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!”

Mindfulness: A Foundation for Personal Transformation

June 20th, 2014 by

More and more people want to know about mindfulness as the scientific evidence for its benefits grows stronger. Mindfulness is a process of bringing attention to moment-by-moment experience. It’s a combination of “the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance toward one’s experiences.” Through a regular mindfulness meditation practice, the mind gradually becomes quiet and shifts away from the thinking process into a state of restful awareness. Over time you can begin to shift from “automatic pilot” to present moment awareness during whatever you may be doing or experiencing. Mindfulness during your daily activities leads to an expanded perspective and understanding of oneself. As you practice, you’ll begin to observe thoughts and feelings with the same quality you observe any sensory experience, without habitually reacting to them, as many of us do. As we know, most of us spend our lives not present and habitually reactive! This is important because the mind tends to take on the qualities of the things we (habitually) pay attention to. One of my teachers describes this phenomenon by saying, “we are always practicing something,” and “whatever we practice we get good at.” For example, if we habitually rehash things that make us angry, we unconsciously get very good at being angry and unhappy. If we unconsciously pay attention and react to worrisome thoughts, we become very, very good worriers.  However, if we intentionally cultivate the quality of patience (as we do toward the fluctuating nature of our own mind in mindfulness practice) we get good at being patient with ourselves and others. If we practice cultivating qualities of non-judgment and kindness (especially toward ourselves) we become kind and less judgmental. By learning and practicing being “present” in the  “moment” (rather than on “automatic pilot”) we can wisely influence what unfolds in this moment, and the next, and thus the rest of our lives.  This is a foundation for transformation and the development of our human potential.

Scientific research demonstrates the numerous health and quality of life benefits associated with having a personal mindfulness practice: less stress, reduced anxiety, improved sleep, benefits for people with high blood pressure, chronic pain, diabetes, fibromyalgia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and depression. But mindfulness doesn’t stop there. Regular practice can also propel you on a journey of personal growth and transformation. In my work with people who come to study mindfulness to reduce stress, as well as in my own life, I’ve seen how a difficult life situation, even what some might call a physical or emotional “breakdown”, typically signals a transformation – the emergence of something new.  For example, several years ago my own cancer, insomnia, unhealthy weight loss, chronic pain, anxiety and depression signaled the serious need for change in my life. There were things I needed to pay attention to, feel, and release to make room for the new me that was emerging. It was only through a regular meditation practice that I came to understand the underlying origins of my physical and emotional stress. It was a time for undeniable truth with myself. This was a difficult but healing process. By practicing being open to my inner turmoil with compassion, without judging it as good or bad, but simply the truth that was emerging through me at the time, and allowing that pain to be fully felt, I discovered I already had everything I needed – inside –  to face the scary monster within. The anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic pain were telling me to look within and to pay attention. The emotions at the root of these symptoms were demanding to be known and felt. Only then did these symptoms and emotions stop running my life. In their place came spaciousness and the possibility for something new to enter. This is transformation and it’s available to you too!  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a course in which you’ll learn how to practice mindfulness skills and make them a natural part of your life. You’ll begin to respond rather than react to the difficulties of life. This new way of being opens you to the possibility of transformation.

Paying attention to the breath is one of the primary ways to draw the mind back into the present when you notice you’re running on automatic pilot or habitual thinking and behavior.  Try associating several objects you encounter in your everyday life with mindfulness. Make them “mindfulness reminders”.  One of my reminders is the emblem on the steering wheel of my car. When I notice it as I’m driving, I take a few conscious breaths and shift from thinking to being. I note the sensations in my body, sense into the experience of moving through space, and look at the sky and surroundings. Identify several mindfulness reminders in your home and office. Try to make this a new habit and notice how it makes you feel.

Mindful Eating and Self Compassion

June 6th, 2014 by

Mindful eating is as common a practice at many monasteries, meditation retreats, and Zen centers as walking or sitting meditation. Like the more formal mindfulness meditations, mindful eating is a practice of presence, noticing sensations, and observing one’s surroundings. In the monastic setting, practitioners enter dining halls silently, bow to their food to acknowledge the farmers who grew it and the chefs who prepared it, then eat slowly and silently, bringing awareness to each mouthful of food. While we may not have the luxury to eat every meal in silence, we can incorporate some simple mindfulness practices into mealtime and move a more enjoyable relationship with food and more compassionate relationship with ourselves.

