4 FREE Mindfulness Resources: For Program and Treatment Plan Implementation
Back in July of 2015, my boyfriend and I stayed in Minneapolis, MN to practice at Dharma Field zen center. We participated in a weekend sesshin, and zazens daily after that. In this time I was provided the opportunity to step back from the busyness of life and cultivate concentration and awareness. I continue to cultivate these skills with daily practice and am glad I took the time to learn and experience this practice that has had a major impact on my life.
Prior to this stay, I was living in Los Angeles working in a Neurologic In-Patient Rehab Unit. I had read a couple books on mindfulness and meditation, and found a free app to help me begin meditating. It didn’t take long to understand this should be in everyone’s life, and I soon made it a common technique for my programs and treatment plans with wonderful success.
When implementing mindfulness through breathing exercises, meditation, and guided meditation I see incredible benefits. Clients smile, say their pain lessened, claim they feel lighter and more energized, discern they needed that session and recognize that they feel happy. It’s often just a 10-30 minute session and most clients can’t wait to do it again. Below, I list six brief research-backed descriptions about the positive impacts of meditation and why it fits perfectly into therapeutic recreation.
Meditation for the Physical Body
“Practitioners have found that relaxation training … (including) meditation, can influence muscle tone, specifically abnormal tone such as spasticity and rigidity.” This is helpful for people recovering from stroke and spinal cord injuries as well as people with cerebral palsy, to name a few. And, physical activities with mindfulness components, such as yoga, tai chi, and pilates, can lead to positive behavior changes effecting our bodies and health.
While working in the Neurologic In-Patient Rehab Unit I noticed people in rehab receive excellent care for their physical bodies, but psychological, social, and emotional states are not addressed in many settings.
It is common for any difficult and sudden life transition to increase stress and anxiety and cause a new or increased onset of depression. We know that the mind and body are connected and that psychological ailments can negatively affect our bodies including producing or increasing pain, muscle stiffness, and even weight gain. Addressing the mind and the body, together, is important not just for recovery and rehab, but for our quality of life.
Meditation for Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety is one of the most common diagnoses in America. But, people with developmental disabilities, especially Autism, may exhibit anxiety symptoms at much higher rates than people without disabilities. Over 150 different studies find mindfulness meditation practice positively affects anxiety and stress. This is extremely important knowing that high anxiety and stress levels can lead to headaches, high cholesterol, depression, memory loss, weakened immune systems, and much more.
Additionally, a study found “mothers of adolescents and adults with autism experience chronic stress comparable to combat soldiers.” From this staggering discovery we can discern meditation is an absolutely necessary technique to introduce to parents and caregivers. I’ve implemented meditation sessions for families to practice together, and I also recommend parents do this on their own if they are distracted by family members or want to cultivate their own practice prior to engaging as a family. A guided meditation session right before bed has been helpful to many parents I’ve worked with.
Meditation for Depression
These surprising stats from Dr. Claudia Aguirre, give a clear perspective on the pressing issue of depression: "Given that an estimated 350 million people worldwide are affected by depression, and that women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime, and that people living below the poverty level are nearly two and a half times more likely to have depression than those at or above the poverty level – it’s no wonder that the World Health Organization estimates depression to be the leading cause of disease burden globally."
Because anti-depressants have unpleasant and serious side effects, some of which include suicidal ideation, many people prefer alternative treatments. Meditation is extremely beneficial for treating depression and in many studies, meditation has shown to be more effective than medication. Plus, it's free and there aren't any negative side effects. To learn more about the research, read this article.
Meditation for Managing Behaviors
Meditation can also have incredible impact on managing behaviors by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression and improving emotion regulation and emotional expression, all of which can affect behavior. Since all behavior is communication, implementing meditation into your programs and treatment plans is one way to assist clients in gaining self-awareness, concentration, and reducing harmful/negative behaviors in order to communicate more effectively and less harmfully.
What I’ve found to work best is to begin sessions with a breathing exercise (1-3 minutes), take time in the middle of the session for another breathing exercise and then end with ten minutes of meditation. But, that may not work best for everyone. As you continue, you’ll find successes and discover what does works best for each client and group. You can find a helpful breathing activity, here.
Meditation for Memory
The following article expresses the benefits of meditation and its impact on memory better than I will ever be able to: An Easy Meditation Practice to Reverse Memory Loss.
The author, Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D, addresses the following points within the article:
- Alzheimer’s diagnoses and rates
- Meditation’s effects on memory and why it’s crucial to engage in a consistent practice
- The link between stress and memory loss
- Scientific research to support the significant value of meditation for memory
This article is very important and can enhance your life, your loved ones’ lives, and the lives of the people you work for. There are many more supportive articles on this topic if you’d like to explore further!
