Apr 29, 2015 — Dr. Paul Thielking teaches an eight-week mind and body skills group for cancer patients. He walks us through a mindfulness and breathing exercise to help with relaxation. Although developed for cancer patients, this breathing exercise works for anyone. Try it out with us!

Interview

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Interviewer: We thought we take a moment here on The Scope Health Sciences Radio to do a mindfulness exercise. We're with Dr. Paul Thielking. He's at Huntsman Cancer Institute's Wellness Survivorship Center. He teaches an eight week mind and body skills group for cancer patients and a lot of it is being mindful to reduce stress and to sometimes reduce pain and I thought we'd do a quick exercise to see how this works. So, teach me this simple exercise. What's this one called?

Dr. Thielking: So, we'll just call this a breath meditation. Focusing on the breath as a very basic kind of starting point for a lot of mindfulness practices.

Interviewer: Okay. And what benefit should I experience when we're done doing this?

Dr. Thielking: Well, I'm hoping that by the time we're done with this very short exercise, you might feel a little more relaxed, like we do right now. Unless you're super relaxed already.

Interviewer: All right.

Dr. Thielking: And maybe you'll just feel a little more present with whatever is happening in the moment.

Interviewer: All right. I'm going to see if that happens. I'm curious about this.

Dr. Thielking: Sometimes it's better to actually do this as an experiential exercise than for me to talk about it.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Thielking: So this is a great way to start.

Interviewer: Okay. So I invite our listeners right now, it's just going to take a couple of minutes.

Dr. Thielking: Let's say two to three minutes.

Interviewer: Okay. So we're just going to take a couple of minutes. So push your keyboard and mouse away and do this with us.

Dr. Thielking: And I'm rushing through this a little bit. So just to start with, make sure you're in a comfortable position. To start with, just focus on your body. Just notice if there's any areas that feel tense, if you're carrying any stress or tension in your body, your back, or your shoulders, any place else. And just quickly check in emotionally with how you're feeling right now. And then just notice what's going on with your thoughts, whether your mind is active or quiet. A

And anything is okay, whatever is going on right here right now in your experience is fine. We're not trying to change or manipulate it. It's just kind of taking an inventory. And then just notice your breath and for the next few breath cycles just focus on breathing in a little more deeply and a little more fully with each in breath. And then having a relaxed, slow exhalation. We do that two more times deepening and slowing your breath.

And then after your next exhalation, I'd like you to keep your mind focused on your breath but simply following it. You're not trying to change it. You're simply following your natural breathing, your in breath and your out breath. And if you find your mind getting distracted or yourself thinking about other things, you just gently bring your focus back to your breath. And sometimes it can actually help to count your breaths like counting up to four and then starting over again.

So in a real mindfulness kind of session, we might go on like this for another 10 or 15 minutes where we're just keeping our focus on our breath and bringing our mind back to our breath whenever we find ourselves distracted in a very open non-judgmental sort of way. Usually when people start with something like this, they might find their mind wandering before they can get to the second breath, that's normal. With practice though, it actually gets easier and we might even realize how often we're caught up in our minds, we're worrying about things when we weren't aware of it before. So this is a very short introduction in the interest of time but this is a basic mindfulness exercise that again, you might sit down and do for like 10 minutes as a starting point.

Interviewer: You were so right. I found my mind thinking about all the million different things that it's always thinking about. And then eventually there was a brief, brief little moment where it was completely blank and free. And you know how cool that felt? It felt really cool.

Dr. Thielking: If you allow your mind to relax like that, your body kind of follows and is able to relax too. That's the intention of this kind of exercise for people that are going through stress.

Interviewer: So I find myself kind of smiling too. Is that a normal response?

Dr. Thielking: Yeah. I think the things that people find as they feel more relaxed physically. Emotionally they might just feel a little more light, a little more at ease with whatever is going on. The mind naturally tends to settle after a little while. Maybe a minute or two is not quite long enough to notice some of these effects but the basic exercise of just coming back to the breath, people can just do on their own for as long as they want.

Interviewer: How about before you go to bed at night? Maybe schedule an extra 15 minute and just lay there and do this exercise?

Dr. Thielking: Yeah. It's great. Like you're pointing out you've got a million other things going on in your mind right now because you're in the middle of a busy day. The morning, first thing in the morning after getting out of bed or the evening before going to bed tend to be the easiest times for people to find a quiet place to set aside and do this sort of exercise. Some people are morning people, some people are evening people.

What I would suggest if you're interested in trying this is that you try to set aside 10 or 15 minutes everyday at the same time each day. It could be in the morning, it could be in the evening, it could be in the middle of the day if that works for you. And that you just try it for a week or two and you just have an open mind and notice whether it makes a difference or not.

Interviewer: Yeah. Having the open mind is kind of hard I think because if somebody was to come by as I'm sitting here breathing deeply, I'd feel a little silly about that maybe.

Dr. Thielking: Yeah. You might feel that way because you're doing it in kind of a public place right now.

Interviewer: Yeah, sure. Fair enough.

Dr. Thielking: But if you can find a quiet place alone in your own home, then you don't have to worry about what other people think.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Thielking: I mean sometimes I've done this, like sitting on a bus, sitting there with my eyes closed on a bus. You can find places like out in public too where it's not that noticeable. You're not calling attention to yourself.

Interviewer: So try it for a couple of weeks, keep an open mind. I can tell you I already feel a little bit more relaxed. I mean I think of all the stimulus we get on a daily basis. I've got my email open, I've got my phone, I've got messages coming through there. I'm thinking about my next thing and that little two minute period actually was kind of nice and I do feel a little refreshed.

Dr. Thielking: Yeah. It's kind of stepping away from all the stress in our lives even if it's just for 5 or 10 minutes. And if you do that on a regular basis you can actually make a difference and you can get back in your life with a clear, refreshed state of mind.

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