Graduate’s Story: Artist Theresa Girard

February 14th, 2016 by

Theresa Girard headshot (1)

Many of you have seen the beautiful art on display in the Integrative Mindfulness studio in Bonita Springs, FL. These are the words of the artist, Theresa Girard, on her experience upon completing the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program –

“The discovery of this seemingly simple process reaches far beyond anything I had previously considered. Being present for me began a new emotional connection to who I am and what is embodied in my true spirit. At the same time, filling a spiritual void that had crept into my life.
Previous torments, such as anxiety, fear, a barrage of “what ifs” lessened in an acceptance of being where I needed to be in the moment. A certain quieter place comes forward and seeps into much of my decision making and provides a peace focused on awareness. Even when things are not going well, I was able to decrease my self judgement and negativity.

As an artist, with an overly active and creative mind, I became able to self soothe in a forgiving way and found that my work actually raised to a higher level as I learned to slow down and really “look” and be a part of the painting in the present.

My new series of work is not based on comparison to other artists, but a peace at being here and a new self talk to encourage and gently disengage my focus from low self worth. I am lovable in this moment. My work is good, I can be successful for myself, just as a direct expression of my own energy……mindful energy….

Thank you!”

Client Stories: Wendy Berg

January 1st, 2016 by

Wendy Berg Headshot

I’ve been thinking about how your MSBR class has changed my life. One area I haven’t heard many people talk about is mindfulness and athletic performance. Your class helped me become more aware of my body and to tune into the messages it gives me. When I used to run, I mainly distracted myself from what I was doing with music, thoughts, or TV. I still do that some of the time but most of the time I am aware of what is happening. I am now running, biking, swimming, doing strength training, and yoga as I train for a triathlon sprint. I do body scans while exercising, checking in with each part looking for issues, discomfort, pain, or fatigue. I check on my technique and form. Do I feel strong? Can I go faster? Further? Do I need to change my stride? My gear? My reach? My hip rotation? Or do I need to scale it back? Catch my breath? Walk for a minute? In the past, I never listened to my body and just pushed myself to finish whatever I set out to do even if it meant injuring myself. Ok, I’m still pretty goal oriented and almost always finish my daily plan, but I’m doing it in a kinder gentler way. I am more accepting of what is. I am okay with just doing my best no matter what that is on any given day. I’ve been able to do so much more without pushing so hard. I’ve let go of so many ideas I had about being too old to do something, and what I expected my body to be like in my 50’s. I am now in better shape than I’ve been in a long time, maybe ever. I’m still a little overweight and slow, but I no longer beat myself up over that. Now, I celebrate what my body can do and enjoy pushing the limits set by my mind and by society. And the back pain I’ve dealt with for 14 years is practically nonexistent. I’m not sure if that is from being in better shape, meditation, actually paying attention to my body, or a combination of everything. I find myself able to accept, appreciate, and celebrate what is in all areas of my life. Thank you for helping me along this journey. Feel free to use this if it may be helpful to share the benefits of MSBR and your class. Wendy Berg

Mindfully Managing Menopause

December 15th, 2015 by

Mindfully Managing Menopause

The significant hormonal shift that comes with menopause – bringing with it forgetfulness, insomnia, sweats, emotional outbursts, skin and breast changes, and slower metabolism—can leave women feeling most unhappy! If you are longing for a better way to navigate menopause, mindfulness offers some real benefits.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the skill of paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment. We all have this skill, especially in childhood, but it can diminish over time as we fall into the automatic reactive patterns of adulthood. Add menopause to the mix and you’ve got some very good reasons to seek relief!

According to research, menopausal women who participated in a training program known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (“MBSR”), when compared with a control group who did not receive the training, reported lower anxiety and perceived stress, reduced bother from night sweats, sleep disturbances, and hot flashes, improved quality of life, less overwhelm, and greater attentiveness.

How do you practice Mindfulness?

