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Stress-free “Full Catastrophe” living – a summary

[Guest post by Madhu Sheth]

I read the"Full Catastrophe Living" book by Jon Kabat-Zinn (600+ pages) and found out what is the essence of wisdom of body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. So I came to a simple conclusion – It is all about positive attitude in life. Look and observe inward to find direction and purpose in life.

Various research studies indicate some of the human characteristics that help heal and promote better health and living. So below is a summary from the book for you to read and if interested in more details, you may read the book. There is lot more in the book than the summary presented here- The practice of Mindfulness and Meditation, A new way of thinking about health and illness, Stress, Taking on the Full Catastrophe, The way of awareness.

So I think, (five times a week or more) a daily practice of 40-60 minutes of mindful pranayama/meditation, 10-20 minutes of Yoga asanas, and 5-10 minutes of relaxation and Yoga Nidra, 40-50 minutes of walking meditation will help in maintaining healthy life. This is one of the ways to think of self-care and depend less on medications. The other aspect is to eat healthy super-foods high in protein, less carbohydrates, high in fiber, Omega-3, good fat, less GCI, no processed foods, and no caffeine. That is another topic for summary from various readings.



All the information is from the book, Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Optimism – tend not to blame for bad events, focus on specific consequences of what happened, positive thinking in response to stressful events. All of these appear to have protective effects against depression, illness, and premature death.

Self-Efficacy – a belief in ability to exercise control over specific events in life. It reflects confidence in one’s ability to actually do things, a belief in ability to make things happen, even when facing new, unpredictable and stressful occurrences. The most consistent predictor of positive health outcome – in heart attack, cope with pain of arthritis. Accept discomfort without worrying that it is a bad and instead focus on exercise and recovery. Such characteristics may account for immunity to stress and stress related illness.

Hardiness – characteristic that might protect from negative effects of high stress. Stress-hardy individuals show three psychological characteristics: Control – a strong belief that one can exert an influence on surroundings and can make things happen. Commitment – fully engaged and committed in giving the best to what they are doing. High Challenge – see change as a natural life that affords some chance for further development. See new situations more as opportunities and less as threats in life. For greater hardiness, come to grips with life by being willing to ask yourself hard questions about where your life is going and how it might be enriched by specific choices and changes you could make in the areas of control, commitment. And challenge.

Sense of Coherence – characterized by Comprehensibility, Manageability, and Meaningfulness. Strong sense of internal and external experience, that they have resources available to meet and manage demands they encounter (manageability), and that these demands are challenges in which they can find meanings to which they can commit (meaningfulness). "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way".

Emotions: Cancer and Heart Diseasecancer-prone personality: who tends to conceal his or her feelings and is very other- oriented while actually feeling deeply alienated from others and feeling unloved, and unlovable. Feeling a lack of closeness with one’s parents when young is strongly associated with this pattern. Ambivalent attitude toward life and human relationships. Emotional experiences early in life may play a strong role in shaping health later in life. Acceptance and forgiveness are what we need to cultivate to enhance healing, not self-condemnation and self-blame. Since there is evidence that positive emotional factors can enhance healing, a diagnosis of cancer can be a particularly important turning point in a person’s life, a time for mobilizing an optimistic, coherent, self-efficacious, and engaged perspective, and a time for working at being less susceptible to pull of pessimistic, helpless, and ambivalent mind states. Purposefully directing gentleness, acceptance, and love toward oneself is a very good place to begin.

Mindfulness-based cancer recovery program by Linda Carlson and Michael Speca of the Tom Baker Cancer Center at the University of Calgary.

MBCT for Cancer, a program developed by Trish Bartley and based on work at the University of North Wales in Bangor.

High Blood Pressure and Anger – Suppressing emotional expression may play a role in hypertension as well as cancer. It seems that in high-stress situations, an ability to vent one’s energy (angry feelings) is protective against high blood pressure. When angry count to hundred in mind and focus on dirgha (deep) breath.

