My eagerness to help my yoga students with chronic pain led me down the mindfulness path in 2012. Little did I know then that it would become a vital part of my being. As I delved into the literature on coping with pain, mindfulness studies kept cropping up and caught my attention. Jon Kabat-Zinn had obviously done his homework on developing a stress reduction program beginning over 30 years ago at the University of Massachusetts. My intrigue grew as I read how mindfulness and meditation have the potential to rewire, reshape and mold the brain to improve our physical and emotional health.
It took 2 ½ years of being on the wait-list to finally attend a MBSR Professional Education and Training with the two pioneers, Jon Kabat –Zinn and Saki Santorelli. The training was filled with 160 professionals from around the world, including physicians, therapists, military officials and governmental staff, patients with bone marrow cancer, VA staff, educators and principals of schools, corporate administrators and leaders, and yoga instructors and therapists. I experienced mediation trainings and retreats, but these instructors were different. When answering questions and conducting group discussions, their humble, thoughtful words were spoken with deep presence and care. They practiced with us during sitting and walking meditations, body scans, yoga and the silent meditation “retreat within the retreat.”
After the initial training with the genuine masters, I found myself on the four-year journey to becoming a qualified MBSR instructor for my students, of course. I thought to myself, this is a hefty commitment and investment but my students are worth it. Little did I know that there was a little catch. The MBSR teacher training process is structured to make sure that the teachers actually live the practice. There is no way around it. I had to do the homework. After about six months of steady practice, I realized that mindfulness meditation was making a difference. If I missed a day, a pattern started to emerge. The days without the formal practice did not go as well as the days I practiced mindful meditation. Unexpected life challenges still happened, but my internal coping mechanism shifted. Has my mindfulness set me free from stress, depression and anxiety? I would like to think that is possible, but the answer is no. The waves of up and downs still flow with the current of reality. The intensity, however, has changed for the better. I now have a way to cope that is within me. When communicating with others, I attempt to really listen. My morning ritual includes mindful meditation. There is no choice for me. It is an integral component of my never-ending quest for healing.
Open minds and hearts are prevalent among my students. They tell me that mindfulness has helped them to realize that they are not defined by their condition or pain. My experience continually teaches me that mindfulness is not only a meditation practice. It is a way of being.