Mindfulness practice is patiently training the mind to focus on a chosen “anchor” that exists in the present moment – your breath, sounds (like the ceiling fan whirring), sensations in your body – and gently returning your attention to your chosen anchor when it wanders (and it will!). Each time you “come back” to your anchor, you’re strengthening your mindfulness muscle.

As you practice, you simply witness and observe all that comes into your awareness moment to moment, letting go of that natural tendency to judge what’s arising as “good” or “bad”, “pleasant” or “Unpleasant”. As you practice, lots of things will come up! Body sensations (tingling, numbness, fluttering, warmth, coolness) and thoughts (“How will I get everything done today?” “My back is killing me?” “I’m burning up!”). Rather than resisting these things, or trying to replace them with something else, you allow them to be present, but in the background of your awareness, as you escort your attention back to your chosen anchor. Simple, but not easy!

Why practice mindfulness?

Even in a short ten-minute practice you will get lots of opportunities to “come back” to your anchor, and this coming back is really what the practice of meditation is all about. It fortifies your ability to attend to just “what is” in the present moment without the overlay of thoughts that so often color our experience and make us truly miserable. In so doing you become skilled at differentiating between “observing” a thought from the point of view of a neutral witness, and being drawn into the “content” of the thought, two very different things. The latter is typically loaded with judgments, opinions, memories, fantasies, past, or future – all of which have an impact on your present moment experience, physical, mental, and emotional. Mindfulness practice enables you to step off the merry-go-round of thoughts and just “be”. And this quality of “being”, when cultivated on a regular basis, has real life implications for your health and quality of life.

Navigating a Hot Flash

At age 53, I’ve had numerous opportunities to “practice” during a hot flash. Before mindfulness, my thoughts would have judged the sensations as unpleasant and unwanted (“Why did I wear long sleeves?” “Now I’m going to miserable!”). Pursuing such thoughts undoubtedly magnified the unpleasant qualities of what was happening, making my hot flash much worse than it needed to be. With mindfulness I practice letting go of the judging and instead simply note that the sensation of heat is arising. I might reflect internally “This is how it is right now.” I let go of the impulse to escalate it by following the content of my thoughts. I stay attuned to what other sensations are present; the sound of rain dripping from the roof, the hum of the refrigerator, the feeing of breathing in and breathing out. I witness the stream of changing sensations moment to moment, and eventually notice the feeling of a current of air against my skin. Coolness. Yes, every experience, including a hot flash, eventually changes. I stay present with this process of change and notice after a few moments that my body is beginning to resume a normal temperature. Undoubtedly this hot flash would have lasted much longer, and been much more unpleasant, if I had automatically followed the content of my misery filled thoughts.

The practical benefits

While mindfulness cannot completely remove the symptoms of menopause, it can alter your experience of the symptoms. You can liken the symptoms of menopause to a loud, blaring television, bombarding you with colors, sounds, sensations, music, and storylines. Mindfulness won’t necessarily turn off the TV, but having a regular mindfulness practice can help turn the volume way down.

Four Things Mindful People Do Differently

July 10th, 2015 by

Research continues to support the many health and quality of life benefits of mindfulness practice: stress reduction, greater physical well-being, and a happier, more stable mental state. Did you know that if you practice mindfulness, you are more likely to be successful in making positive behavior changes in your life (think weight loss, exercise, productivity), and you’re less likely to catch a cold or the flu?  Media personalities are also causing us to take a closer look, including ABC newsman Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Works — a True Story. Anchorman Anderson Cooper recently participated in a meditation retreat led by mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn as part of a segment on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Cooper reports that because of the benefits he has experienced, he is now a mindfulness practitioner. They’re getting our attention. But why should you build time into your day for mindfulness practice? How are the daily lives of mindfulness practitioners different from the lives of those who have yet to discover this millennia old form of meditation?

They Don’t Ride the Emotional Rollercoaster

Sure, mindful people have emotions—we all do, we are human! The difference is that mindful people are aware of their emotions in a different way. Their mindfulness practice trains them to be aware of and feel their strong emotions without automatically reacting to them.  When emotions arise, they are able to observe them from the safety of neutral ground rather than being yanked around by the ups and downs of the emotional rollercoaster. Over time, and with practice, they have learned from their own experience that even the most intense feelings are impermanent.

