It has been almost 10 years since I studied mindfulness meditation. My therapist C at the time had suggested I sign up for the Mindfulness-Based Stress Management Program at The Penn Medicine Program for Mindfulness. It was right after my husband M died and she thought learning these new skills would help me process my grief and reduce my stress. I went to an 8-week program and began my mindfulness journey. It changed my life.
Last night I was reminded of these changes as I sat among mindfulness newbies in one of Penn’s 2-hour introductory classes. As a yoga instructor, I wanted to brush up on my mindfulness skills so I can share the benefits with my yoga students.
“Mindfulness originated in India. It comes from a word that translates as heartfulness,” said our leader M. “It is a way of bringing your attention to the present moment.” Like yoga, mindfulness is a practice. You have to work at it to experience the changes it can bring.
The Penn Program is modeled after the philosophy of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., who has done landmark work on mindfulness meditation and healing, and is the author of the bestseller Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, Illness. M noted that “Dr. Kabat-Zinn says mindfulness is when you are bringing your attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.” (Note: If you want to learn more about Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn check out his 60 Minutes interview from 2014 with Anderson Cooper.)
How Do You Practice Mindfulness?
During the evening session, M guided us through different exercises to bring us into the present moment. We did a 25 minute meditation, closing our eyes and bringing our attention to various parts of our body, such as noticing the top of our head when M would mention it, or our fingers or toes. For many of the newbies, their thoughts wandered during the meditation. Each time M reminded us to bring our attention back to the body. My mind wandered too, but not as much as in earlier days.
“You become more aware of your thoughts as you practice,” M said. “You are strengthening your attention like you would strengthen a muscle during exercise.”
Using Mindfulness To Manage Stress
“What is stress for you personally?” M asked. We gathered in groups to discuss our stress. “Lack of sleep,” said one participant. “Pain,” said another. “Worry,” said another. “Perfectionism and over thinking,” chimed in two more. Continue reading