As a medical professional, it can often be difficult to predict what your day will bring to your door. Suffering of all kinds is likely to present itself in the course of your working week and it can be helpful to have some tools that will support and buffer you. One of those tools is kindfulness.
What is kindfulness?
Kindfulness takes mindfulness one step further by introducing compassion and friendliness to your practice. Befriending your daily experience and bringing a loving, caring and positive attitude to who or whatever is in front of you can have a deeply beneficial physiological effect on you and your patients if you practise every day with intention. All it takes is the willingness to engage with the person in front of you and see them through the eyes of your heart.
When we connect with another being and the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, our heart rate and blood pressure normalize and stress hormones go to baseline. Preliminary research conducted at Stanford University suggests that practising compassion and self-care can significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
In his book ‘Into the Magic Shop’ neurosurgeon James R. Doty, MD would even go so far as to say:
Developing compassion has a more beneficial effect on health than giving
up smoking or being at your ideal bodyweight, with links to longevity.
How do you practice kindfulness in medicine?
In the words of Professor Francis Peabody, indelibly etched into the minds of medical students across the globe, ‘the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.’ But what does this actually mean, why is it important and how does a patient know that they’re being truly cared for?
Alongside its role in building trust and improving compliance, extending kindfulness to a patient may actually improve their health outcomes. Simple customs like making eye contact, smiling, using first names and a reassuring touch on the hand, shoulder or elbow should all be common practice, but what will really make the difference is your compassionate presence. When you can rest within your authority as an expert with humility and an openness to your patient’s self-healing ability, they will feel that you are with them on their healing journey.
It is this presence that can be cultivated using kindfulness.
In their free online 7-day course, Ajahn Brahm, Dr James R Doty, Dr Paul Gilbert, Shamash Alidina teach the practice of kindfulness. Students of the technique are encouraged to treat the mind like a friend rather than a slave, and to extend friendship and compassion towards everyone they meet. By paying attention to the present moment and making the person in front of you the most important person in your life, you will be able to focus on care, not cure. And when you can extend that loving kindness to yourself at the beginning of each day, choosing to cherish each breath within your body, you will start to notice the positive difference it makes to everyone around you.
We’re always interested in stories about kindfulness in practice - please feel free to share your experiences below.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heart Based Medicine organization. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. They are the expressed opinion of the author for the sole purpose of educating the public regarding their health and wellbeing. Individual results may vary. Seek the advice of a competent health care professional for your specific health concerns.