They Keep Calm and Carry On

Because people who practice mindfulness have practiced working with their difficult emotions, their reactions, decisions, and sense of self are less influenced by their emotional state when things “go wrong” or don’t turn out as planned.  Practitioners are more able than others to remain calm and effective in stressful situations, actively listening to others, and responding skillfully based on what’s called for in the moment, rather than reacting automatically.

They Pay Attention to Their Bodies

Mindfulness practice is about bringing awareness to the present moment, noticing thoughts and feelings as well as bodily sensations. People who practice this type of awareness have learned that it is OK to “be with” discomfort, knowing from experience that it too is not “fixed” but changeable. Mindfulness invites us to “hold” and attend to  discomfort in the body with kindness rather than resistance —whether it is the racing heart of anxiety, the burning tightness in the chest of anger, or the heartache of grief. By learning to turn toward what’s difficult in the body, and to explore it with curiosity, they have discovered that pain is often blanketed with layers of thought, resistance, and strong emotion. While everyone experiences pain, mindful people have discovered that without these layers of added psychological pain, their true physical pain is actually manageable. And by staying attentive to the body, they know when and how to take care of themselves, for example with a timely yoga stretch, exercise, or rest. Because they are more embodied than others, mindful people experience the fullness, richness, and aliveness of their embodied human experience.

They Practice Compassion

People who practice mindfulness and meditation tend to be less afraid of thoughts and emotions because they have looked at them and discovered that thoughts and feelings are fleeting and illusory. By the same token, they have willingly embraced deeply painful emotions and felt them in their entirety. Consequently, mindful people are more inclined to connect with and reach out to others who are suffering, and offer them empathy and compassion. The late great Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa referred to the “genuine heart of sadness,” or the tender, open, fearless heart of compassion that is awakened through practicing mindfulness. By knowing our own pain we connect more intimately with the human experience of others.

Tips for Mindfully Working with a Difficult Emotion

Sense into your body with kindness and curiosity. What sensations are associated with this emotion? Where are they located?

Notice what happens as you observe.  Do the sensations stay the same, intensify, diminish, or shift in some way?

Name the emotion. Is what you are feeling anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, loneliness?  Research shows that developing the skill of naming our emotions in the moment they arise helps loosen their grip.

Practice “just being” every day. Give your mind an “anchor” to pay attention to, for example the sensations of your breathing, or the sensations of movement during yoga. Notice when the mind wanders into thinking. Patiently return your attention to your chosen anchor, allowing thoughts to drift through your awareness like clouds in a vast sky.

 

 

Too Much Cortisol? The Scary Stress Hormone and How to Decrease it

May 15th, 2015 by

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, or remember a close call when driving on a busy highway, then you’re familiar with the effects of the stress hormone cortisol flooding the body. It’s a horrible feeling! But cortisol isn’t concerned with how you feel. It’s concerned with your survival. Your body is an incredible organism with a brain that functions to protect the body against perceived threats. This could be an oncoming car or a recurrent negative thinking pattern. The primitive part of the brain that scans every moment of your experience for potential threats – the amygdala – has a “hair trigger” and would rather be safe than sorry. So, when the Amygdala gets even a fuzzy sense of a threat —whether “real” or perceived—it instantly activates the autonomic nervous system producing a cascade of stress hormones and a host of physical changes in the body to allow you to either fight off or escape from a predator – commonly referred to as the Fight – Flight response.

This phenomenon is obviously essential for your survival in the face of immediate physical dangers (that near miss on the highway requires immediate evasive action), but it can become a huge problem when the perceived “threat’ is actually chronic stress, which may include automatic reactive and negative thinking patterns that originate within your own mind. The amygdala doesn’t know the difference!