Many of us have made it a practice to inhale our breakfast in the car on the way to work or distractedly eat dinner standing up while watching the news. Our attempts at a better relationship with food usually involve strict, unpleasant dieting that feels more like punishment than health. Contrary to dieting, eating mindfully is not about restriction but about listening to our bodies, cultivating awareness of the present moment, and appreciating our meals. For those of us who eat as a stress release or coping mechanism, the practice of mindful eating provides us with the opportunity to face the normally unconscious, uncomfortable feelings that drive us to eat when we do not need or want to eat. We discover that what we are truly hungering for is not food, but a way to satisfy some other kind of hunger: emotional hunger, for example. The reason we are typically unsatisfied after eating and seem to experience endless hunger is that we have not given ourselves the opportunity to fully taste and enjoy our meals, have not made ourselves available to the body’s cues of satisfaction or hunger, and most importantly have not addressed the discomfort that we are compelled to suppress by eating. Instead of ignoring our feelings, punishing our bodies, and squelching the opportunity to enjoy our meals multiple times a day, we can bring awareness and healing to the experience of eating.

By practicing mindful eating, we do not need to binge because we are choosing to consciously address our feelings instead of stuffing them down with food. We no longer need to diet because by fine-tuning our relationship with the body and mind we automatically make healthier choices. Slowing down to fully experience our meals also invites us to become aware of the beauty and richness of the food we eat, where it comes from, and the time and care it takes to grow, harvest, transport, and prepare before it reaches our mouths. We bring awareness to our connectedness to the earth, the plants, animals, and people, and we can abide in our open-heartedness towards all of life, including ourselves.

Simple Mindful Eating Practices to Incorporate Each Day

  1. Sit, Breathe, Eat
    As much as possible, get in the habit of sitting down to eat. When you sit, feel the weight of your body on the chair. Check in with yourself: what sensations are happening in the body? Before lifting your fork, take several deep breaths. Notice the feeling of the breath entering and leaving your body. Say a little blessing or grace before beginning your meal; thank the earth and elements, the farmers that grew your food, and yourself for taking the time to nourish your body and spirit.
  2. Chew Your Food
    It’s incredible how quickly we can gulp down food after hardly chewing. As difficult as it may be at first, commit to taking one bite at a time putting down your fork in between bites, and fully chewing your food. Doing this will allow you to fully taste and enjoy your food and will also give your body time to cue your brain that it’s time to stop when you are full.
  3. Eat Until You are Satisfied
    Even if you do not do this with every meal, as a practice once daily commit to eating only until you feel moderately (or two-thirds) full. What happens when you do this? Notice the feelings that arise when you stop yourself from automatically reaching for another mouthful of food. Observe how your body feels five, twenty, sixty minutes after this practice.

photo credit Andy Newson via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking Mindfulness in Stride: Walking Meditation May Be Your Path to Serenity

April 30th, 2014 by

Looking for a way to quiet your mind that doesn’t involve sitting still and following
your breath? Walking meditation may be for you. It is just as beneficial as sitting
meditation, with some differences. Obviously you’re walking instead of sitting, but
the focus of your attention is also a bit different. Rather than attending to each
breath, in walking meditation you gently attend to the experience of each step.
When the mind wanders away from the feeling of walking, the practice is to
patiently bring it back.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare,
and Society at the University of Massachusetts, and the pioneer of Mindfulness-
Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), explains that mindful walking differs from
regular walking in that, “you’re not going anywhere.” It’s an opportunity to bring
awareness to an aspect of life, like so many others, that has become quite
automatic or “mindless.

A Little Background

Walking meditation shares the same 2500-year-old tradition as sitting meditation.
Ancient texts state the Buddha himself taught that meditation should be practiced
in four different “postures” – sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. The idea
seems clear – train the mind to abide in the present moment in a variety of
contexts, and become “present” for the whole of your life.

