Sunday, September 26, 2010

MBSR Class #1- September 2010

Students who are new to the concept of mindfulness are used to changing or fixing things that are considered negative. 

For example, anger is considered a negative emotion in our culture.  When a student encounters an angry thought, her cultural conditioning leads her to repress it, deny it, or actively force a change so that it becomes another feeling that is more socially acceptable to feel.

If a person changes a feeling before getting the chance to know what it is, and why it's there, she's missing out on valuable information. "Know thyself" is important wisdom.  It is stress-reducing wisdom.

If a person has a one hour meditation practice, for one hour each day she collects self-information without changing, denying, or repressing the truth of it.  And then, for the other 23 hours in each day, she has the opportunity to change, deny, and repress as much as is necessary to live an effective life.  Living in society does require self-censure at times. In meditation practice, self-censure is not so useful.  Living one's entire life (24 hours per day) in a mode of self-censure creates high levels of stress.

During meditaiton practice refrain from changing or fixing.  Just observe. 

It can be helpful to know that the very act of observing an emotion can sometimes bring a shift/change to that emotion.  There are wonderful metaphors for this shift in quantum mechanics.  (See Schrodinger's Cat and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for a couple of mind expanding ideas.)

It is also important to be aware that if an emotion does not happen to shift, that's okay too. 

In mindfulness practice we are exploring the truth of this moment as it is. 
Not as-we-would-like-it-to-be.
Yes, I am actually serious about that: this momement AS IT IS.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What is meditation?

 I'll be starting up a new eight week series on Mindfulness Meditation in two weeks.  As part of my preparation for class, I wrote a new FAQ page about meditation for my webpage.  I thought it would be nice to post the article here in the blog too.  Enjoy!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

• What is meditation?
Meditation is a way of calming the mind's chatter.
There is a phrase "the still small voice inside" that refers to your own inner wisdom. Meditation is one of the ways to listen for your own voice of wisdom.
There are many forms of meditation. And different people meditate for different reasons. In the Mindfulness Meditation taught by Gena Bean, the intention is self-healing and stress reduction.

• How do I start?
Since meditation is hard to describe, I recommend that most people start with a teacher in a class. Though some people are able to read a book or magazine article about meditation and figure it out on their own.  My classes are listed at my website.

• What do I bring to a meditation class?
Very little is needed to start meditation. You don't need any special materials, or chairs, or clothing.
Be prepared to sit still for a while. In many meditation settings, everyone takes off their shoes. So be prepared to be barefoot or have socks.

• Do I need to be flexible and in shape?
No, you don't.

• Do I have to sit on the floor?
No. In any class led by Gena Bean, there will be chairs to sit on. Many people do choose to sit on the floor, and there are cushions provided for sitting on the floor for those who choose to. If sitting is uncomfortable, students also have the option to lie down on a yoga mat instead of staying in a seated position.

• What is the point of doing meditation?
For many people these days,the purpose of meditation is personal development. But each person who meditates has his or her own reasons. In Gena Bean's Mindfulness classes, stress reduction and raising quality of life are the primary motivations.

• What role does spirituality play in meditation?
Meditation has been used in most religious traditions throughout history. It is a tool for calming and focusing the mind. That kind of tool is very useful in spiritual pursuits.
Gena Bean's Mindfulness classes are non-denominational.
The Mindfulness program originally developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the UMass Medical School is loosely based on some of the Mindfulness techniques from Buddhist practices. Therefore, during classes, Buddhist concepts are sometimes referenced for clarification purposes.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Burn Out


There is a way of re-assessing burnout that can give a much-needed boost to your self-esteem. If you are experiencing burnout it is an indication of just how deeply you care about the people in your life. It is an indication of a super-human commitment to change things for the better.

If you want to better the world—
If you want to see the people you love thriving—
That *wanting* itself is a mark of your compassion.
And then, once you acknowledge that amazing compassion that you feel for others, take a smaller moment to gently admonish yourself. Because, if you are experiencing burnout, you have not been taking proper care of yourself. You have not allowed your compassionate feelings to extend to yourself. And that is a problem that needs to be addressed. Now.
You need to make self-care the first thing on your list. And I will tell you why.
Imaging that you have a pitcher full of water.
When the people around you are thirsty and holding out their cups, you can fill their cups from the pitcher for a while. But then, once the pitcher is emptied, what do you do?
The metaphor for burnout is to desperately squeeze the pitcher trying to get more water out of a dry container. If one follows that mode, one ends up with shards of broken pitcher. Everyone goes thirsty and the container is broken.

Now imagine that you have a fountain of water. The fountain is tapping into a renewable source, and is filled until it is overflowing. When thirsty people hold out their cups to the overflowing water, everyone gets what they need and the fountain does not run dry.
If you feel burnout, you have “run dry.” You have been feeding others from your “source” instead of first “filling yourself to overflow” and then feeling others from that overflow. You have been following a non-sustainable mode of living.
In that stressed mode, everybody loses. You lose, and the people you care for lose as well. The change that you had wanted to effect in the world will not last long if you run yourself dry in the process of “helping.” A non-sustainable mode of helping is not a real help in the end.
You must fill yourself up to the point of overflowing energy first.
And you most likely already know what it is that you need in your life in order to attain that “fill up.” Perhaps you need more time for yourself. Perhaps classes in yoga, knitting, kayaking, etc. Perhaps a full nine hours of sleep each night. Perhaps a community of like-minded people to talk with, or a church.