Repeated activation of the Fight-Flight response, even for “threats” that come in the form of thoughts and emotions, like excessive worry, anger, and rumination, means long-term exposure to cortisol. Such exposure has been linked to everything from hypertension, cancer, infertility, high blood sugar, aggression, and more. Excessive cortisol makes the brain more sensitive to pain and exhausts the adrenal glands, which brings a whole host of ailments including insomnia and weight gain. Additionally, cortisol suppresses happy hormones like serotonin, leading to depression.

And it gets worse! Cortisol also effectively turns off the body’s innate repair mechanisms – anything not needed for immediate survival. Think immune system, reproductive system, and digestive system. Cortisol ramps down the functioning of these systems and ramps up those needed to deal with the stressor: especially the cardiovascular and adrenal systems. You can see how long term exposure to cortisol is not a healthy way to live.

How can we rebalance this mind-body system? As Dr. Lissa Rankin points out in her book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself your body has natural self-repair mechanisms that fight infections, slow aging, and boost immunity. But these mechanisms cannot operate while the nervous system is stuck in “Fight-Flight”. What’s needed are ways to engage and strengthen the body’s parasympathetic nervous system: the part that soothes and calms the amygdala.

There are many simple mind-body practices that activate the soothing parasympathetic nervous system: meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, aromatherapy, and physical exercise. To keep yourself in balance, and protected from the damaging effects of cortisol, you must carve out time for self-care, and practice regularly. These practices are protective and healing and have no side effects!

Years ago, before I discovered meditation and yoga, I lived in a chronic state of Fight-Flight and cortisol saturation. I had the chronic pain, weakened immune system, and regular panic attacks to show for it. Now, having practiced and taught meditation for several years, I was recently invited to participate in a university study that examined the cortisol levels of meditation teachers. To my delight, I learned that my levels of cortisol were significantly lower than the average. I have no doubt that my mindfulness meditation practice is responsible for that. Take care of your body-mind. If you don’t, who will?

Mind-Body Practices for Reducing Cortisol

  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Restorative Yoga
  • Chair Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Qigong

Mindfulness On The Go: Apps and Audio to Facilitate Your Meditation Practice

April 3rd, 2015 by

The technological age is amazing! From apps to podcasts to audio books and videos, everything we need or want to learn is just a Google or YouTube search away. We also have remotes for just about everything to up our convenience factor. With mindfulness having been profiled in both Time magazine and on 60 Minutes, people want to learn how to practice mindfulness (yes, it takes regular practice), and how to make practice more convenient. Dozens of mindfulness apps have emerged in the past few years that include guided meditations, information for beginners, timers, and reminders to become “present” throughout the day. The trick, I’ve discovered, is to find an app that is straightforward yet dynamic enough to facilitate mindfulness practice for both beginning and seasoned meditators without too many distracting bells and whistles. Below are three rock-star mindfulness apps to consider trying, as well as a few other recommendations if apps feel too fussy for you.

Apps

Insight Timer for Android, iPhone, and iPad is my personal favorite! As a meditation timer, it allows you to set your practice time for however long you like. In addition, it has many other features that make it really special. Among these is a selection of beautiful Tibetan bell tones. Select your favorite to not only alert you when your session is over, but also as an “interval timer” to alert you during your session to bring your attention back “to the present” if it has wandered). You can set the duration for your session for as few as 5 minutes up to several hours. You can meditate in silence, or listen to one of eighty guided meditations led by internationally noted teachers (including several of my teachers).

What I love is the app logs the duration and frequency of my practice sessions, and gives me “milestones” that show me the number of accumulated sessions and days practiced. The app rewards you for consistency, and seeing your stars accumulate is great encouragement to continue your practice (not to mention all the quality of life and health benefits you’ll be noticing!)

