The Power of Mindfulness
I travel between two worlds that may appear far apart – by day I am a trial lawyer with a focus on traumatic brain injury; nights and weekends I am a yoga teacher. I increasingly find that these worlds are very close together.
As a brain injury lawyer I work with people struggling to recover from the loss of sense of self so often caused by brain injury as well as associated depression and chronic pain. Many of my clients have reported meaningful increases in the quality of their lives following injury through “mindfulness” practices such as yoga and meditation. Practices such as yoga are designed to increase awareness of the present moment, to increase awareness of our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations without filtering them through past experience or fears of the future – to recapture our sense of ourselves.
Although these “mindfulness” practices have been around for hundreds of years, growing “mind-body” scientific research is demonstrating how effective mindfulness practices can be in treating depression and chronic pain and improving the quality of life following injury. A powerful endorsement of mindfulness practice can be found in a recent TBI blog post by Jaisa Sulit, a neurological-rehabilitation occupational therapist, who sustained a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident. She describes the role mindfulness practice played in her recovery, including coping with pain without prescription drugs and accepting and caring for her post-injury body.
Sulit quotes Victor Frankl, a neurologist and concentration camp survivor and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
“Between stimulus and response,” says Frankl, “there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
We can’t reverse the injuries that have occurred, suggests Frankl, but we can take control of our response – by learning to be in the present moment, listening to the mind and body, and mindfully choosing how to respond. Abraham Maslow, a well-known psychologist, suggests that learning to be in the present moment is not only important to recovery from injury, it is “a major component of mental health.”
A recent study in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation supports the effectiveness of mindfulness-based practice on improving symptoms, including depression, following traumatic brain injury. One explanation offered is that these practices help improve acceptance and awareness “thereby minimizing the catastrophic assessment of symptoms” associated with TBI and chronic disability.
A February, 2014 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology reports that mindfulness practice shows promise as a tool to reduce dependency on prescription opioid medications to control chronic pain. Many people with a serious injury find that they have lost control of their lives to the medical specialists, insurance companies and lawyers who become involved following the injury. Mindfulness practice is a way to recapture that control.