The only peace we find at the top of mountains” goes an an old Zen saying, “is the peace we brought up there with us.” And yet we tend to search outside ourselves – and outside our daily existence – for inner quiet we hope will clear emotional fog and calm turbulent, seemingly unavoidable thoughts. Nearly every day, we all face the question of how much we will allow circumstances to control our attitude and choices. Traffic jams. Economic unpredictability. Incompetence that costs us time and money. A sick child on a day full of appointments. Daily situations beyond our control can wear on our last nerve, push us past our emotional reserves.
Powerful and persuasive research now clearly shows that we can rethink old ideas about what makes us happy, become aware of automatic mental habits, create new roles and change our emotional responses for the entire length of our lives – what neuroscientists call “neuro-plasticity. Some effort and commitment are required but there is good news here too, in the form of evidence-based methods like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, (MBSR). Nina Thorne, LCSW, an MBSR teacher, clinical social worker and educator – who facilitate an 8-week MBSR program at Peconic Yoga in Riverhead, NY describes the method as “a variety of both formal and informal practices which can be utilized to train the mind to stay in the present moment. We learn to live, where life takes place,-in the present moment. Research in neuroscience has shown that mindfulness practice actually changes the structures of the brain, offering protection from stress, anxiety and possibly aging related impact on the brain.”
The idea is that learning to shift our attention helps us get off “automatic pilot” behavior.” Relationships are an ongoing exchange of energy between our inner self and the world around us, so there is direct benefit to our interactions with others when we can see our automatic, ingrained habits of mind, defenses, and emotions without judgment. Getting beyond the automatic, mechanical reactions – which might rightly be called “mindless” since we often experience them as something not in our conscious control – is a process that opens us to an inner space of greater receptivity to not only our partner’s point of view, but to a more compassionate acceptance of our own human flaws and failings. According to Thorne, who studied with Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, “being more mindful helps us stay centered in life’s ups and downs. Intimate relationships have a better chance of surviving when partners are able to maintain emotional intimacy during difficult circumstances,” she explains.”Mindfulness training can help individuals to remain open and receptive even when emotions have been hurt and -disagreements are strong by fostering the ability to respond thoughtfully/mindfully even when angry. A mindful person is less likely to be impulsive and insensitive.”
Some evidence for the benefits of MBSR:
- Research published in the journal Stress and Health showed that participation in an 8-week MBSR program significantly reduced stress levels while enhancing positive states of mind and the sense of self- value.
- The journal Emotion published a study involving individuals with social anxiety disorder that showed improvement in anxiety symptoms and depression as well as enhanced self-esteem after an MBSR program
- The Journal of the American Medical Association identfied mindfulness as “characteristic of good clinical practice” among medical professionals.
- The PsychotherapyNetworker- the premier resource for cutting-edge information about the theory and practice of psychotherapy – dedicated an entire issue to the rise in importance of MBSR to psychotherapy and provides ongoing Continuing Education about its application for therapists.
Through mindfulness training, “we notice our own imperfections arising when we sit in
meditation,” states Thorne. “We begin to realize that, as a species, we are interconnected through our hopes, dreams, limitations, strengths and frailties. Truly understanding this can make us more compassionate, empathic partners who are able to stay connected emotionally.”
Nina Thorne is a member of the Mindfulness Meditation New York Collaborative and studied MBSR in Mind-Body Medicine in a Residential Program with Jon Kabat-Zinn & Saki Santorelli, Residential Practicum in MBSR with Florence Meleo-Meyer & Melissa Blacker, and Residential Teacher Development Intensive. The January MBSR program will be offered at:
Peconic River Yoga
93 East Main St
Riverhead, NY 11901
Tuesday January 17 – March 6, 2012 7:15 – 9:15 p.m.
More information available at www.mbsr-longisland.com