Another great feature is seeing a real-time world map that displays everyone across the globe meditating with the app. You can also join groups based on mindfulness traditions, location, and interests, or create your own group and invite “friends”. If you want a simple, elegant app that will guide you into the practice of mindfulness, keep you motivated, and connect you with the worldwide community of mindfulness meditators, this is the app for you! Free.  InsightTimer.com

Stop, Breathe, & Think is an app for iPhone and Android offering several basic meditation exercises that vary in length and type, including a mindfulness mediation, loving-kindness meditation, and body scan practice. There is also an emotional awareness component that prompts you to input your emotions and then makes relevant suggestions for meditation practices. Free.  StopBreatheThink.org

The Mindfulness App for iPhone and Android made it on a few Best Mindfulness App lists for 2014 thanks to its no-frills format and dynamic session options. It offers guided meditations spanning anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes as well as silent meditation sessions that the user is alerted to begin by the sound of gentle bells. The user can, of course, set reminders for guided meditation sessions as well, and can even personalize his session. $1.99 Mindapps.se

For those looking for brief, consistent guided meditation sessions, Headspace (on-the-go) is a convenient option. The app provides 10-minute meditation sessions starting with a short body scan and then a guided meditation focusing on the breath. Animated explanations of the inner workings of the mind, as well as mindfulness tips, are included as well as reminders and tracking options. $7.99/month Headspace.com

If apps aren’t your thing, many local libraries offer audio books and e-book downloads. Many mindfulness teachers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron, the Dalai Lama, and Thich Nhat Hahn have wonderful mindfulness books whose audio versions are easy enough to find at your local library or on Amazon.

 

 

 

On the Job Mindfulness

February 27th, 2015 by

For most of us, working is an unavoidable fact of life, and with jobs comes stress. Even if we’re self-employed or have a flexible schedule, stress is an inevitable part of our workday. Most of us spend most of our time at work. So, how can we work with our stress?

Typically we begin a new job or project with gusto, filled with hope and enthusiasm about the newness and possibility ahead. Promises of a perfect impression or the potential to advance motivate us to perform well and maintain a positive attitude. Eventually, however, smiles may begin to fade, and once-promising prospects become burdensome, when expectations are not met, or old patterns of thinking, feeling, or behavior creep in. The same phenomenon can happen with promotions, management changes, or new spaces; enthusiasm wears off once “reality” sets in. This scenario is so common that we seem doomed to repeat it at work. Fortunately, through mindfulness practice, we can be proactive and reclaim the optimistic mindset we thought we’d lost.

In order to undo patterns of negativity, let’s take a look at how they work. While we start a job or project on the right foot, intending to carry that energy throughout the length of our career, the brain has other priorities. It is wired for survival, and part of the brain constantly scans for threats and stresses in our environment.  Its job is to identify patterns and categorize events in order to protect us from actual physical threats to our survival.  We need this protection, but if we aren’t careful, we can easily become run by over-learned patterns of perceived danger and conflict which are much more symbolic than physical. This autopilot mode of fixating on stressors has become a modern hindrance. If we let it, it will cloud our perception and block creativity. By employing mindfulness at work, we can become aware of how the body and mind are “reacting” to a stressor, and we can see our automatic reactive patterns as they emerge. And here is the critical thing: we do this without judging ourselves. We become a neutral observer of the situation, and this helps us to see it more clearly. Even just a moment of presence gives us an opportunity to respond with skill rather than react automatically. To echo the late Tibetan meditation teacher Chogyam Trungpa, there is no problem in the present moment.

The beauty of mindfulness practice is that it allows us to choose accountability. Instead of being victimized by thoughts and circumstances, we can choose not to buy into them. Instead of being run by repetition, we can bring a freshness and new life to our work and attitude. Here are three ways to bring mindfulness into your work:

1. Watch Your Mind
When you start to notice your chest tightening in a heated meeting or your palms beginning to sweat during a presentation, turn inward and notice your thoughts. Is there an internal dialogue going on about how the situation should have gone but isn’t? Are old mental patterns dictating your response before you even have a chance to consider whether they still hold true for you? By bringing awareness to our thoughts, we begin to unravel their hold on our perception.

2. Listen
Do you find yourself formulating a response to a statement from a colleague before she’s even finished talking? This is hearing, but not listening. Try this: before entering into what may be a difficult communication with someone, make a decision not to talk. It can be for 1 minute, 5 minutes, whatever feels appropriate. By spending a meeting just listening, you may discover that there’s a wealth of information you’ve been missing because you were too busy coming up with a response or a defense.

