By Monica Nolasco, Ed.D.
You have probably heard a great deal about mindfulness, meditation and stress in recent years. In fact, you will notice that my blog last month focused on stress and the choices you have in facing it. All this emphasis is no accident, given the increase in the negative effects of stress being felt by people of all ages and from all walks of life. Both mindfulness and meditation have been found to be helpful to many – from college students to those suffering from post-traumatic stress injury to healthcare professionals.
It is no wonder, then, that formalized programs have been developed to educate people in how to use mindfulness to be their best selves. One such program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – MBSR for short – is a multi-hour commitment over several weeks that reaps short- and long-term benefits that carry through to life after the structured program is over. You might think of it as a new way to learn to help yourself through the tough times everyone experiences.
How mindfulness and self-compassion help you grow professionally and personally
To explain what you may get out of MBSR, I need to define its two most crucial components – mindfulness and self-compassion. According to the authors of a paper published in the August/September 2013 volume of the Journal of American College Health, mindfulness is “…the awareness that emerges through purposefully paying nonjudgmental attention to present moment experiences.” (349)
Notice that word “nonjudgmental”. It figures prominently in that other key element of MBSR – self-compassion. People who regularly use mindful meditation (taught as part of the MBSR course) find that they are more accepting of themselves and others in the present moment and are thus able to perform effectively in social and work settings.
Sharon Praissman, a nurse practitioner whose paper on MBSR appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners in 2008, likens the negative thoughts we are all prone to having to clouds that mindfulness-based meditation allows us to observe passing by. (213) Thus, fear, anger, anxiety and other emotions that get in the way of our progress in the important work we do lose their power, and we find ourselves able to focus on the present moment. We can then respond (as opposed to react) to what is happening right now.
What an MBSR course offers participants
The MBSR course consists of regular sessions once a week for an extended period, as well as a retreat day. Participants are assigned homework that puts into practice what they learn in class – scanning the body for tension-filled areas and relaxing them, focusing on breathing to get the maximum amount of oxygen to the brain, using gentle yoga and other types of movement, such as walking, to complement the stillness of the meditation exercises, and keeping a journal to record any observations they make during meditation.
In my experience with teaching mindfulness, I see that some people do not have the time to devote to a multi-week course. Anyone, however, can benefit from incorporating four practices that, over time, can help them live with a sense of well-being in the present moment rather than ruminating on what is past or fearfully anticipating what may happen in the future.
INCORPORATE MINDFULNESS MEDITATION INTO DAILY LIFE. Schedule “me” time the way you schedule meetings and medical appointments. Find a quiet, private place and settle in for at least 10 minutes. Focus on your breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Be sure the air is filling your diaphragm (the upper part of your abdomen). Scan your body for tension and relax the stressed parts. Don’t fight thoughts and feelings, especially negative ones. Observe them without judgment and let them pass.
ESTABLISH AN AREA IN YOUR HOME FOR “ME” TIME. Get a small blackboard and/or corkboard on which to record self-affirmations. Include photographs that contribute to your sense of well-being. Display other items that enhance feelings of calm and accomplishment. Have a comfortable place to sit and meditate.
KEEP AN OBSERVATION JOURNAL. Only one rule applies consistently to keeping an observation journal – negativity should not dominate journal entries. Extra points for catching yourself (and/or someone else) doing something right. Describe with acceptance what is (was) without labeling it – good, bad, or indifferent. Over time, the journal can be a record of your progress in self-acceptance.
PRACTICE NON-RANDOM ACTS OF SELF-KINDNESS. An act of self-kindness can be as simple as giving yourself a break when you make a mistake. Allowing yourself a day to do something you really enjoy is not being selfish. You will find that you come back to the important work you do with refreshed self-confidence.
Being mindful means being self-aware, not self-conscious
People who practice MBSR regularly report that their mind and body have reconnected in a beneficial way. In an original paper published on January 23, 2015 in the online journal, Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, by Springer Science & Business Media, the authors quote students describing their lives before MBSR being as if they were a “head on a stick.” (493)
Facing negative feelings that cause you to over-react or avoid taking important action can help you be free of them. In that same article, some MBSR teachers and students explained it as “putting your head in the snake’s mouth” or “inviting your rage to tea.” You rob the negative feelings of their power over you and cause them to disappear. (504)
I am conducting an MBSR course, beginning with a 1-hour orientation on September 1, 2018 and running through October 27, 2018 (classes every Saturday and a retreat day), at East Bay Healing Collective, 1840 Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley, California. While it represents a significant time commitment, I believe participants of all backgrounds and experience will find it worthwhile in helping them grow in their careers and personal lives in a world of increasing stressors on all fronts. Please visit the events page on the SAGE Career site to learn more about my MBSR course and consider joining us.
Bergem-Cico, Dessa, PhD; Possemato, Kyle, PhD; Cheon, Sanghyeon, PhD (5 June 2013): Examining the Efficacy of a Brief Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (Brief MBSR) Program on Psychological Health. Journal of American College Health, 61, 6, 348 – 360, property of Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Myers, Neely; Lewis, Sara; Dutton, Mary Ann (23 January 2015): Open Mind, Open Heart: An Anthropological Study of the Therapeutics of Meditation Practice in the US. Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, 487 – 504, property of Springer Science & Business Media B.V.
Praissman, Sharon, MS, CRNP (Nurse Practitoner) (2008): Mindfulness-based stress reduction: A literature review and clinician’s guide. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 20, 212 – 216, property of Blackwell Publishing Limited.