Meditation for Addiction Recovery
The brain’s plasticity is a crucial element to our well-being and quality of life, especially in addiction recovery. Meditation rewires our brain's’ neural pathways and because of this, can create a positive changes in the lives of people recovering from addictions. “...But thanks to researchers studying mindfulness meditation, we now know that we can actually remap the brain and affect the way it functions, as well as the way it influences the body.” - Ronald Alexander, Ph.D.
Mindfulness Meditation in Recovery explains further how meditation is useful for recovering from addictions, meditation techniques for addictions, and how it works.
4 FREE Resources to get you started!
Below are my top 4 free resources for understanding and beginning a meditation practice, and implementing mindfulness into your activities, programs, and treatment plans.
Number 1: Headspace
Headspace is a free website and application providing ten free guided meditation sessions (10 minutes each) and three animated educational videos. It’s a progressive program, meaning you have to listen to the first session to unlock the second session, and so on up to ten sessions. Once you’ve unlocked all ten free sessions, you can listen to them over and over as much as you’d like and in whichever order you prefer.
This was perfect for me in the rehab setting working with a variety of patients. I could continue where I left off with one patient and start completely new with another. This is also perfect for parents of children with disabilities to participate in when they wake up and before bed.
After listening to all 10 you can upgrade for a fee. The upgrade includes tracking, a feature for meditating with friends, and a variety of specialized meditation sessions (the Depression Pack is one example). This is something that may work best if you work with the same clients routinely or have specific goals for groups and individuals. It may fit into your department’s budget and can be a huge benefit to your clients.
Download the app and have it with you wherever you go (even if there isn't wifi access). This is great to implement prior to, or after an activity. While co-treating a stroke support group, we would talk, problem solve, do a couple activities and then end the sessions with Headspace. The group loved it and so did staff!
"How Prozac conquered America. (And how meditation could help.)" is an information-packed blog post with stats around depression and efficacy-based, non-pharmaceutical interventions. Join Headspace's free email list to receive more helpful posts from researchers and doctors around the world, download the free app, and "treat your head right."
Number 2: Shrink Wrap Radio
Dr. Dave has an entire series on mindfulness in his podcast, Shrink Wrap Radio. This is a great resource to learn about mindfulness from a psychology perspective. Dr. Dave interviews neuroscientists, psychologists, and other professionals on the effects, research, and mechanics of mindfulness. Here are a few to check out:
- Scientific Research on The Effects of Meditation with Clifford Saron PhD
- Effortless Mindfulness with Lisa Dale Miller LMFT
- Mindfulness & Self-Compassion as Tools for Shifting Out of Depression with Elisha Goldstein PhD
- A Research-Based View of Mindfulness & Health with Ellen Langer PhD
Number 3: Annaka Harris
Annaka Harris provides “mindful awareness exercises (to) help children develop concentration and self-awareness. All of the exercises are from my InnerKids classes and are designed for children ages 6-10.” Annaka provides 6 mindfulness activities for children on her website, but they can easily be helpful for people with developmental disabilities, adults with alzheimer's, families, people with cognitive disabilities, etc. She also has a blog you can subscribe to with helpful information and more resources related to mindfulness, meditation, health, and wellness.
Number 4: Meditate
It is only possible to implement mindfulness into programs if you meditate consistently, yourself. Gaining knowledge, comes solely from doing. And, it’s FREE. Meditation is nothing more than being here, now.
These two books are invaluable resources for supplement knowledge and are very helpful to get you started and return to as a resource. They are simplified, concise, stripped of religion, and I highly recommend them! These books are not free, but helpful in beginning your practice (which is free!).
Buddhism Plain and Simple By: Steve Hagan
"Buddhism Plain and Simple offers a clear, straightforward treatise on Buddhism in general and on awareness in particular. Steve Hagan presents the Buddha's uncluttered, original teachings in everyday, accessible language unencumbered by religious ritual.”
Meditation Now or Never By: Steve Hagan
“National bestselling author and teacher Steve Hagen strips away the cultural and religious jargon surrounding meditation and provides an accessible and thorough manual for newcomers and experienced practitioners alike. Inside you will find:
- Simple practices to avoid needlessly complicating meditation
- Where most of us get stuck in meditation—and how to get unstuck
- A unique focus on meditation not simply as a spiritual technique, but as a way of living.”
I’d like to end on a common line of thinking: "I’m too busy to meditate - when life slows down, then I’ll start." Sound familiar? We all have busy lives, and because of this, we should meditate. Saint Francis de Sales' response to this common line of thinking is perfect:
“Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.”