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Meditation In Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Helps Patients Cope With Chronic Disease

Shauna Shapiro, Ph.D., has partnered with Genentech to launch a first-of-its-kind mindfulness-disease series. Dr. Shapiro is a clinical psychologist and a professor at Santa Clara University, according to her bio on Greater Good. She’s recognized worldwide as an expert in mindfulness, and her meditation techniques have been sought out by many as a way of using “mind-over-matter” to help them cope with chronic diseases.

Mindfulness, in this context, is a meditation practice focusing only on things happening in the present moment. When you are mindful, says WebMD, you do just one thing and you pay close attention to that one thing. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a program designed to help patients learn to calm the mind and body, which builds coping skills in regard to illness, pain, and stress. To be mindful is to truly live in the moment. It’s not being in a trance, or zoning out, but rather a time set aside to pay purposeful attention to your surroundings, your thoughts and emotions, and how your body feels at the moment. Depending on your unique situation, your meditation time may be focused on the atmosphere around you or, more specifically, how your body feels in that moment. It’s a learned skill, one that takes time to master. We are creatures of habit and these days that means multi-tasking, even when we’re not aware of it. It takes a great deal of focused attention to drown out the periphery and be in the moment of your meditation.

These concepts and techniques are at the center of Dr. Shapiro’s work. She has published over 150 journal articles and chapters and coauthored the critically acclaimed texts The Art and Science of Mindfulness and Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, according to her website. Dr. Shapiro has studied meditation and mindfulness for 20 years in Thailand and Nepal. She’s the recipient of the American Council of Learned Societies teaching award. She’s a Contemplative Practice Fellow of the Mind and Life Institute which was co-founded by the Dalai Lama.

So how does this work, exactly? What does it mean in the life of a patient who’s been struggling with pain and other effects of chronic illness? A great deal, according to Shapiro. One of her most recent programs has been centered around helping patients with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a chronic lung disease. Medscape defines IPF as a specific form of chronic, progressive fibrosing interstitial pneumonia of unknown cause, primarily occurring in older adults and limited to the lungs. Most patients tend to have a gradual onset and eventual progression to severe shortness of breath and a nonproductive cough. The disease will continue to progress, and there is no known cure. Dr. Shapiro has customized her mindful meditation techniques for patients with IPF.

“Mindfulness may help with the physical, mental and emotional challenges IPF can cause.”

Dr. Shauna Shapiro partnered with Genentech on the new program, Exhale: Mindfully Manage Your IPF. It’s the first of its kind, a patient-focused, four-part video series that utilizes the concept of meditation mindfulness, with the purpose of inspiring patients who are living with chronic disease. While the series was created with IPF patients in mind, it’s just as beneficial to people who are suffering from other chronic diseases. In a climate of expensive healthcare costs, it brings hope to those who might not have easy access to care and related services.

The Exhale video series consists of four parts that are aimed at helping patients use meditation to cope with the emotional and psychological difficulties that may come with their particular diagnosis. When a patient is suffering from chronic illness, it can be difficult to bear the symptoms and treatment associated with the diagnosis. When you factor in the mental stress and lifestyle burdens of the illness, it can become overwhelming. Dr. Shapiro’s mindfulness meditation techniques, however, can provide great benefits to the patient. Dr. Shapiro has designed the series and demonstration videos so that anyone can use them and benefit from them. When successfully using the video series, patients are able to focus their attention on the aspects of their lives that are most important to them and face the physical burdens and challenges of chronic disease, all while maintaining a positive mindset.

How exactly does the program work? The video series guides the patient through the process, teaching him to focus his attention on his entire body, starting with his feet and working all the way up to his head. During this “body scan,” the patient is encouraged to take note of places where there is increased tension or pain. Special attention to breathing may help sharpen the focus. It is normal for invasive thoughts to distract the patient, but it’s important not to judge them. Instead of dwelling on the intrusive thoughts, patients are encouraged to simply note the thoughts and then turn their attention back to the present moment. A wandering mind is normal when new to the process of mindfulness meditation, but with practice, it becomes easier to stay in the present moment. Yoga and breathing exercises can help to both strengthen and relax muscles as well as provide stress reduction. Stress reduction comes with time and practice.

The Genentech video series Exhale: Mindfully Manage Your IPF is available to those who might not have access otherwise. Genentech has also provided an infographic on IPF and misdiagnosis that can be accessed by clicking on the link. An important note to consider is that mindfulness meditation isn’t just for those living with illnesses. Those who find themselves getting stressed over work, relationships, and other day-to-day stressors in life find Dr. Shapiro’s techniques helpful as well. Stress reduction is an achievable goal in meditation. Mindfulness teaches you to be in control of your mind so that your mind doesn’t control you.

[Featured Image by Frankie’s/Shutterstock]