3. Breathe
A good way to de-escalate an automatic reaction, or unplug a negative thought pattern, is to bring attention to the breath. By shifting your focus from the mind’s chatter to the sensations of your breathing, you instantly bring attention to the what’s actually happening rather than rerunning stories and scenarios through the mind.

How can you begin to bring mindfulness into the workplace? What techniques do you already employ?

 

photo credit Ambro via Free Digital Photos

 

Key Components of Your Best Life

October 30th, 2014 by

During my graduate studies in Transpersonal Psychology I became intrigued with the idea of human connection and mindfulness as catalysts for healing and transformation. Something about today’s world of divisiveness and separation seemed fundamentally inconsistent with my own understanding of psychological health.  I wanted to find out just what the key elements of healthy psychological development are. I was surprised to learn that prior to the 1970’s, when women entered the field of psychological research, the primary model of psychological health was based exclusively on research involving only male subjects. As a result, attributes like autonomy, separation, and competition were assumed to be qualities of psychological health, while the urge for connection and relationship (typical of the female experience) was seen as inferior and unhealthy.

Enter the Healing Power of Connection

In the 1970’s, when women entered the field of psychological research, this old and incomplete model was shown to be in error, and a new model of psychological well-being emerged. Based on current research involving male and female subjects, this newer model shows that the urge to connect is our essential human drive – not autonomy and separation. Growth-fostering relationships, those involving active participation in the development of others, are now understood to be the primary vehicle for psychological wellness. It’s easy to see how all of us – men, women, boys and girls – have suffered under the mistaken assumptions of the old model. Mindfulness Opens the Door to Connection

The practice of mindfulness, which is the cultivation of our natural human skill for non-judgmental present moment awareness, is emerging from its ancient roots as a healing and wholesome way to live. Health-care, personal fitness, and wellness models are beginning to incorporate a holistic mind-body-spirit perspective in the services they offer for the prevention and treatment of disease, and mindfulness is the central feature. Unlike the current “find it and fix it” healthcare model, the new integrative model of healthcare reflects elements of relationship, communication, spirituality, mindfulness, wholeness, nutrition, life purpose, personal development, and the mind-body connection.

In my experience as a mindfulness teacher, I’ve observed that as practitioners develop the qualities of mindfulness they typically experience a decline in their reactivity to stress, and an improvement in their relationships and interactions with others. “I’m more patient and show more kindness to others,” says one local mindfulness graduate. “I’m a more attentive listener, and I feel more love and kindness toward myself and others,” says another. By utilizing their mindfulness skills as they engage with others, practitioners realize first hand that their way of “being” has a significant influence on their experiences with other people. This influence upon others has a scientific basis. Known as limbic resonance, researchers are examining the interrelationship between the activity of the brain’s limbic system, the non-verbal transmission of emotion, feelings of empathy and relatedness, and the methods by which we, as human beings, become attuned to the inner states of others with whom we are in close contact.  Connection is more than an idea!  It is a powerful dynamic exchange which arises in the present. With mindfulness we learn to tap into the immediacy and power of connection in the very moment we engage with another. We come out of our heads and into relationship.

Take Away Practice: The 3-Minute Breathing Space

This simple practice, takes only 3 minutes (or less), and has three components:

1. AWARENESS
Bring yourself into the present moment by deliberately adopting an erect and dignified posture. If possible, close your eyes. Then ask: “What is my experience right now…in thoughts…in feelings…and in body sensations?”  Acknowledge and register your experience, even if it is unwanted.

2. GATHERING
Then, gently redirect full attention to breathing, to each in breath and to each out breath as they follow, one after the other. Your breath can function as an anchor to bring you into the present and help you tune into a state of awareness and stillness.

3. EXPANDING
Expand the field of your awareness around your breathing, so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and facial expression. The breathing space provides a way to step out of automatic pilot mode and reconnect with the present moment. The key skill in using mindfulness is to maintain awareness in the moment. Nothing else.

Adapted from the book Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, Segal, Williams, and Teasdale (2002).

