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Mindful Pain Solutions News
June 2013
There are times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether it be of the head or the hands
Henry David Thoreau, from Walden
In This Issue In Upcoming Issues

Photo by Heather Rivet
Clenched Body Syndrome
By Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix

I’ve been asked to comment on this term in our Newsletter, and when googled, this term appears under articles written on Temporomandibular Joint syndrome, a painful condition which involves muscle tension of the Jaw which ultimately limits its opening.
However, we coined this term in our MBCPM classes as it descriptively resonated with so many participants.

It describes a state of feeling muscle tension throughout the body, a state of being on high alert all or most of the time. An elderly participant in our classes admitted it was almost impossible for her to meditate because to do so would require her body to “let her guard down” and from childhood, she had been in a high alert, or in a hyper-vigilant state.

There can be many reasons for this: a highly sensitive child in a family which continually experiences a lot of chaos, challenges, loud and distressing behaviours, or perhaps even unintended emotional neglect where, for example, depression is the daily experience of a caregiver.

Some children in such challenging care-giving households may have dissipated their stress through vigorous sporting activities; others in books or music; others in recreational drugs. And others tried their best to be as high achieving as possible to get any scraps of positive feedback they could muster from the grown ups, or even from themselves.

But it takes its toll, more so on those who are born highly sensitive (see Elaine Aron’s book: “The Highly Sensitive Person” reviewed in a previous Newsletter and available on our blog on the website). The field of epigenetics is opening up now to explain how genes get expressed differently and quite long term - in stress situations versus calm, and how that plays a role in vulnerability to health break down and painful conditions.

“Clenched Body System” came out of the woodwork in our courses as participants opened up, providing clues on how they came to be the way they are now. Stress hormones get depleted when used up too early and people start “running on empty”. Restoring self-care, leading a gentler life, understanding the connections in their own life stories, all help to put some gas back in the tank. Our stress hormones are there for a reason: to help us through life’s inevitable stresses and challenges. Dialing down our reactivity through mindfulness and regular meditation will help preserve our stress hormone supply, so we are never running on empty again.

Upcoming MBCPM courses

Facilitator Training Course

The next MBCPM Facilitator training is planned for August 6th to 15th this year, and will incorporate a “practicum”. This is a 4 day MBCPM course for patients in Toronto, affording the chance for new facilitators-in-training to sit in, audit, and participate—particularly important for those from outside Ontario who cannot audit our existing courses. A silent weekend retreat for the facilitators-in-training, including alumni, will follow. Then there will be 4 days of facilitator training. Returning facilitators-in training will be welcomed back to any of the future training sessions, at a reduced cost. For more details and course requirements, please visit


The Centre for Mindfulness Studies (CFMS) in Toronto is hosting a 1 day workshop for Health Care Professionals as an introduction to MBCPM on Friday, July 12, 2013. For more information please follow the event web page.

Please help us to find interested Health Care Professionals, as we want to keep our MBCPM courses running and extend them to everyone who needs them in Ontario and beyond!

To Do or Not to Do
By Rosa Raponi Newton

As an occupational therapist (OT), I have spent the last 10 years becoming an expert in "doing". Essentially, my job is to find out what people want to be able to do, but can’t because of disability, and help them find ways to do these things. This is driven by a core concept within the OT profession: that quality of life is at its best when people have the ability to independently do the things that are most meaningful to them as individuals. Dressing, bathing, cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, studying, taking the kids to the park, working – the list of things to "do" is endless.

Since I’ve begun to use mindfulness in my clinical practice, I’ve often thought: how does an OT, so focused on helping people to "do", end up promoting the activities of "non-doing" which are so valued in mindfulness practice? As a health care professional offering mindfulness training, I’m encouraging people to sit and be rather than get up and do. What initially seems like a contradiction to my OT practice is actually a very nice complement for two reasons.

First of all, I view mindfulness meditation as an important self-care activity in and of itself. This act of "non-doing" can be seen as a type of activity (not unlike physical exercise) which can be engaged in to take care of self and promote good health. We’ve all heard of the multitude of health benefits that can come from mindfulness meditation practice: less pain, decreased anxiety, improved mood, better immunity, blood pressure stabilization, sleep improvements, better attention – as a student of mindfulness research the list seems endless. As an OT, it makes tremendous sense to present mindfulness meditation as an important self-care activity and offer training on how to practice as a way of enabling clients to independently take care of their "self" and their health.

Secondly, it is clear to me that mindfulness meditation is so much more that an activity of self-care – it can become a way of being that supports increased activity in all areas of life. With consistent mindfulness practice, I’ve seen clients be better able to engage in so many of the other things that are important in life – pursuing old or new hobbies, increased productivity at work or school, taking care of the house, feeling more capable of handling relationships – again, the list seems endless. It is as if mindfulness practice becomes a catalyst for improving activity engagement in other areas of life, making it easier to do all of the other things we need to do or enjoy doing. To me, it seems very much like finding a way to increase ability and decrease disability – something that is integral to the practice of occupational therapy.

