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What is mindfulness training?

Many of us travel on preprogrammed, unthinking autopilot, going to work, going through the motions without really paying attention to our surroundings or our own reactions. We are actually very often deep into a phase of life often called "mindlessness." We go home, check e-mail, cook dinner, and attend to the children all at the same time. Undoubtedly, we shoot off e-mail messages containing spelling errors or reply harshly without thought or consideration when we should have pondered our response. We cut our fingers chopping lettuce or miss the joyful smile of the coy, crafty toddler getting into mischief. We are on overload.

The habit of inattention, going through the motions or having your brain race with thoughts, leads us to not be ever present in our daily lives. We often ignore or dismiss important information and messages from our relationships, our friends, our own health, and even our own life. We can zone out, tune out, and shut the world down almost automatically when stress or conflict invades our lives.

Practicing the art of mindfulness is the key to being in the here-and-now, focusing on the present moment—using all of your focused senses in a challenged dynamic thought process. Sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing all work in unison to create a whole image and picture of the process. Stop and smell the roses, but appreciate the hue of redness, the texture of the leaves, the imperfections of the petals, and the sparkling fragrance of the unique flower.

The habit of inattention, going through the motions or having your brain race with thoughts, leads us to not be ever present in our daily lives.

Dr. Lori Brotto, noted sexual health researcher, and some of her Vancouver colleagues have published extensively on the notion of mindfulness and its use in the treatment of female sexual dysfunction disorders. The concept of focusing on bodily functions and performance can help women a great deal in understanding their body's normative function. Intense focusing on self can also help to solidify and enhance sexual constructs and thoughts. Brotto and her esteemed colleagues have shown this technique of mindfulness training to be effective in patients with malignancies and sexual complaints. Mindfulness training has also been helpful in treating a variety of other medical conditions and may be helpful in chronic pain syndromes.

Try some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and resting comfortably in silence with serene quietness. Pay attention without letting your mind wander or trying to change any thought. Be aware. Stop and smell and touch and feel and appreciate the rose petals in their universe and specific environmental context. Stay in the present, and if you wander, let yourself drift back to your original thought. Focus on your deep breathing, each breath as it enters and exits your lungs, before an activity, and think about the experience. You can expect your mind to wander or deviate from the concentration course with intrusive or conflicting thoughts, but slowly, thoughtfully, and gently bring it back to the concentrated ideal or experience.

Try to anchor your awareness in the present moment. Stay focused and try not to let your mind wonder. Stay focused on the present moment, not on the future or the "what-ifs" or "whats" that life may bring. Begin by trying to narrow your focus of thought and begin to appreciate your individual thoughts and ideals. Your mind will become clearer and senses more heightened. You will be in the moment during sexual intimacy and feel a deeper sense of connection both to your inner sexual self and your partner's sensuality.

Do not expect to achieve a state of mindfulness overnight—it is a process of practice and dedication. The more you focus your mind and channel your energies, the easier it will become for future endeavors.

Yoga, meditation, and even acupuncture may be helpful in the treatment of sexual complaints. New data are emerging about these stress and relaxation techniques, and many find help by incorporating them into their treatment plan.

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