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posted: Jul. 21, 2022.
Dr. Shapiro’s trajectory into mindfulness practice seemed to have been part of a spiritual awakening that informed the rest of her life. In a video,( Michael Sandler’s Inspire Nation, 2020, February 13)Dr. Shauna Shapiro discussed her personal struggle with mobility and how her father introduced her to the work of Jon Kabat- Zinn on mindfulness. She reflected on her experiences in Thailand and Nepal where she visited a monastery and further explored mindfulness.
Learning that repeated experiences shape the brain, shifted her understanding about mindfulness meditation. I found this content notable in that it represented the idea that mindfulness is involved in neuroplasticity. Since the structure of the brain can be modified, people can become more creative and think more adaptively.
West, Laing, and Spinazzola (2018) contended that yoga involves using mindfulness along with movement, deep breathing, and relaxation. This content is also compelling as it further explores how practicing yoga delivers benefits for many people in terms of helping medical conditions such as heart disease, blood pressure, sleep disturbance, and heart disease. As such, yoga has gained popularity. As I read about the findings further, it focused my attention on the idea that Yoga has also been associated with decreasing depression and anxiety as well as being helpful in treating eating disorders and ADHD.What was most intriguing related to the way that yoga helped the participants switch to more regenerating emotions and away from debilitating emotional experiences. The researchers noted that post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can also be treated with the use of yoga.
Deep breathing for example, that is used in yoga can also increase emotional regulation as deep breathing triggers the sympathetic nervous system. Apart from that, a reduction in anxiety and depression can result from the practice of yoga. When it is practiced in a group, the sense of cohesion and connection is a helping factor towards decreasing both anxiety and depression. The study undertaken by the researchers focused on a sample of women with PTSD who were treatment resistant and who are experienced childhood physical or sexual abuse. The adult women were participants in a 10-week trauma-sensitive yoga program. What I found fascinating was centered around how the participants responded positively. The themes that emerged in the study were centered on gratitude and compassion, relatedness, acceptance, centeredness, and empowerment. The participants experienced and acknowledged a sense of gratitude and compassion that resulted from practicing trauma-sensitive yoga. In terms of the sense of relatedness, the participants experienced spare capacity in terms of connecting to their physical and emotional experiences, and they developed their ability to be more introspective as well as being able to acknowledge associations between the past trauma as associated with their behaviors in the present. What stood out to me is that the research pointed out that strengthening the mind-body connection with the use of yoga, appears to result in strengthening relationships and experiencing a greater sense of connection. Another benefit interestingly highlighted how some participants believed they became more engaged in the therapy process. Yoga seems to be an antidote to the engagement with maladaptive thoughts and feelings as evidenced by how participants also began to feel a sense of self-acceptance rather than a sense of shame or worthlessness that they previously felt before participating in the program.
As a result of yoga being able to develop a sense of centeredness as the researchers termed it, the participants began to cultivate a sense of calm even in light of a situation that could be stressful, and they were able to focus their attention on what the researchers termed internal sensations, but without generating negative emotional arousal. The women also experienced a greater sense of empowerment and this included feeling more assertive in the sense of discussing their human primal needs and improving communication. The researchers believed that the nature of the yoga practice created changes in the way the participants generated different responses to stress. It is very challenging to work with adult survivors of sexual abuse particularly because it is difficult to find support groups for that population. However, the practice of yoga can be implemented in programs that address the issues of women and people with PTSD, and it can help alleviate not only the symptoms but help the individuals to gain self-acceptance.
