A Practical Guide to Complementary Therapies

 

Mindfulness practices

The practice of mindfulness and the associated practices of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction can help people with HIV to acquire new mental and emotional techniques for dealing with stress. These practices also involve a physical component, such as a breathing exercise or meditation. Many people with HIV who use mindfulness practices feel it improves their day-to-day life.

Mindfulness practices involve maintaining an “in the moment” awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and immediate environment. They also involve acceptance, meaning that someone who is practising mindfulness pays attention to their thoughts and feelings without judging them. In mindfulness practices, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When an individual practises mindfulness, their thoughts tune into what they are sensing in the moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

Mindfulness practices have their roots in Buddhist meditation, though non-religious mindfulness interventions have entered the world of therapy in recent years. Studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness practices, including in HIV. These practices have been shown to boost the immune system’s ability to fight off illness and to increase positive emotions while reducing negative ones. They improve focus and memory.

Key components of mindfulness practices include the following: meditation; paying close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions; paying attention to what you are sensing in a given moment; and understanding that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you. When mindfulness is combined with aspects of cognitive behavioural therapy, it promotes self-awareness as a part of the therapeutic process. When combined with stress reduction techniques, relaxation and improved quality of life are anticipated outcomes.

There are many online resources, books and audio recordings to get you started in mindfulness practices. Branches of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and local dharma centres (non-sectarian organizations which teach meditation, among other things) often run mindfulness workshops or retreats. Look up your local branch of the CMHA online at www.cmha.ca or check to see if there is a dharma centre in your location.

In some cases, mindfulness therapy groups may be covered by a provincial or territorial health plan.