 

Mindful Communication – A Key to Better Relationships

October 10th, 2014 by

One of the significant characteristics of mindfulness training is that once you begin to feel confident in your practice, and start to notice the benefits of mindfulness in your daily life, you begin to see relationships evolve and change. Mindfulness “ripples out” from the practitioner and affects those around her. Several times I’ve heard the question from new students – “How can I get my spouse to do this too?”  My response is always the same – the key is to work on yourself, and only yourself. You are one half of an interconnected “system” called a relationship. By changing yourself, the relationship will, of necessity, change. I often tell the story of how I tried “for 20 years” to “change” my husband  – and it never worked. It wasn’t until I started to change myself that he began to change. Interesting huh?

Your Mindfulness Ripples Out to Others

Each of our relationships –  with our significant other, our kids, friends, and co-workers – is a dynamic system. Systems naturally tend toward a state of equilibrium or a “steady state”. Each relationship is a unique mixture of what each person brings to it. However, our “steady state” relationship with our spouse may be the result of unconscious and habitual patterns of behavior each of us automatically relies on when we interact. Examples are patterns like reactivity, defensiveness, and blame. These patterns are sure to kick in when we try to “change” someone else. The interesting thing is that when you begin to change yourself  – by cultivating your own mindfulness – you bring a new and transformed way of being, and relating, to the relationship. Because the system will naturally seek to regain equilibrium, the other half must change in some way. This is how your mindfulness “ripples out” and affects others.

Did You Hear Me?

The practice of mindful communication, especially mindful listening, can make a world of difference in potentially every interaction you have. David Rome and Hope Martin, creators of “Embodied Listening” workshops note, “Unsatisfying communication is rampant in our society.” It seems that most of us are talking, but no one is listening! “Poor listeners” they point out, “are frequently unable to separate their own needs and interests from those of others. Everything they hear comes with an automatic bias: How does this affect me? What can I say next to get things my way? Poor listeners are more likely to interrupt: either they have already jumped to conclusions about what you are saying, or it is just of no interest to them. They attend to the surface of the words rather than listening for what is “between the lines.” If this describes you, you’re not alone. Many of us are poor listeners, but we’re seldom aware of it. How can we become more aware of our communication patterns? By paying attention. This is where mindfulness – the skill of paying attention, on purpose and nonjudgmentally –  can work wonders!

Mindfulness Meditation Makes Us Better Listeners

In mindfulness meditation practice, “we learn to settle, returning over and over again to the present moment, and allowing our thoughts to come and go without acting on them.” This practice shows us how our focus on “self” keeps us from experiencing the world directly. “Letting go of the “web of me” is the first step toward seeing and hearing others more fully,” advise Rome and Martin. By building our self-awareness through the practice of mindfulness, we begin to befriend ourselves, based on an attitude of kindness, gentleness, and non-reactive noticing of our own impulses and patterns. Rome and Martin identify mindful self-awareness as “the ground for listening and communicating well with others.”

Better listening skills through self-awareness are the natural outgrowth of a regular formal mindfulness practice, like meditation. However, the informal practice of mindful listening is something you can do anytime – and the more you practice, the better you get. There’s nothing quite like observing the face of someone as they discover you’re actually listening to them. Typically their face will begin to light up, their voice and stance will soften, a scowl may turn into a smile! Even the most unpleasant conversation can be improved by the practice of mindful listening.

Try It, You’ll Like It

Chad Meng-Tan, in his book Search Inside Yourself, describes the practice of mindful listening as giving the gift of your full attention – the gift of “air time” – to the speaker, while at the same time maintaining some mindfulness on your body. While this practice isn’t appropriate for every conversation, it can be wonderful and effective when the time is right – which is more often than you think. As the other person speaks, notice whether you’re really listening or instead planning what you will say in response at the first opportunity. Try to just listen openly and non-judgmentally. “Don’t try to remember everything,” he says, “If you really listen, you’ll hear.” Notice your own impulses to interrupt and, as best you can, let them go and return to just listening. You may “acknowledge” what the speaker is saying – for example by nodding, or saying “I see” or “I understand”, but don’t “over-acknowledge.”  When the speaker is finished, practice closing the loop of communication by saying something like, “What I heard you say was  . . . .” and then reciting back the essence of the speaker’s message as accurately as possible, without your own embellishment or interpretation.  Observe closely how these communications go, and polish your skills by practicing often.

