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Being Well (Even if You Are Sick), by Elana Rosenbaum.

May 17, 2012

Being Well (Even When You’re Sick): Mindfulness Practices for People with Cancer and Other Serious> Illnesses, by Elana Rosenbaum. Paperback. Shambhala Publications | 06/12/2012.

A warm, clear presentation of the Mediation Based Stress Program, designed for those coping with serious or chronic health problems.

Being critically and chronically ill, and enduring debilitating medical technologies takes a toll on the mind as well as the body. Faced with extreme uncertainty and pain, normal coping skills evaporate. Fragility and dependence on others chip away at self-esteem. Hopelessness takes over. Aware of the importance of mind-body connections, the Massachusetts Medical School Hospital has developed a well-regarded project to alleviate their seriously ill patients’ emotional pain. Its Meditation Based Stress Reduction program is an adaptation of Buddhist practices to teach patients how to remain calm without denying the suffering and uncertainty inherent in their situations. Being Well makes that program available to readers everywhere.

Elana Rosenbaum was one of the clinicians who developed the MBSR program and has taught in it for years. In addition, she suffers from lymphona, a deadly form of cancer and has undergone extensive chemotherapy, stem cell replacement and other extreme medical procedures for it. She continues to face the likelihood the disease will return. Her book takes readers through the steps she teaches to those in the MBSR program. In each chapter she lays out a few basic ideas, gives examples and provides a guided meditation or thought exercises. By repeating the meditations and exercises readers can gradually learn to accept and cope with their illness.

In general, MBSR is designed to help a person become calm by focusing on his or her breath or other non-threatening details like the sounds and images in a room. Doing this on a regular basis, a person can allow good and bad thoughts and feelings to flow in and out of consciousness. Pain, grief, and fear can be acknowledged and released. Denial and control are replaced by release of suffering. The ability to remain calm is empowering. Throughout the process, Rosenbaum advises readers and sufferers to show loving acceptance to their bodies.

MBSR is grows out of Buddhist teachings and practices, but absolutely no religious beliefs are required for its use. The ideas and activities of mindfulness are widely accepted among psychologists and in the general public. There is little new or revolutionary here. What is unique about MBSR and this book is the clear practical manner in which mindfulness is made accessible to a group of people in particular need of it. Rosenbaum makes the program eminently do-able, even for those with serious physical limitations.

While I don’t have cancer, I do have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and know how difficult it is to cope emotionally with major, chronic limitations. I have experimented with meditation enough to realize its potential, but I have not been able to put together a coherent practice. Most books and tapes give too little or too much instruction. Being Well presents a simple, manageable set of practices and ideas which I believe I can actually incorporate into my life.

I read Being Well on my Nook as a review copy from NetGalley. I have decided to actually buy a hard-copy so that I can get the DVD and practice the guided mediations.

I recommend Being Well to anyone, not only those with cancer and other extreme illnesses, but to anyone facing the limitations of illness, disabilities, and aging. In fact, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction would be good for anyone whatever their need, and Rosenbaum teaches it with particular grace and understanding.

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