So, in a society, and a profession, that values "doing", it seems incredibly worthwhile to embrace the "non-doing" aspects of mindfulness meditation as a way of engaging in good self-care and lessening the overall impact of disability.

Photo by Marija, Alumni
Book Review: Mindful Birthing
Reviewed by Katherine Nix

Mindful Birthing
By Nancy Bardacke, CNM .

Every pregnant woman seems to own and read What to Expect when You're Expecting, but Mindful Birthing may give the traditional pregnancy bible a run for its money. Mindful Birthing is a must-read for any expectant parent, their spouse, and grandparent.

Mindful Birthing While most information about childbirth and pregnancy provide a long list of what can go wrong and what medical professionals generally do in each situation, Mindful Birthing empowers expectant parents in a uniquely positive way. While Bardacke still explains the realities of early parenthood, she does so in an objective way and proposes choices for parents in terms of pain relief or for a newborn at the hospital. The hospital's routines are not a "fait accompli", and it is suggested that many of those routines do not actually benefit the baby, as per the latest medical research. For example, there is no research to support suctioning liquid from a newborn's mouth and nose almost immediately after birth, and this practice seems to make babies cry and seems traumatic. There is, however, research supporting immediate and fairly lengthy skin-to-skin contact between mothers and infants.

Also empowering to parents, especially mothers, are the choices for pain relief during childbirth. This is where Nancy's Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) concepts are so important. The book does explain all the typical Western options, along with the risks and benefits for each, but the focus on mindfulness is to get parents through childbirth and beyond.

Several regular mindfulness concepts are explained, but specific exercises designed for expectant parents set MBCP apart. For example, there are communication exercises, in the form of question and answer periods, which are designed to improve communication between partners. There is also an exercise that almost helps practice for childbirth – as one makes a fist to hold an ice cube for sixty seconds, the average length of a contraction, the author walks through meditation techniques that can be used during the painful period. The ice cube is more uncomfortable than one might realize! Additionally, the biological reasons for the pain are given, and the reader is armed with the information that a lot of the suffering during labour results from panic and fear. If panic and fear are reduced using mindfulness, the process may seem less daunting. Nancy writes about classes she has taught and includes anecdotes from parents who have gone through all kinds of birthing scenarios.

Despite the writing occasionally being lengthier than necessary in a couple of chapters, as a woman pregnant for the first time, I find this book incredibly helpful. However, I feel I will have to write a second review after I've given birth to let everyone know whether the oodles of information I am armed with actually help!

Katherine meditated daily during pregnancy. She delivered a bouncing 7lbs 14 oz very alert baby girl on April 19th 2013, about 7 hours after her waters broke. She managed her labour with the support of her husband, her Mom and the wonderful staff of the birthing unit at Ottawa Civic hospital, with only Entanox (Nitrous Oxide) and a great whirlpool bath to help her pain. Somehow she couldn’t quite befriend the pain however!

Did You Know That?

Brains contain “Mirror Neurons”? These may become activated in areas of your brain that mirror brain activity occuring in a person actually experiencing an activity/emotion/pain when you are watching, listening to them or reading about them. So you may "feel" their pain. Empathy intensity likely influences how much mirror neurons activate.

Broken Pieces
by Kaarina Dillabough, Alumni

Broken Pieces I collect antiques. I love things old and vintage, especially since they often express themselves in a wabi sabi way…perfection in imperfection.

I love the dents and nicks, marks and wear that vintage items possess.

I imagine what each piece might have experienced, endured and triumphed through.

I never lose pleasure in taking a closer look at a piece, feeling its texture and smiling at its imagined story.

The other day, as I was being quite mindless, I smacked one of my flow blue dishes to the floor accidentally, and CRASH!!!…it broke into bits.

For a moment, I just looked at it.

I looked at the pattern it created on the floor.

I looked at the broken bits: some small, some miniscule.

And then I simply broke out (pun intended) laughing.

Perhaps that’s because I’m actively practicing mindfulness, and these broken bits reminded me that, a few moments before, I’d been acting completely mindlessly.

Doing one thing. Thinking of another. Going through the motions but not really "present".

These broken pieces reminded me that, when we’re going through the motions, being in one place but thinking in another, we ourselves can end up quite broken.

Missing moments.

Feeling pain and stress.

Never really experiencing what "is", but flitting through what "might be".

So although I’ll miss my lovely plate in one way, in another it’s a clear reminder for me to practice what I preach.

Be in this moment.

Fully experience the life I’m living, not the one I’m moving toward or from.


And in the words of Leonard Cohen:

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in."
~ Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

Kaarina is a business/life coach living in Ontario, and a participant in our MBCPM courses, and this was contributed from her popular blog. A former Olympic sports commentator and coach, Kaarina parlayed her coaching skills from the gym floor to the boardroom. In doing so, she has seen people grow both personally and professionally. It was for both the issue of 18 years of daily, chronic head pain (former migraineur) as well as her personal/professional interest in meditation which drew her to take our MBCPM course.

Photo by Marija, Alumni