photo credit photostock via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mindfulness Training & Therapeutic Yoga: Optimal Treatments for Insomnia

September 16th, 2014 by

I remember when chronic pain and obsessive worry kept me awake night after night. Typically, around 2 am, my mind was scanning the horizon like a lighthouse, searching for something to worry about. When it locked on it wouldn’t let go, mentally approaching the “problem” from every conceivable angle – until the alarm clock went off. Does this sound like you?  Are you exhausted day after day due to the inability to sleep? What would life be like if a good nights sleep was something you could count on? How about a life with more energy, better moods, improved concentration, and enhanced health? Sound good?

Restful sleep is a foundation of good physical and emotional health.  But many people lie awake nightly, or have difficulty returning to sleep once awakened.  Sleep medications can produce unwanted side effects, including dependency. Medications can also lose effectiveness over time. Is there a natural alternative that’s actually good for you, without side effects, and the effectiveness of which increases over time? There is!

Medical researchers are looking closely at mindfulness training due to the substantial benefits it offers for insomnia as well as a host of other health, quality of life, and productivity concerns. Stress is a major cause of insomnia, but pain, anxiety, and depression – all magnified by stress – are also associated with sleeplessness. Researchers are studying why mindfulness training offers such valuable relief for insomnia.

Jeff Greeson, PhD, MS, clinical health psychologist at Duke University explains, “When we don’t know what to do with intrusive and persistent thoughts, the mind and body feel threatened. That signals the ‘fight or flight’ response which starts a cascade of sleep-robbing emotions like agitation and anxiety.” Greeson’s study of 151 sleep deprived adults, mostly women, who received 8 weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training in mindfulness techniques and gentle yoga, showed significant improvements in sleep quality, sleep disturbances, and less daytime sleepiness. “When people become more mindful they learn to look at life through a new lens. They learn how to accept the presence of thoughts and feelings that may keep them up at night. They begin to understand that they don’t have to react to them. As a result, they experience greater emotional balance and less sleep disturbance.”

Stress is so pervasive today. People worry about the economy, their jobs, bills. “All that worrying, obsessing, and ruminating can increase the risk of illness and disease,” explains Greeson. “When the mind worries, the body responds.” The key, he says, is not to push those thoughts away, but to acknowledge them “That helps people manage their reaction to stress and anxiety and helps them remain calm.”

Researchers at the University of California at San Diego compared mindfulness training with sleep medication in two groups. One received the 8-week MBSR program. The other was prescribed the sleep medication Lunesta™. The MBSR participants significantly reduced the time it took them to fall asleep, increased their total sleep time, reported no adverse events, and scored their satisfaction with treatment as high. Although the patients who received sleep medication obtained similar benefits, their treatment satisfaction scores were not high, most continued using sleeping pills, and several reported adverse events. Because MBSR produces no side effects, and the positive potential benefits of mindfulness extend far beyond sleep, the researchers encouraged people with insomnia, especially those unable or unwilling to use sleep medications, to consider mindfulness training with MBSR.

This year a study by Duke University and Aetna found mindfulness training to significantly improve sleep, stress, pain, and blood pressure. Researchers concluded that mindfulness training reduces stress by teaching people how to significantly shift their attention to the present moment, with a curious and non-judgmental perspective.

If you’re lying awake night after night with a busy or worrying mind, you may already be feeling the effects – from chronic fatigue to more significant health consequences. Imagine a life with more energy, and the feeling of being well-rested and alert!  You can learn time-tested practices that will reverse the cycle of sleeplessness. Mindfulness training can improve the quality of your sleep, your health, and your life  – no pills, no side effects, no dependency.

 

 

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