As well as helping to develop calm through cultivating the mind, mindfulness practice, including meditation and yoga, can also aid quality of life by tuning one in to the present moment, helping to find flow when undertaking tasks or activities, or taking on challenges.
Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome experience high-level anxiety, much of which originates from excessive worrying about the future, both immediate and long-term. Though many like to have predictability and routine within their life where possible, the very notion of wanting things to be a certain way can take a person out of the present and this can increase anxiety.
Personal goals can be motivational factors, but one has to be careful not to become lost in a goal to the extent that trying or planning to achieve it induces anxiety. Mindfulness practice, particularly with being tuned with the present, can enable the focus of attention to be on the stage one is at. With this focus, the goal of completing a thesis becomes doing the research and work involved; going for the finishing line in a marathon becomes the process of running the marathon, and going for the summit of a mountain becomes doing the climb itself. Doing this, one can find flow and avoid the sense of anxiety.
This approach was helpful for me when undertaking the Bupa Great North Run, the first part of a double challenge to raise funds for Daisy Chain. As well as reducing anxiety by not being over-focused on the 13.1 miles that I had to run, it allowed me to experience each moment of the run, and the quality of each moment towards reaching the finish. The second part of my challenge is to summit Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain at 5895m.
Mountain treks have also helped me in relation to my Asperger’s Syndrome by helping me to cope with change more effectively, including coping with constantly changing weather conditions. Trekking in a group of people has also helped me socially. Because each day is a new challenge, when someone makes a social mistake or says or does the ‘wrong thing’, it is much easier to move on from it rather than hold onto it. Being tuned in to each stage of the trek through mindfulness enables me to find flow both socially and physically, as well as to open up to new and varied experiences, which can ultimately reinforce social skills and coping strategies in normal life.
Chris Mitchell is taking on Kilimanjaro in October to raise much-needed funds for Daisy Chain, an autism charity based in Stockton-on-Tees, UK. You can find out more or contribute sponsorship at http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2013