?
My rheumatologist once suggested I practise mindfulness in my everyday routine to overcome this feeling of resentfulness. I had heard this buzz word a lot and was curious as to what it was all about so I researched the topic.
What I found was incredibly simple. The best analogy I found had to do with washing dishes. I don’t have a dishwasher so it’s a common chore for me! I could approach the sink with a heavy heart and go about frantically washing the dirty dishes, daydreaming out the window, only half aware of the sharp cutlery lingering below my fingers, look over at my cat stretching and think, “Oh wouldn’t it be lovely to be a cat.”
Or, I could be mindful of my situation and be aware of the sensation as my hands hit the warm water and how it eases my stiff knuckles, listen to the tiny pops as the bubbles burst around my hands and realise I have no effect on anything right now except these dishes. So I don’t waste that moment to be mindful of my senses and the situation I am in here and now. Suddenly, I feel in control which is incredibly valuable when I live with an unpredictable disease.
Mindfulness and arthritis
As someone who experiences symptoms from arthritis, I know that it’s often difficult to think about anything other than the pain and how restrictive it is. However, practicing mindfulness can help bring your full attention to the present moment. When you are in pain, your body often reacts instantly without you noticing. You feel a pain, your body tightens, and then a flurry of thoughts flows through about how this pain is affecting your day or life. Mindfulness allows you to notice the distressed feelings before they take over, shift your awareness to your body and adjust in a way that can ease the pain. It is quite amazing how important self-care and self-management approaches are, as there is so much you can do on your own. The feeling of empowerment that comes from being able to do something to ease your own symptoms is a marvelous feeling.
If you want to give it a crack (lame arthritis pun!) there are some great apps you can download to help. My personal favorite is a free app called Breathe and another called Body Scan, which is an eight-minute body check-in session to bring awareness to each part of your body, noticing your experience with a sense of curiosity and openness. Even better, why not start being mindful right now? Listen to what can you hear, focus on what you can smell, relax your shoulders down, ease your jaw, gently rest your eyelids down, take a deep breath in your nose hold it for three seconds, then let it out your mouth and congratulate yourself on taking a mindful moment for yourself.
Do it for yourself because no one else can do it for you. 🙂