Industry News

Mindfulness as a Clinical Tool

by John Stan | Nov 02, 2015

Written by Mary Saunders, DOM, L.Ac., author of
Rhythms Of Change: Reclaiming Your Health Using Ancient Wisdom and Your Own Common Sense 

While reading Maoshing Ni’s translation of the 
Huangdi Neijing, I became interested in the section on the five failings of the physician. What drew my attention was the fourth failing which occurs in counselling.

"When a physician is hasty and does not make the effort to guide the patient's mind and moods in a positive way, that physician has robbed the opportunity to achieve a cure."

This is especially relevant in clinical practice today because even though our patients have access to more information than ever more, they are not applying this to how they live. In fact, research shows that “we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.” As practitioners of a profoundly wise medical tradition, we must look more closely at this situation and respond by counselling our patients in new ways.

We know we must change our habits around lifestyle, diet, stress, and exercise, so why not just do it? It is not simply a question of forcing ourselves to do something we know will be good for us. We have most likely tried this approach numerous times, and it just does not work over the long term. Unconscious beliefs, unfelt emotions, and unlived aspects of our personalities end up running our lives much more than our rational minds would like to believe, preventing us from the change we so desire

It has become even more complicated over the last several decades because we have distanced ourselves so effectively from nature, the body, and our inner knowing that we can no longer remember how to access the wisdom within us. Many of us try to pretend that the rhythms of nature do not apply to us, that somehow we are not bound by the universal laws that have governed human beings forever. We must return to the Taoist roots of our medicine which state that we are one with the natural world and subject to the same laws and consequences. I believe that to reclaim our health we must come back into relationship with and embody the natural rhythms of change within us.

The Latin meaning of the word “doctor” as “one who educates or causes to know” gives us the hint that patient education is included in our scope of practice. Education in this broader sense of actually guiding our patients to reconnect with their inner knowing and the experience of wholeness, of body, mind, heart and spirit being in harmonious alignment.

Traditional Taoists and shamans as well as modern day somatic therapists understand that the body is the gateway to unconscious core beliefs. These beliefs organize our experience on all levels, including our capacity for change and healing. If we then include the truth that the present moment is the only moment where anything real can happen, not in the past nor the future, we have a powerful tool for transformation to use in our clinics.

Following is a simple yet profound practice to get in touch with the inner knowing of the body. This may provide you with more information to help guide your treatment protocols and lifestyle suggestions. However, this information becomes lived wisdom only when we align our habits and actions in daily life with the inner knowing that comes as a result of mindful awareness. Talking is not enough, we must act on what we know!

Take a few moments to slow down, relax, breathe, and turn the attention inward so you both become more mindful. Ask your client to close their eyes if this feels safe and to let the body speak. Generally things markedly slow down while we are working with the body in this way. If you notice the words or process speed up, the patient may have come up into the mind as this is a more familiar place for most of us. Gently remind them to return to the body, stay with the experience, and speak from this inward place.

Now mindfully ask a few questions. Questions are made more powerful if they are short, direct, and speak clearly to this mindful state of awareness in the present moment. Following are a few examples:

  1. What do you notice in this moment?
  2. Where in your body does your attention go?
  3. What images, sensations, memories come up?
  4. If that feeling (sensation, symptom) had words, what would it say to you?
  5. What does your wise self want you to know about your condition?
  6. How can you honor what you have learned here?

Make a closing statement similar to:

“You can easily connect with this part of yourself whenever you want. Take a few breaths now and slowly return to this space and time.”

We have all heard the quote by the 12th century Spanish physician and philosopher, Maimonides: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” When you offer your patients the experience of mindful awareness, you help guide them back into relationship with the body, their inner knowing, and the experience of their own wholeness. This new relationship to the present moment and to their own embodied wisdom will feed and nourish them and change the way they live each day.

And it changes our clinical practice as well! Clients contribute their wisdom and get excited when they are equal partners with you in the healing process. They become more motivated to align their daily habits with what they know supports their health, clinical outcomes improve, and you will feel more satisfaction as a practitioner.

Mary Saunders has over 25 years of experience in Oriental medicine. She is a practitioner and an educator.She specializes in mentoring practitioners to enhance their  own self-awareness, more effectively educate their  patients, and move toward more satisfaction in their lives.  She is the author of Rhythms Of Change: Reclaiming Your Health Using Ancient Wisdom and Your Own Common Sense. Learn more about Mary at


Rhythms of Change: Reclaiming Your Health Using Ancient Wisdom and Your Own Common Sense is available individually or in 5-copy packs for practitioners. Order now to achieve better health and a deeper sense of your own well-being!


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