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Mindfulness gives Mariappa a new lease on life

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East Tamaki Healthcare patient Mariappa Goundar (44) was working as a machine operator when he developed back pain. After having surgery on his back, Mariappa could walk slowly and do a little exercise.

But six months later, the pain returned and a pinched disc was found. Surgery was ruled out due to the risk of further nerve damage. Mariappa could no longer work and was in continuous pain.

“Waking up in the morning was so hard, it was really tough,” Mariappa recalls.

“I could not breathe properly. When I went to the doctor, I couldn’t sit down because of the pain,” he says.

From Mariappa’s back pain stemmed depression, stress and anxiety.

“My thoughts were always on the negative side. I just couldn’t think about any good things. There was anger and darkness… I couldn’t socialise…. The pain was so severe and frustrating,” he says.

GP refers Mariappa to mindfulness course

On the advice of his GP, Mariappa enrolled in the Mindfulness and Awareness Aotearoa programme.

Mariappa started attending the mindfulness course for eight weeks, yet he did not make a full recovery mentally or physically. He attended the course for another eight weeks then he started to feel the changes and was able to follow the routine he was taught.

Mariappa started practising mindfulness five minutes each day. He then added five minutes weekly until, by the end of the eight-week course, he was doing 30 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day. Major changes slowly occurred in his attitude toward life and his experience of pain. He continues to attend the mindfulness course today and will continue to in the future.

“Following mindfulness meditation and the training practice, with the help of our teacher, I just became aware all the thoughts were negative and slowly, slowly I began to think on the positive side,” Mariappa says.

“During meditation I just realised there was calm all over my body. And there was relaxation… I was breathing normally and I could control the breath. This was the most important thing I noticed. And with that, I could move around. Do some little activities, like walking,” he says.

From constant pain to nearly medicine free

“Before I joined mindfulness it was just pain. Mindfulness changed things, I became really focused and I forgot about the pain and was not worried about it anymore,” Mariappa says.

He still feels pain, but you could say he lives with it.

“I started early morning meditation and I came to know how to pay attention to the present moment.”

Mindfulness has enabled Mariappa to stop taking medicine for anxiety and depression, and he’s also reduced medication for his chronic pain. Not having so many pills to take also means fewer side effects, such as dizziness and sleepiness which means he’s been able to start socialising again.

“I think mindfulness meditation has become a better medication,” he says.

Mariappa has also been able to resume gardening, a favourite past time before pain got the better of him. He’s able to sit down on his knees and do some planting, because with his body moving almost as freely prior to the accident and his mind on the plants, pain doesn’t bother him as much as it did before.