Mindfulness course offers stress relief at HSN

Sheila Damore-Petingola, co-ordinator, Supportive Care Oncology Network-North East (left), Gary Petingola, social worker, Diabetes Care Services and Lisa Pitawanakwat, lodge keeper for the HSN Mshkikii-Gamig Medicine Lodge.

Course blends eastern and native teachings

In a noisy, busy and cold hospital it is a welcome relief to find peace and quiet.

Gary Petingola, a social worker at Health Sciences North (HSN), offered an eight-week course called Mindfulness and the Health Care Professional last fall for HSN staff. The course blends both eastern and indigenous teachings that foster self-care and resiliency.

He collaborated with Lisa Pitawanakwat, lodge keeper for the HSN Mshkikii-Gamig Medicine Lodge, Sheila Damore-Petingola, co-ordinator, Supportive Care Oncology Network-North East and Laura Thompson, manager, occupational health and safety for HSN.

“We don’t realize the toll from working in health care, especially for nurses who often experience burnout, manifested by decreased attention, reduced concentration, compromised decision making skills and suboptimal relationships with patients,” said Petingola. “Working with people who are ill, frightened and suffering can be difficult and health-care workers are vulnerable to cumulative distress.”

Overwhelming response

When an invitation was circulated to HSN staff, there was an overwhelming response. Petingola received 140 requests, but due to the limited capacity of the lodge they were only able to offer two groups of 25 during the fall of 2012.

Petingola began learning about the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction while completing his Master’s degree.

“I started to learn about mindfulness, which is completely different than relaxation. Relaxation is task oriented, whereas being mindful is just being, not striving to get anywhere,” he explained.

He completed training at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who pioneered the practice of clinical applications of mindfulness in medicine and the health-care setting. The practice is proven to be effective as a complementary approach to helping patients who are dealing with chronic pain from cancer, kidney disease or mental illness.

Elements of the course include emphasis on a non-goal orientation and a participant’s commitment to completing the eight-week course, including home practice. A variety of meditation techniques are employed, including body scan, yoga and walking.

The course is limited in duration to allow for skill building but not dependence on attending a group regularly.

Meditation is spreading beyond the new age and clinical settings to groups such as the U.S. Marines who are offering training in mindfulness meditation to deal with the overwhelming rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide.

Petingola, a 23-year veteran of HSN, understands the stress of working in health care. “I would often go to the Mshkikii- Gamig Medicine Lodge at the hospital and take time to meditate rather than take a coffee break,” he said. Spending time in the lodge made him realize that it would be a perfect location to hold the course. The lodge is an airtight enclave separate from the activity of the hospital. It is a circular, cedar-lined room with a fire pit and stainless steel fan in the center. Chairs line the wall and there is a serene sense of calm when you enter.

Native teachings

After discussing the concept with Pitawanakwat, they began to collaborate by combining native teachings with the Buddhist practice that Petingola was using.

Participants were taught a variety of meditation methods such as sitting upright, lying on yoga mats or walking in a circular fashion. The sessions were held during the months of October to December and started at 6:15 a.m. or 5:15 p.m. once a week over an eight-week period.

Each session began with the ritual of smudging and the use of sacred medicines such as sage and sweet grass. Pitawanakwat also shared the teachings of the seven grandfathers and the four sacred medicines.

Pitawanakwat said the native teachings and Gary’s meditation practice all went well together, and the group was open to what she shared. She is pleased to have had the opportunity to share the lodge with more hospital staff. The lodge has only been open for two years and Pitawanakwat was seeking a way to offer meditation space for patients and staff. “The lodge is open to everyone and we all benefit no matter what belief we practice,” she said.

The participants shared with Petingola and his colleagues that they were more insightful and less reactive after their meditation. Many have reported that they have learned a skill that allows them to stay present, slow down and respond with more clarity and compassion, both professionally and personally.

Filed in: Complementary Medicine, First Nations Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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