Meditation and Care

I. Celestin-Lhopiteau*

 

'Meditation is not oriental. It is about transforming one's mind, that is to say the way we experience the world, from morning till night.'

            Mathieu Ricard

 

          Learning how to meditate, how to fully be with oneself and with the world, in the present moment.

         

          What place is there for this experience in the realm of care? What can it bring to our patients? How can meditation be integrated in a care pathway in order to relieve pain and suffering? And for health  professionals themselves? Why lean how to meditate?

 

          The starting point for answering these questions is to focus on the impacts that a symptom can have on someone's life. When we suffer from pain, depression, anxiety, etc.,  these symptoms can make us feel stuck in our lives, preventing us from having a stable relationship with the world and with ourself. They cause a break in the permanent flow of change and in our capacity to adapt to change and to focus on it.

 

          This first observation brings us to the following conclusion: what we treat is immobilization. When we focus on the symptom, it ends up influencing our whole field of perception.  

 

          A few years ago, this very fact motivated me to create a center which would allow for the discovery of various therapies in order to step out of this immobilization. It is based on three key areas:

 

1 – Various Mind-Body practices are presented by health professionals and passed on to patients so that they can use them independently - hypnosis, Yoga, performance optimization techniques, massage

2 – The same practices are passed on to health professionals during training courses

3 – The practices are then assessed through scientific research

 

          In this threefold perspective, Meditation has found its place in the IFPPC, the French Institute for Mind-Body Practices in Paris, with the aim of developing resolutely layman meditation.

 

 

 

1 - For patients or anyone else who wish to
develop a relationship with the world and with oneself

 

          Whether patients come to the center on their own will or are sent there as part of the care process for their pain or stress, they are all encouraged to learn meditation practices – group or individual.

 

          In an approach toward universality, we offer patientsthe opportunity to discover and practice various types of meditation from different trends – Mindfulness meditation,  Tibetan & Indian meditation, heart meditation – so that everyone can find way which suits him/her best. Whatever the practice, special attention is given to the present moment, as it is, and not as we would like it to be.

 

          In each workshop, a great deal of importance is given to the practice of meditation, while still leaving room for exchange between participants. This allows for synergies to form from these various practices, for us to find common ingredients, and to cause a practice to emerge.

 

          In this dynamic, some will start developing their own experience and meditation practice. Others will integrate and focus on a specific meditation practice and delve further into it.

 

          Yet, the most difficult part is not to learn meditation but its daily practice. From the first experience of various types of meditation, we find ways to integrate meditation in our daily life in the simplest way – but also when pain or emotion arise.

 

          Physical preparation

 

We offer physical preparation in various types of meditation. In Mindfulness meditation, we have body scanning. In biblical meditation we are encouraged to find a relaxed body posture and a comfortable sitting position. Various Indian and Tibetan types of meditation start by Yoga exercises.

 

          Breathing

 

Breathing is at the heart of meditation. Once the body is in a stable position for a certain amount of time, a steady breathing rate develops.

'When the breathing is restless, the mind is restless too. When the breathing is still, the mind is still...' (Hatha-Yoga Pradipika).

 

          Stilling the breath allows us to still the mind efficiently. Moreover, breathing is one of the most efficient ways to connect to the present moment. Paying attention to one's breathing means being connected to the permanent movement of life – breathing is at the heart of change.

 

          Dealing with one's emotions

 

 

          The work during meditation is not about avoiding difficult feelings, but more a question of not nurturing them. Incidentally, etymologically speaking, the term 'emotion' comes from the latin emovere which refers to the idea of 'setting in motion, putting movement into'. Emotions are very efficient warning signs – anger for frustration, fear for danger, etc. But once the warning role is over, we should not nurture them and let them rule our lives. They are 'good servants, but poor masters'. We can learn how to welcome our emotions and deal with them. This allows us to develop genuine self-confidence, a feeling of inner security - feeling one's stability when everything is fine, and maintaining it when stress appears.

 

          Scrutinizing one's thoughts, breaking free from mental constructs: hypnosis helps us to learn how not to let an emotion – and more generally a thought – take over. We learn how to break free from any mental construct, how to follow the flow of thoughts, without judging or justifying. Entering a hypnotic state is not a state, but a process. It is about discovering the process of one's whole self.

 

            Paying attention to the present moment:  being here without effort

 

            Meditating is regaining contact with oneself, to simply be here and now, to remove oneself from the permanent worrying about the past or future. It means coming back to the present moment. Meditation is 'being with the world'. This is an experience that can happen everyday, at any time.

 

          What is hard to understand is that the genuine difficulty in meditation is understanding that 'being with the world' does not require any effort. This attitude appears to be very useful for patients suffering from chronic pain, and more generally for everyone who feels too much pressure trying to reach an objective. Fritz Perls clearly sums up this paradox in the process of change: 'To be willing to change is the greatest obstacle to change'. Putting will aside, letting-go, seem essential in the process of change. This corresponds to a common idea in the Zen philosophy: 'Tis when willing to follow the path that you go astray'.

 

           

2 - For health professionals

 

          My fieldwork led to the creation of the training sessions in meditation for health professionals that we offer at the IFPPC in Paris; as well as in India during study tours  - in immersion in the Himalayas with Tibetan meditation, and in New Dehli with various types of Indian meditation. Indeed, our training sessions teach different types of meditation allowing us to see their common ingredients. In this dynamic process, the care givers can start developing their own experience and their own meditation practice.

 

          The teaching is very practical and is designed to help students concretely integrate meditation and transmit it as a complementary care to their patients – for relieving pain and dealing witj one's emotions – and as a way of life for themselves.

This is also what integrative medicine is about.

 

3 - Research and Meditation

 

          Numerous studies have shown that meditation does modify brain activity,  especially when practiced on a regular basis. It increases not only brain plasticity – the creation and reorganization of neurons -  but also the thickness of the cortex, all the more so with practice.

 

          Several brain areas are involved in attention and on the management of emotions. Concerning pain, studies by Dr Fadel Zeidan and Pr Pierre Rainville have shown that  regularly integrating meditation in one's daily routine can considerably reduce pain as well as the brain areas responsible for it.

 

 

Conclusion

 

          Meditating is experiencing one's presence with the world and with oneself. This practice can have therapeutic effects when we are immobilized by pain, stress, or a thought, as it allows us to reposition oneself into our life, by putting movement back into our life. This meditation  experience -  which also leads to care - is also very important for health professionals.

 

* Isabelle Célestin-Lhopiteau

 

-  Director of IFPPC, the French institute for Mind-Body Practices (www.ifppc.eu).

- Head of the University Diploma in Mind-Body Practices and Integrative Health Studies, Paris Sud University and Réunion University.

-  Head of the University Diploma in Hypnosis and Anaesthesia, Paris Sud University.

- Psychologist and Psychotherapist, at the Pain Assessment and Management Center, Bicetre University Hospital, Paris.

- President of the association 'Thérapies d’Ici et d’Ailleurs' (Translatable by: 'Therapies from here and elsewhere').

 

 

 

Translated from French by Frédéric Delacour