What exactly is mindfulness?
I came across mindfulness during my MSc in transpersonal psychology and consciousness studies at Northampton University. It’s a simple form of meditation and consists of focusing on the breath and observing your thoughts with a compassionate and non-judgmental attitude. Studying the neuroscience that underpins this ancient practice, I saw it as an additional tool that could be adapted to help my patients. Mindfulness was also the buzz topic at the time, so my decision to delve more deeply into it was timely. I continued to practise it after I’d finished the MSc because I found it helpful in my own life. I decided to take a six-week mindfulness course to deepen my practice and so I could transmit the essence of it to others.
How do you use it as a physiotherapist?
I own a private physiotherapy practice and work in central London and Bath, where I integrate the principles of mindfulness into my work.
For me, this distils into showing clients how they can develop a broader awareness of their physical experience by using the breath, bodily sensations and awareness. I apply various aspects of these principles, depending on their presentation and needs.
What do your patients think?
My sense is that they appreciate this approach, although I present it as a way to be curious about their experience and, hopefully, refine their responses.
Mindfulness breathing meditation can be done anywhere and clients report how useful it can be to manage pain or stress.
Which mindfulness techniques are most useful in MSK physio?
The three-minute ‘breathing space’ meditation has been very effective in helping clients to look at their situation more realistically, rather than being caught up in unhelpful thoughts.
The ‘body scan’, to develop an awareness of bodily sensations and relieve tension, is valuable in connecting clients to their present experience. It seems to open their understanding to the normal process of fluctuation and change in bodily sensations. These are powerful skills and clients may begin to understand their own specific presentation in a more nuanced way.
Would you like to see other physios use mindfulness?
If this way of working chimes with their understanding and values, and is useful for their patients, then yes. I would like to see our profession champion a more holistic approach to the way we engage with patients.
This could include mindfulness. I would also like to see more physiotherapists being open to explore and embrace the neuroscience and evidence base of approaches which have not traditionally fallen into our practice.
I do, however, see these changes taking place, for example, with physiotherapists who incorporate yoga, or acceptance and commitment therapy, which take some mindfulness principles into account.
Mindfulness is also a tool we can use as physiotherapists to help us be aware of our own culture and attitudes, and how these might affect our interaction in a therapeutic space.
Does it help you deal with life’s challenges?
Yes, it does. One of the most potent things I’ve learned from mindfulness is to have compassion towards myself. This seems obvious, but it’s often our own internal self-criticism that does a lot of emotional damage.
I also think that understanding that the mind has a natural propensity to create dialogue with itself in random thoughts, is comforting and gives you permission not to take these mental events as concrete. This helps me to deal with life’s challenges with a lot more clarity.
- Andrea Wright is a musculoskeletal physiotherapist and mindfulness facilitator at Integra Therapy in London and Bath
Andrea Wright musculoskeletal physiotherapist and mindfulness facilitator at Integra Therapy in London and Bath