Basic Mindfulness Meditation Instructions for PWP – Part 1
Mindfulness meditation has become a hot topic in the last several decades. It shows up in innumerable health studies, news articles, books, apps, and more. In future posts, I intend to offer some guidance in navigating the ever-growing mass of mindfulness media and methods out there.
But first I’d like to start at the beginning. All the hype can start to beg a simple question – what is mindfulness meditation, and how can I do it?
In this blog post, I offer Part 1 of a basic set of instructions for mindfulness meditation, tailored specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease (PWPs). Mindfulness is a state of mind and body which can be practiced in meditation or in everyday life. However, since many people, myself included, find that mindfulness is much easier to identify and explore when it is rooted in a regular meditation practice, that is where I’ll start.
Start with a peaceful space
Focusing one’s attention is hard enough without having to contend with competition from the television, internet, cell phone, and other people. Look for a space and time in the day when you can usually count on being undisturbed, and don’t be shy to let people know that you’re taking the time to meditate. There is ample evidence of the stress-reduction and health benefits of meditation.1 You wouldn’t interrupt yourself, or let yourself be interrupted, during a jog or a swim, so why not also take time for self-care via meditation?
For PWP, there is a special consideration about medications. It’s optimal to do meditation when you’re in a state of mind that’s both calm and alert. So, if possible, choose a time of day when your meds tend to be at a medium level – not too low, but also not so high that you’ll struggle with dyskinesias or a sense of being too hyper to sit still. Experimentation is the best way to find out which times of day are best for you.
Use a timer
It may seem counterintuitive, but I find that the smaller the amount of time you intend to meditate, the more important it is to use a timer. If I’m meditating for 30 or 40 minutes, I have time to settle into the process. If I just have 5 minutes to meditate, it’s all too easy to mentally “check-out” from meditating at all, in part by continuously checking the clock.
My recommendation is to use a timer whenever you can. Externalize the responsibility for keeping time so you can focus your mind on the activity of meditation. An egg timer, a cell phone alarm, or a free meditation app like Insight Timer all work perfectly well. (If you’re using your cell phone as a timer and you receive a lot of texts and calls though, it’s best to put it on airplane mode.) Another great way to have a timer is to find a meditation group and do it with other people!
Practice having an upright posture
Whether you sit in a chair, cross-legged on a cushion, kneeling on a bench, or even if you meditate lying down, it’s important to consider your posture. The main thing is to emphasize a feeling of length in your spine. This means not having the pelvis collapse backward, such that your head comes forward and you’re folded over your belly. It also means not over-arching your back muscles, such that you feel yourself straining.
Sitting with your hips a few inches above your knees will generally help keep your back upright. Try sitting directly in front of a mirror to have a look at your posture from the front, and then change positions so you can see yourself in profile. You can also have someone else hold a yardstick or board up behind your back, to give you a feeling for where straight up and down is. An upright posture will go a long way toward helping you to be present in your meditation.
Try to remember to check your posture from time to time as you meditate. For PWP (in fact, for most people!), there is a good chance that after a while, your head will have dropped a bit forward and down without you noticing. If you find this to be the case, bring your breastbone up and forward as you inhale. Let your belly be open, full, and soft as you breathe.
Root through your bottom (particularly your sits bones) and think of the crown of your head lifting toward the ceiling. Invite your shoulders to relax to the sides, and in general, work with the image of your muscles softening or “melting” off the uprightness of your spine.
If sitting upright to meditate is not an option for you, it’s also possible to meditate while lying down. In this case, it’s even more important to do it when you’re not sleepy. Try lying on a firm surface, like a wood floor with a blanket or yoga mat on it, and with adequate support for your head. Take nice, full breaths and think of your spine lengthening as you inhale. This kind of directed breath and imagery will help invigorate your meditation in any position.
Now we’ve covered the whole set-up for meditation. In Part 2 of this post, I’ll cover what to actually do in order to meditate!
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to PD?