The Final Step: Musings of Mind and Spirit
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This can be directed to our inner experience or our perception of what is happening around us. With mindfuln awareness we become a little less identified with our sense of self, and life feels much lighter. At least, this is my experience of it. When I teach mindfulness in my clinical practice or in groups, I always have to start with finding out what people know about the practice and how it has helped them. Inevitably, because there is so much information about mindfulness, there is a range of experiences and inaccurate perceptions about what mindfulness is, especially as it pertains to mental health.
Meditation is simply a tool to practice this kind of awareness. It provides the container for us to experience this present moment awareness and it helps us to transfer this awareness to our daily lives in all that we do. Also remember, that not all meditation practices are mindfulness meditation. Meditations can use imagery or evoke a particular feeling or state which is not the same as being open to what is here in the present moment.
It is important to make the distinction that mindfulness is not meditation and not all meditations are mindful. It is understandable that people are attracted to mindfulness because there might be a promise of feeling calm and relaxed. However, this is not goal and intention but certainly a desired outcome for many of us who experience too much stress in our lives and for those suffering from anxiety and depression.
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The benefit of being aware of our experience is that it gives us information about what needs to be changed. If we are stressed and anxious, then we may become aware that we need to let go of muscular tension, slow down thoughts, breathe a little deeper, and that may help to let go of stress. However, the first step is to be aware of what we are feeling which may at first feel quite unpleasant. It may take some time and patience with the practice to feel more balanced and at ease especially if the nervous system is constantly revved up. It is not uncommon for people to think they cannot meditate because they keep having constant thoughts.
Mindfulness helps us see thoughts from an observer perspective, but we can never stop the thoughts from happening. Awareness helps us to get less identified with thoughts and also see the thoughts as they are happening. This perspective also can help us be less identified with unhelpful thoughts that lead to anxiety and depression.
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Indeed, in groups we may hear of one participant feeling blissed out, while others feel like a failure for just going over their mundane to do list or feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. With mindfulness we just acknowledge what is without preference, whether it be a blissful or anxious state. People who are struggling with addiction may be somewhat susceptible to this belief as it may be seen as a drug free alternative to spacing out or escaping.
The breath is a common point of focus we use to train the attention on the present moment. However, the end goal is not to just control attention but to stabilize the mind. Once we have given time to keep returning attention to the breath, we become much more aware of how the mind works and the tendencies to get pulled into anxious thoughts and rumination. This list of myths does not get to the actual practice and insights that emerge from engaging in mindful awareness.
My hope is that addressing the myths will help people to approach this practice with an open and curious mind rather than with set expectations from the barrage of information out there. It is only through engaging in the practice, ideally with the support of an instructor and group, that people can make sense of mindfulness as a tool for managing their stress and mental health.
People who suffer from trauma have a range of symptoms including anxiety, depression, hypervigilence, flashbacks, emotional reactivity, sleep disturbances, etc. The Othmer method of neurofeedback treats trauma in two stages. The first stage addresses physiological regulation of the body through Infra Low Frequency Training. The second stage is working with deeper states and processing with a training called Alpha Theta. It is important that enough time is spent on stabilization before addressing deeper states as the body needs to feel safe enough to process the held memories of trauma.
In the first stage of treatment, the brain is trained at a frequency of. This is done by watching a video screen of a movie or game for a duration of minutes with sensors of the head that pick up electrical activity of the brain. A sophisticated computer program takes that information and feedbacks information through changes in the signal from the monitor, giving your brain the information it needs to track a very low frequency.
Through the 20 sessions we add training sites in the brain to address different symptoms of trauma. This is a gradual and collaborative process and requires a lot of attention to tracking how one feels during and in between sessions. It requires a lot of commitment and patience for both therapist and client as it takes time to get the protocol just right for each person.
The overall result is a much more calm and regulated nervous system. Each person is very different and the progress in treatment can depend a lot on the nature and severity of the trauma; other compounding factors such as diet and substance use; and whether people are integrating neurofeedback treatment with traditional talk therapy to address the experience of trauma and recovery.
All of these factors will impact on the progress of neurofeedback. Once we know that the nervous system is regulated enough that people can feel relatively calm and resilient we can consider adding deep state training. By this time people feel they have more energy, can sleep through the night, recover more easily from life stressors, and feel more present and engaged in their lives.
Alpha theta training trains the brain in a very different way from ILF training.
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In this training the eyes are closed and we are induced into a deep relaxed state, usually in an inclined position with blankets to keep one comfortable. Alpha theta works with deeper parts of the brain brainstem by releasing cortical control. With the eyes closed our brains can go into an alpha and theta stage which means there is a dominance of these frequencies in the whole brain.
Alpha waves are Hz and are dominant when we are in an awake and relaxed state. Theta waves are slower Hz and are present before the very slow delta waves of sleep. In a theta state the brain produces more images and memories that can be processed. Alpha theta training is often done with an induction to guide people into an internally focused, relaxed state.
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