The practice of mindful or meditative walking can be found in numerous traditions
and cultures. Each year thousands of people worldwide learn the practice of
walking meditation, as well as other mindfulness practices such as sitting
meditation and gentle yoga, as part of the 8-week MBSR program. The health
benefits of mindfulness are well documented. Studies show reductions in stress,
anxiety, blood pressure, back pain, and insomnia, and stronger immune systems,
speedier healing, and longer cell life.

For even more of a beneficial boost, take your walking practice outside.
Research from Japan has shown that walks in nature, compared with urban
walks, produced a 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a seven
percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity (“fight or flight”), a 1.4 percent
decrease in blood pressure, and a 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate.
Participants had better moods and less anxiety.

How Do I Practice Walking Meditation?

In MBSR, walking meditation is done very slowly in a “lane” in which one walks
back and forth. Remember, you’re not going anywhere. Beginners often like to
use the phrase “lifting, moving, placing, landing” to help them focus their attention
on the four components of each step. To try it, find a place where you’ll be
undisturbed and unobserved, as walking meditation can look a bit odd to people
who are unfamiliar with it.

A great way to practice is on a walking labyrinth – a winding, circular pattern of
ancient Greek origin, used throughout the ages for contemplative walking. This is
my preference, as there’s nothing odd about walking slow on a labyrinth.

Walking Meditation: Some Simple Steps

1. Start by Standing: Feel your feet on the ground, noticing the body’s gentle
sway as it balances itself. Place one foot slightly in front of the other, shifting your
weight to one foot, and then the other, staying attentive to the experience. Shift
back and forth a few times.

2. Lifting: Focus on the sensation created as you lift your back foot. If you find it
helpful, silently say the word “lifting”

3. Moving: Stay attentive to the feeling of the foot moving forward through
space. If you like, saying the word “moving” to yourself as you move the foot.

4. Placing: Stay attentive to the moment the heel contacts the ground, as well as
the sensation of the entire sole as it meets the earth. You might mentally say the
word “placing” as you do this, but make sure the word and your action are
simultaneous.

5. Landing: Feel your weight shifting into the front foot, saying the word “landing”
as you experience this shift.

Continue sensing the physical experience of each step, repeating the four-part
“mantra” if you like. Your mind will naturally wander into thinking many times. You
will likely find yourself thinking about walking! When you notice this, you are
instantly “present” again. Simply note when you discover the mind has wandered
into “thinking” and gently escort it back to the sensations of walking.

 

Living a Sacred Life

August 11th, 2012 by

The Cranes Return Image: alicepopkorn bit.ly/QCjDfA

“In the day to day unfolding of our busy lives, all that is so precious to us at the end of our life, is usually skipped over most of our life.”

This is a beautiful summation by Dr. Illana Berger of why it is so urgent and fundamental for us to learn how to live our lives mindfully.

Image: AlicePopkorn

Exert Less Effort!

March 25th, 2012 by

In this post by Deepak Chopra he explains how our own mind keeps us from fulfilling our potential. It’s a trained mind that gets us where we want to be. This is possible for you!  You may just need a regular practice to quiet the mind’s “chatter” (think about starting your own meditation practice) Just imagine the benefits!

Step into Silence and Discover the Real You

February 18th, 2012 by

In this article Deepak Chopra describes your true essence: wholeness that you can feel and know by quieting your mind and resting in silent awareness.

How to Create Harmony With Your Intentions – Meditate!

December 28th, 2011 by

When we consciously grow into our human potential, our world reflects it! You’ll love this short piece by Deepak Chopra!

Deep Wisdom: The Marriage of Science and Spirituality by Gregg Braden

October 28th, 2011 by

Gregg Braden is a New York Times best-selling author, a former Senior Computer Systems Designer for Martin Marietta Aerospace, former Computer Geologist for Phillips Petroleum, and the first Technical Operations Manager for Cisco Systems. For over 25 years he has searched high mountain villages, remote monasteries, and forgotten texts to bridge their life-giving secrets with the best science of today. He is the author of Deep Truth: Igniting the Memory of Our Origin, History, Destiny and Fate (October 15, 2011).

Read more: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/deep-wisdom-the-marriage-of-science-and-spirituality.html#ixzz1c6MW7K56

 

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