A Mindful Approach to Living
In an effort to become certified in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, I have been attending trainings from the University of Massachusetts since January 2015. Training thus far has included taking an eight-week course of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, a five-day Intensive Mindfulness Tools program and a seven-day silent retreat. Certification is a long process, taking years, as the approach is to have mindfulness integrated into our personal lives, fully and completely, so that we are formally and informally practicing mindfulness on a daily basis. We both certainly experienced integration after our silent retreat, which was a profound experience. I actually started practicing mindfulness back in 1988, so this feels like I am coming full circle as it comes from the professional side inward.
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program was developed by Jon Kabat-Zin at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979. This program brings the integration of meditation and mindfulness into mainstream medicine, health care, education, business, professional athletics, leadership, etc. The MBSR program uses three formal techniques: mindfulness meditation, body scanning and simple yoga postures and brings these practices into our lives progressively during the eight-week program. Kabat-Zin describes mindfulness as “moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness.” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Mindfulness is working to be aware and present in our moment. It is really about living fully present.
The process has been profound on a personal level and a professional level for both of us. I have certainly found my life changing as I integrate mindfulness more and more into all areas of my life. It has been a subtle process but suddenly I find myself saying, “What happened?” as the difference isn’t so subtle. I am a Type A personality who is driven and able to get things done without really working that hard at it. It is just who I am. Now all you Type A people, don’t get alarmed or think this isn’t for you . . . but the piles on my desk don’t bother me as much anymore. I don’t get through them in the same way. I STILL GET THROUGH THE TASKS. But the process is more deliberate, focused, slowed down and calmer. I focus on one thing at a time and when it is time, I walk away for the day. I stay in the moment and do a lot less multi-tasking. I am aware of the feelings that come up when I look at my schedule, my projects, or whatever might be on the agenda, and I am more intentional in striving for balance and if not balance in the workload, then balance in how I carry it within. I am choosing to “not” carry it so much these days. I leave it on my desk in the designated project envelopes until which time I am able to mindfully sit and focus on that project. Then I do it mono-task. One thing at a time.
One day, not long ago, I had an anxious day. It had been a long time since I had felt that “pit in the stomach” type anxiousness. Here is what mindfulness did for me: I was aware. I looked at my schedule and knew I was over-scheduled for the way I felt for the day. I had an hour break that I needed to prepare for an important meeting for later in the day. That was part of the struggle because I am usually prepared the day before. Being mindful meant I was aware that I was in a vulnerable state. I made some decisions in that moment. I wasn’t going to “call” staff on anything important because I might not handle it in an effective way. I took 20 minutes of that hour to meditate and release the “pit in my stomach”. I worked at staying present throughout the day. It wasn’t a great day. But being aware meant that I knew I needed to just get through the day in the most effective way possible. Years ago, I would have probably been more “reactive” to the feelings and had less gap between the feelings and my response to those feelings. I would have been less aware and not in touch with the fact that the day had some vulnerabilities for me if I weren’t careful.
Mindfulness is the buzz word that we are hearing everywhere. Probably for good reason. We are a society that has amped up our multi-tasking and disconnectedness more and more with our technology world. We are busy and on the move. Our stress levels seem to have increased as we have become more evolved. As the baby boomers are growing older, we have a large population looking at chronic illness, chronic stress, chronic worry, and a sandwich generation needing to care give both the older and the younger generations. People are looking for more . . . but then we have to ask, more what? Time? Awareness? Energy? Or do we need less? Do we need to slow things down? Perhaps it is the time to be more aware of our health and well-being on all levels: mind, body and soul. That is why this program is exciting to bring to the community and to central Nebraska. Research has shown that this type of program changes our brain and changes our lives.
We know that the mind plays a part in stress and stress-related disorders and that meditation has been shown to positively affect physiological processes such as lowering blood pressure and reducing overall arousal and emotional reactivity. There is other evidence of positive results from mindfulness. Participation in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program showed measurable changes in the brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. Structural differences have been found between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation. The meditators have shown a thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. There has also been found an increased grey-matter density in the hippo campus, the area important for learning and memory and in the areas associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. And there was a decrease in grey-matter density in the amygdala – an area associated with anxiety and stress. (Massachusetts General Hospital, 2011) In one study it was found that the effects of meditation training and those that suffered from chronic pain may have the ability to “turn down the volume on pain signals.” They learn to be aware of where their attention is focused and not get stuck on the painful area. (Trafton, 2011). The MBSR was started, initially for those with chronic pain. It is very effective in this area.
We are excited to bring our program, A Mindful Approach to Living, to the community. Call our office to learn more about our next eight-week program. The program meets weekly for 2.5 hours and one Saturday for 6 hours. We look forward to sharing more about this. 308-382-5297 Ext.110.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994, November 12). Mindfulness-based stress reduction. New York: Hachette Book Group. Retrieved from Wikipedia.
Massachusetts General Hospital. (2011, January 21). Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in 8 weeks. Retrieved from www.massgeneral.org/about/pressrelease.aspx?id=1329.
Trafton, A. (2011, May 5). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved from The Benefits of Meditation MIT and Harvard neuroscientists explain why the practice helps tune out distractions and relieve pain.Tags: A Mindful Approach to Living Course, MBSR, Mindfulness
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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