Hostility and CynicismType A personality driven by a sense of time urgency and competitiveness. Impatient, hostile, and aggressive. Type B are more easy going than type A, inclined to contemplation. Type A may develop coronary heart disease two to four time the rate (depending on age, the younger having the greater risk) of the Type B’s. High hostility scores predicted not just myocardial infraction and death from heart disease but also increased risk of death from cancer and all other causes as well. Hostility is described as an absence of trust in the basic goodness of others, grounded in belief that others are generally mean, selfish and undependable. Cultivation of mindfulness help developing kindness, compassion, and generosity – helps pro-social emotions (positive emotions).

Pro-Social Emotions – Loving kindness meditation practice increases a sense of purpose and reduces symptoms of illness. Cultivate six dimensions of emotional style through mindfulness and meditation practice – Resilience: how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity; Outlook: how long you are able to sustain positive emotion; Social Intuition: how adept you are at picking up social signals from people around you; Self-Awareness: how well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions; Sensitivity to Context: how good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account  the context you find yourself in; Attention: how sharp and clear your focus is.

Power Motivation – an intense need for power in their relationship with people. They tend to be argumentative, competitive, and aggressive to increase their personal status and prestige. Eliminate ego and be humble. More likely in work environment. Not good for health.

Unstressed Affiliation Motivation – Drawn to being with people and want to be friendly and liked by others, not as a means to an end (as with the cynical type A’s) but as an end in its own right.  Free to express need for affiliation.

It is deeply human to have a strong need to belong, to feel a part of something larger than oneself, to be in relationship with others in meaningful and supportive ways. The research on affiliative trust. compassion, and kindness suggest these kinds of social bonds are extremely importnant for people’s health and well-being.

Thoughts and beliefs that foster hopeless and helpless feelings, a sense of loss of control, hostility and cynicism toward others, a lack of commitment to life’s challenges, an inability to express one’s feelings, and social isolation all appear to be particularly toxic.

On the other hand, other patterns of thinking, feeling, and relating appear to be associated with robust health. People who have a basically optimistic perspective, or at least those who have the ability to let go of a bad event, who can see that is is impermanent and their situation will change, tend to be healthier than their pessimistic counterparts. Optimists know intuitively that there are always choices that can be made in life, that there is always
the possibility of exercising some control or agency. They also tend to have a positive sense of humor and are able to laugh at themselves.

Why Mindfulness meditation? –  It is an opportunity to develop ability to observe and bring awareness to thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and pain, emotional patterns as they arise in the moment. It helps manage such events and enables positive attitudes, harmony and inner peace.

The following doctors (and associates) research studies have been mentioned in the book for the above summary. More rsources and reading list available in the book.

Dr. Martin Seligman – a positive psychology

Dr. Albert Bandura – Stanford Medical School

Dr. Suzanne Kobasa – CUNY and Dr. Aron Antonovsky a sociologist in Isreal

Dr. Caroloine Bedell Thomas – John Hopkins Medical School

Dr. David Kissen – University of Glasgow in Scotland

Drs. S. Greer and Tina Morris – King’s College Hospital in London

Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University Medical School (book Trusting Heart)

Barbara Fredrickson – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Paul Gilbert – United Kingdom, Kristin Neff in Texas, and Christopher Germer at Harvard

Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley – The Emotional Life of Your Brain – a book

Dr.David McClelland – psychologist at Harvard

Dr. James Lynch – University of Maryland – The Broken heart: The Medical Consequences of Loneliness

David Creswell and collegues – Carnegie Mellon and UCLA

Phillipe Goldin, James Gross – Stanford University

About Madhu Sheth

I have always been interested in Yoga and now more focused on self-realization, meditation, and self-care, to integrate Sarvodaya and the Bhagavad Gita in day to day living for personal growth and sharing with the community. I am a certified Kripalu Yoga teacher and am beginning to volunteer my services to Newark Yoga Movement. Please contact me at for more information about me and my yoga-related activities.

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