Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mindfulness-Based Physical Therapy, A Better Way to Wellness?

Thanks to pain in my left shoulder, I have had the good fortune to experience semiweekly physical therapy sessions. Another opportunity to observe the mind's natural tendency to turn away from unpleasantness. Doing the arm band exercises, there is only so much 'I' can take before fleeing into thoughts about anything but the present moment. Of course, such mindlessness results in the obvious outcome of a mediocre workout, and subpar results for distressed shoulder. More subtle, is the sadness of yet another stretch of time not fully lived. Time, obliterated, wished away, and with it a disconnection from myself. 

We are wired to resist unpleasantness, both the physical and mental kinds. And yet, life is but one string of unsatisfactory moments, some worse than others. Whether suffering from transient nature of good moment, or from just plain bad moment, the truth is, life sucks. And yet, we want to feel good, we would do anything to not feel pain, and to have pleasure instead. I am not even sure what's stronger, the avoidance of pain, or the pursuit of pleasure? Right there, in a nutshell, lies the human predicament. 

Back to physical therapy . . . I have been practicing bringing mindful attention to my exercise routine. Making room for feeling all the body sensations, slowing down enough to give the muscles and tendons exactly what they need, and using that daily chunk of time to practice concentration. Doing 3 sets of 30 for each of the 7 prescribed exercises is a perfect opportunity to steady the mind. I also find physical pain to be such a great teacher, showing me the ways of my mind, and also inviting other possibilities, not inviting reactivity, practicing equanimity. 

Mindfulness-based physical therapy, another venue to be explored for those in the field of physical therapy?


  1. I wonder if you are inclined to over-rate the benefits of mindfulness? Although personally interested more in theravada than other forms Im not sure its a good idea to get too fundamentalist about it.The buddha asks us primarily to check things out for ourselves and im my experiance its helpful to indulge in a little fantasy from time to time especially in order to escape some of lifes rougher edges.After all these diversions are also real in their way and taking place in the present moment.Mantras are a recognised way of doing this but surely there is no harm in imagining (for example)that you are in a lovely sunny place by a babbling brook rather than underdoing a nasty operation.Also, like mantras, such harmless escapism can sometimes help us concentrate on whatever else is happening. I really dont think the buddha condemned his followers to concentrate on unpleasant reality the whole of the time!

  2. Thank you, Michael. I appreciate your take on this, as well as our differences . . . I can only state what is my understanding of the teachings as verified by my (limited) experience and learned from various teachers. And of course, there lies the beauty of the buddhist teachings, that there is no dogma, only what one understands and chooses to apply in their own life.

  3. Which color? I am orange...a weak one and when I do the exercises I try to think of love for my body, even though it does not perform as well as it did two years ago. I give it more rest and respect than before. My injury taught me what not to do....ignore it. With the love that allowed me to think twice about an expensive operation and find a good Dr to agree finding alternatives like deep needle in joint.

  4. Thank you! And yes, deep appreciation for this body, and also not getting too attached since it can fall apart at any moment . . .

  5. I just found this because I googled "mindfulness based physical therapy", because I am thinking of pursuing that for my next career. Seems like a perfect combination! I enjoyed your post, and I hope your shoulder is doing better!