You know what types of things make you feel stronger. But most people who experience burnout refrain from doing the things that make themselves stronger. The main reason for holding back from strengthening themselves is fear. That common fear is this: “ The people I care for will be hurt somehow if I am not there to constantly hold them up.”
That is just a fear. It is important to acknowledge that a fear is not reality.

If you fear that the people you love can’t live without your constant support—
If you fear that the world would stop turning if you chose to take a break—
That *fear* itself is an indication that your ego has gotten so big that it is hurting you. Take a step back and re-assess.
The reality is that if you do not strengthen yourself first —before expending every last drop of your energy onto others— you will be hurt.
Take care of yourself. Give yourself some slack.
Take care of yourself. Take a break.
Take care of yourself. Do what strengthens you.
Take care of yourself. Keep breathing.

                                  FYI, my classes in Boston that address all this stuff 
                                  are listed at

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mindfulness on Twitter - yeah, right?

I was resistant to getting a Twitter account. Mindfulness is about paying attention and being present.  From everything I'd heard, Twitter seemed like total distraction, maybe even an on-line catalyst for Attention Deficit Disorder.  But I own a business. One of my yoga students in particular was insistent that I needed to tweet for business reasons.  And then even my brother got on board.  He offered to set up an automated account for me.

After a few false starts, and a few heated phone calls with Bro, I faced my resistance and learned a new language and a new form of acceptance of the moment.  I tweet now.  And I am coming to appreciate the format of Twitter for reaching people.

A primary approach to teaching students how to be very present is to "meet them where they are at."  When the students are lethargic, the teacher starts the lesson slowly from a lying down position.  When the students are manic, the teacher starts class with calisthenics. And yes, now that the students are online, the teacher starts the class on Twitter.

As my Twitter followers grew, I became amazed at how many times I saw variations of  "@mindfulboston Thanks for reminding me to breath."  The lessons of Mindfulness, and the tools of Mindfulness make life better at all times.  They are especially appropriate for these times of distraction.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What to do about stress- Right Now.

This is an article about Stress Reduction "on the spot"
written by Gena Bean, Boston-area Stress Reduction Consultant 

  Lift your shoulders up to your ears. Yes, right now - not later - squeeze your shoulders up towards your ears. You can hold in your breath during the squeeze if you want. And then let the shoulders drop suddenly - releasing the breath as well. This motion will release some physical tension. Now do it again. Squeeze the shoulders, building tension. And then let it all go at once, dropping the shoulders to either a normal position or perhaps a more relaxed position than normal. If you happen to be in a place where no one will look at you funny, you can let out a sigh sound when you let the shoulders drop.
The next step is to take in a full deep breath.
And then let it out slowly.
Notice how you feel. 

Just Breathe

If stress is a constant in your life, then you need to make some adjustments in order to include stress reduction in your life as well. The alternative is to experience burnout. The above squeeze and release exercise is just one of many techniques available for stress reduction. It takes less than a minute. And taking that one minute on a regular basis is worth your while. Now put your hands on your belly. The lungs are similar to balloons: when air goes in they should expand. And when air goes out, they should deflate. Notice your own belly. When you breathe in, does your abdomen rise? When you breathe out, does your abdomen fall? If not, see if you can make it happen. Breathing deeply into the abdomen is the basic stress reduction technique. Practice this as often as you can. 

Take Control of Your Stress

No one else can breathe for you. You have to do it yourself. In this way, breathing is a good metaphor for all other stress reduction techniques. All stress reduction techniques have this is common: you have to take control of doing them for yourself. There are relaxation techniques that someone else can do for you, such as massage. Relaxation is a different thing than stress reduction. Relaxation is short term assistance, like a Band-Aid. Stress reduction is something you do that changes the amount of stress you experience. These techniques require an on-going commitment to maintain them, like taking vitamin pills that build your immunity. 

Build Your Stress Hardiness

Stress reduction techniques can be considered the things that build stress hardiness. Stress hardiness is defined as:
a mindset exhibited by an individual that makes her or him resistant to the negative impacts of stressful circumstances and events Building stress hardiness could easily be compared to building immunity to a disease. And in fact, at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, researchers have been documenting the effectiveness of stress reduction as a form of complementary medicine. They have established an eight-week program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. You can learn more about the course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction that Gena Bean leads on the stress page.
Breathing and squeezing your shoulders are very simple things. It is simple to perform stress reduction techniques. But it is not necessarily easy. As stress builds, the easy thing can be to fall into negative coping and avoidance patterns that exacerbate the very problems we want to escape. If you want to avoid burnout, you must make the decision to take care of yourself every day. 

Take Care of Yourself

What did you do today to take care of yourself?
* Did you eat a healthy meal?
* Did you squeeze and release your shoulders during a tense phone call?
* Did you practice deep breathing during your commute to work?
* Did you set proper boundaries with your co-workers about your schedule?
* Did you do a super-human amount of work, or did you limit yourself to a human amount of work?
The above are a few of the simple (although not necessarily easy) things that you can do on your own to increase your stress hardiness.
It is important to set proper boundaries around activities.
Practice saying the following words: "No, I actually can't add that to my schedule." 

Take Advantage of Community Resources

Joining a support network is another very effective stress reduction technique. If you work in or near the NonProfit Center in Boston, you are very welcome to join our yoga classes and/or lectures. There are also many neighborhood resources at community centers and yoga studios. Find one near your home. Even though it may not be easy to carve out the time, make a commitment to your own health and happiness. It is not selfishness to take care of your health. Your stress hardiness will be a support for everyone in your life.