It’s that time of year again when the days seem longer and longer, Seasonal Affect Disorder is in high swing and we’re all starting to feel the stresses of this cold winter season set in. Maybe you’re even noticing that nagging low back pain is starting to get worse and you’re not sure why. Perhaps a little mindfulness-meditation session is just what you need! But why? And how is this going to help?

Mindfulness meditation can be defined as bringing the mind’s awareness to the present, to be aware of where we are, what we’re doing and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by the moment. Numerous studies have documented the beneficial effects of mindfulness meditation on anxiety, depression, stress and of course, persistent pain.

Studies have shown that with regular mindfulness practice, people were better able to relax their mind and therefore cope with their stress more easily. By being more aware of your thoughts, one can more easily calm or change their response to them.

Regular mindfulness practice allows the brain to change its perception of pain signals so that they are less threatening and more manageable. When you have persistent pain, your brain’s sensitivity to incoming signals becomes heightened, potentially to an inaccurate degree. Mindfulness helps increase the threshold for which these signals tell the brain there is pain therefore making you more resilient to your pain.

So, how do I do it?

Begin with some mindful breathing. Simply find a comfortable position, whether it’s sitting or lying down, place your hands around your rib cage and feel your ribs expand as you breathe in. As you exhale, focus on controlling your breath and feel your lungs empty. Repeat 10-15 times until your breath has slowed and your thoughts have calmed down.

Download a smartphone app. Calm, Headspace, and Stop- Breathe-Think are three free applications available for download. They have various options for relaxation , whether it’s a 5 minute breathing exercise or a 30 minute body scan. The key is to find what works best for your schedule and your needs.

Yoga is a great way to exercise with mindfulness. Combining breath with movement is the basis of yoga practice and can be very effective at calming your mind and reducing stress.

So, whether you want to make it through the winter SAD free, want to help reduce your chronic low back pain or just want to feel a little bit more in touch with your body, try the above recommendations and ask your therapist for more options about how mindfulness can help you!