We provide a variety of mindfulness exercises throughout the eight-week MBTSR course, largely because different people seem to have an attraction to certain practices more than others.
Some have an affinity for connecting with their bodies through the “body scan” exercise. Others gravitate to the “sitting meditation,” and still others seem to prefer the “moving meditations” like the Walking Meditation or Gentle Yoga Stretches.
Although it is quite natural for the mind to place judgements and compare one more favorably than another, we want participants to “catch” their minds having these thoughts. We encourage people to try all of the different practices as they appear in the Weekly Classes.
See if you can just notice the mind’s tendency to compare and show preference. And then approach these as just passing thoughts and preferences and continue to practice all of the different exercises with a stance of curiosity, openness, acceptance, and radical caring for your self.
We have learned from neuroscience that the mind is changeable or “plastic,” meaning the actual structure of the brain can change with experience. A mindfulness practice is a way of influencing this change and positively creating new wiring in the brain circuitry.
For the person experiencing bothersome tinnitus, this is certainly good news. According to the American Journal of Medicine, about 16 million people were bothered enough by chronic tinnitus in the past year to report tinnitus to their doctors. Some 1 to 2 million people live with tinnitus that is severe enough to interfere with their abilities to function in daily life.
Using mindful awareness, we can shine a light on the mind’s inaccurate, habitual reaction to tinnitus signals and see it for what it really is: a sensation that does not need to be monitored by the mind, poses no credible threat to survival, and, therefore, can safely fade from our conscious awareness.
Compelling studies support the argument that mindfulness can lead to more adaptive changes in a patient’s response to old and new stimuli.
The best way to protect your ears is to avoid loud sounds. But this is not always easy to do. So the next best way to protect your ears is to use earplugs. Earplugs are easy to find and range in quality. Standard earplugs can be found in most pharmacies. They can also be purchased at an audiologist’s or hearing professional’s office. The materials that are used to make ear plugs can vary. Some are disposable and made of foam, others are made of plastic and can be re-used.
The question often arises: “Doesn’t the ringing associated with tinnitus come from the ears?” Ask anyone with tinnitus and they can tell you how the sensation feels more like it is coming from somewhere in their head. When tinnitus is “unilateral” it means it is heard in one ear. “Bilateral” means it is heard in both ears. And this is, in fact, true. We know now that tinnitus is actually a problem not in the ears but in the brain. Although most cases of tinnitus come with some amount of hearing loss, it is the brain’s mis-interpretation of the signal that results in the ringing, chirping, whooshing, crackling noises we call tinnitus.
Most people with tinnitus notice that stress is a trigger for the worsening of tinnitus. This is why most management tools for relieving tinnitus include some form of relaxation as a way to lessen and prevent the discomfort. Although we are not certain, this may be the reason why acupuncture, deep breathing, exercise, a change in diet, getting more sleep, and certain medications have been helpful for some in reducing tension and stress and, in turn, relieving some tinnitus bother.
What is great about using breathing exercises as a way to relieve tension is that breathing is free, it goes with you everywhere, and you don’t need a prescription! Here is a deep breathing exercise to help manage the stress that is part of living:
Whenever and wherever you need it—morning, noon, and night—simply push back from whatever you are doing and close your eyes (if that feels comfortable to you). Sitting or standing comfortably in a way that does not obstruct your breathing, placing your awareness on the sensation of this breath; breathing in through the nose and out through your nose. Allowing each breath to fill your chest and belly. Continue the gentle, even flow of each wave of breath for ten deep belly breaths. At the end of ten deep breaths, notice if you feel a release of tension. If the tension remains, continue with ten more deep belly breaths. When you are ready, open your eyes knowing that the breath is always there to help you find balance—no matter where you are and no matter what life throws your way.