In their study, Dyer, Borden, Dusek, and Khals (2020) surveyed 292 university students and several measures were used to assess aspects of dispositional mindfulness as well as to measure life satisfaction, and nature-relatedness. The findings were compelling as among female students, a sense of interconnection with nature appeared to be linked with an increase in more adaptive outcomes psychologically than a decrease in symptoms. What is interesting about this finding is that being able to increase more regenerative emotions, can lead to a person becoming more psychologically resourceful. It is also interesting how nature plays a role in impacting well-being positively. It reminded me of how in Japan, many people with anxiety and depression are encouraged to engage in what is termed “forest bathing.” This refers to the treatment for anxiety and depression in Japan, including spending time in nature especially among trees, as trees are believed to be healing. Also interesting is the fact that nature-relatedness intervention is often not put into practice by providers, although there is evidence that it has a positive impact on well-being and in terms of enhancing emotional regulation and increasing life satisfaction. In terms of the benefits of mindfulness, Dr. Shapiro introduced some interesting insights about combining mindfulness with self-compassion.
She discussed with the audience the importance of using a heart focus with oneself in order to enhance positive emotions and decrease feelings of shame. She made an interesting point in that shame impacts the body negatively as it releases cortisol and norepinephrine activated in the amygdala. She described this process as depleting the brain of what it needs to learn and experience growth. In other words, she was saying that it shuts down those centers in the brain that support change. On the other hand, she indicated that practicing self-compassion increases dopamine and therefore makes a positive impact on the individual.
The question about making lifelong changes and individuals who may not feel the need to make such a commitment is a compelling one. Although mindfulness is known to have benefits for the mind and body, there may be individuals that have difficulty with it as they may have been traumatized, and it may be difficult for them to close their eyes and feel safe. However, it is possible to use other approaches such as hypnotherapy that can be integrated into the sessions. Dr. Shapiro was asked to make a distinction between mindfulness and hypnosis. However, she spoke about how they are related in terms of both using focused attention. With any alternative approach used with clients, it is important to address ethical issues. Most important of all, it is important to focus on not using approaches that could be harmful to the client, or that may trigger unpleasant memories or associations. It would also be important to address the approaches that are used in the therapy session in the paperwork that the client signs in order to get an agreement and understanding that those approaches are used and that there often cannot be a guarantee made that they will be effective as it would depend upon the commitment of each individual to the approach.
I plan to continue to use mindfulness combined with self-compassion as I believe it is most effective for emotional regulation and accessing positive emotions. I have always appreciated the way that Dr. Neff described the process in which a person can take a feeling of isolation and turn it into a sense of connection by practicing self-compassion. The practice includes positive self-talk in which one acknowledges one is not alone in one’s distress. The sense of interconnectedness is cultivated by the practice of self-compassion. I find that a person can shift from faulty thinking to more adaptive thinking by practicing it. I also use therapeutic hypnotherapy in my practice to help my clients integrate changes in their lives. Hypnotherapy helps the mind to enter an optimal learning state, so change can unfold. I also practice self-hypnosis for relaxation and participate in hypnotherapy myself sometimes by listening to audios that address the changes I want to make within myself and also to improve. I engage in hypnotherapy in order to become more confident as a therapist and to always focus on and help discover the resources that my clients bring to the table in order to help themselves.
Dyer, N. L., Borden, S., Dusek, J. A., & Khalsa, S. S. (2020). A pragmatic controlled trial of a brief yoga and mindfulness-based program for psychological and occupational health in education professionals. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 52, 102470. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102470
Michael Sandler's Inspire Nation. (2020, February 13). The Power of Mindfulness Explained! What You Practice Grows Stronger - Dr. Shauna Shapiro [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34jS2a1Z93s%26t=14s
Sadowski, I., Böke, N., Mettler, J., Heath, N., & Khoury, B. (2020). Naturally mindful? the role of mindfulness facets in the relationship between nature-relatedness and subjective well-being. Current Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-01056-w
Siegel, D. J., & Solomon Ph.D., Marion F. (2020). Mind, consciousness, and well-being (Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology) (1st ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.
West, J., Liang, B., & Spinazzola, J. (2017). Trauma sensitive yoga as a complementary treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: A qualitative descriptive analysis. International Journal of Stress Management, 24(2), 173–195. https://doi.org/10.1037/str0000040