As our society is growing more self-aware, you might have heard the term mindfulness being bounced around. Maybe you’re an Oprah fan and have learned a lot about this topic, or maybe you’ve heard your friends talking about it and you’ve wondered if it could be something for you. So what exactly is mindfulness and how does it relate to stroke rehabilitation? Can patients learn mindfulness in stroke rehabilitation?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness originally comes from Eastern religions. It is the state of being present in your current situation while accepting your feelings, sensations, and thoughts all without judgment. Basically, living in the moment. According to Kabat-Zin, who introduced mindfulness into the medical field, it is a non-judgmental awareness. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But for anyone who has ever tried this, you know that the mind starts to wander and thoughts and worries can get in the way.
For example, imagine you want to practice mindfulness as you improve your walking. You might know that you just need to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. But then, your affected foot starts to drag and you can’t seem to get your leg to do what you want it to do. Frustration sets in and so does judgment. “This is not good,” you think. You feel upset with your “bad” side and wish it would just do more. You start to believe you’ll never improve. These negative thoughts get in the way of your progress and that’s why it’s important to learn how to release them.
Mindfulness in the recovery process
Mindfulness has already been tested as a tool to help with conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological problems, and the outcomes have been good. It has helped patients deal with their negative experiences and anxiety and focus on their current situation. Aware of the benefits mindfulness has had for other types of conditions, a group of researchers from China wondered if this practice could also help stroke patients.
Positive effects on stroke patients
The researchers created a 2-week mindfulness program for the patients in their study. In addition to regular routine care, the participants had a weekly group session to learn techniques and individual daily practices. What came out of this short period? In just two weeks patients improved their awareness and comfort levels, and they put more effort into their rehabilitation exercises. So overall, not only did it help them feel better, it helped them get better.
How to get started with this practice
Mindfulness can give you better control over negative thoughts and emotions. It can even have positive effects on your rehab outcomes in the long run. But how can you get started? In an ideal world, you would have a coach who guides you on a regular basis, but you can also try this on your own. There are apps, like Headspace, that walk you through meditations and act as your personal coach.
The Strokemark app also uses mindfulness techniques to help you get the most out of our exercises. We help you focus on your breathing to become more aware of what your body is doing. This improves your attention which, in turn, improves your motor control.
Try adding mindfulness into your regular program and see if you start seeing the positive effects of being fully aware and in the present.
The lead author of this original article is Mian Wang from the HOPE School of Nursing, Wuhan University, Wuhan, Hubei, China.