Tag Archive: mindfulness


A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook

by Bob Stahl, PhD and Elisha Goldstein, PhD

I have a confession: I am a huge fan of Jon Kabat-Zinn.  Dr. Kabat-Zinn is the founder/father of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, a non-religious form of meditation, that is based on training our consciousness to be in the “present moment”.  This type of meditation can be learned though attending 8-week MBSR classes or clinics (of which there are presently none in Oklahoma), figuring it out from Kabat-Zinn’s book: Full Catastrophe Living, or by attending professional training programs.  Dr. Kabat-Zinn leads such programs through the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY and Watsonville, CA…neither of which are convenient to Edmond Oklahoma.  While I may still attend one of these courses eventually, I was thrilled to find another option:  “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.” Written by two of Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s students, Bob Stahl, PhD and Elisha Goldstein, PhD., this workbook presents Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Stress Reduction program (MBSR) in an easily accessible workbook-style that is intended for self-study by individuals.

A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook does a wonderful job of leading the individual step-by-step into a meditative practice while explaining the mind-body connections.  It includes mp3 files of guided meditations, a “must” for beginners, and includes sections on mind-body yoga as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approaches for anxiety and stress. Although it would be preferable to attend the full eight week MBSR program, this workbook is a delight for those who are unable to do so, yet desire the benefits of mindful living.

 

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I love mnemonics and acronyms; they make it easy to remember useful information.  We tend to use them frequently in medicine (ie, RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation) and in mental health (ie, screening for alcohol dependence, CAGE: cut down, annoyed, guilty, eye opener).  I was reminded of a particularly useful one this week: HALT.  While HALT is primarily used for individuals in recovery for substance abuse issues, I find it useful to apply to any automatic, problematic behaviors in which people engage (including emotional eating).

HALT refers to the possible responses to the question “Why am I doing this? How am I really feeling? Am I really…?”

  • H- Hungry
  • A- Angry
  • L- Lonely
  • T- Tired

By asking oneself these questions, it enables the individual to be more mindful of the situation and more accurately meet his or her needs at that moment instead of engaging in emotion-led, automatic behaviors.  So the next time you find yourself grabbing for a cookie or glass of wine, try asking yourself if you need to HALT and be certain of your motivations at that moment.

Mindfulness meditation is a term that is used to describe the cultivation of “non-judgemental, moment-to-moment awareness” of events in our daily life.  Through the purposeful exercise of bringing our awareness to the present moment, we can learn to be “more present” in our day to day lives and less distracted by ruminations of the past or anxieties about the future.  Such a practice can lead to a greater richness and fullness in relationships with spouses & children, help with problems with over-eating, as well as help coping with chronic stress, pain, or illness.  While it is based in Buddhist mediative discipline, Mindfulness Mediation is not a religious meditation; although, being “mindful” and “present” is emphasized by most religious and spiritual traditions.  Mindfulness meditation is not for the purpose of relaxation, although you may feel more relaxed, but rather an exercise in bringing our awareness to the present moment, “the only moment in which we are really alive”.  Most any activity can be done “mindfully” by experiencing the activity with all of our senses.

Mindful breathing is foundational to many mindfulness exercises and is a great place from which to begin a mindful meditation practice.  Mindful breathing does not require a large commitment of time, any special equipment, or location.  Our “breath” intersects both the voluntary and involuntary nervous systems.  Because of this, mindful breathing offers a wonderful opportunity to experience mind-body connectedness.  You may have noticed that when you are very upset or agitated, your breath becomes shallow and rapid.  This shallow breathing further exacerbates feelings of anxiety and creates a negative feedback loop.  Conversely, when we focus our attention on the breath and allow it to “be” without forcing it to be any particular way, our breathing calms down and with it, our mind calms down as well.  Our mind receives the message, “Everything is okay, no need to worry”, which helps us to feel at ease.

Here is a brief, introductory mindful breathing exercise:

Assume a comfortable position, either seated or lying down.  Allow your awareness to center on one area of the breath: such as the flow of air at the nostrils or rise and fall of the abdomen, but away from the mind and “thinking”.  Allow your body to breathe in and out exactly as it wants to.  You may notice the flow of the air in and out, the onset of the breath, the inflection point just before you begin to exhale, and the length of the pause before your next breath begins. Be aware that with every breath you are nourishing every cell in your body. Continue to follow the breath in and out of our body.  When your thinking pulls you away, as it will certainly do, notice the thoughts without judgement and gently bring your focus back to your breath.  Continue your practice for a comfortable period of time; perhaps starting with five to ten minutes.

Guided mindful mediations are a great way to experience Mindfulness Meditation and are readily available from various sources.  I have enjoyed the CD “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat-Zinn (available on iTunes or through Amazon.com).  I also highly recommend “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook” by Bob Stahl, PhD and Elisha Goldstein, PhD. for more complete instruction in the art of mindfulness meditation.

Happy New Year! If you’re like most, you embrace the New Year by resolving to improve your life. I am no exception. This year I am focusing on making SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) instead of making vague resolutions. I have enlisted my trusted iPhone to assist me in my endevors.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle.

By this logic, it is necessary to create and maintain useful habits. The Habit Factor ($3.95) is nice in that it allows you to set both Goals as well as Habits to achieve your goals. It tracks your daily progress and gives some accountability as well as serves to organize your goals/habits based on certain areas: Body, Mind, Spirituality, and Social. Another goal setting app is 43 Things (free) which allows you to set goals and track progress made.

Following the Body, Mind, Spirit model, I have set specific goals for each of the areas. In Body: to lose weight/exercise more. As noted in the New York Times article on 12/31/09 a multitude of apps exist to aid in the pursuit of better physical health. Some that I have used include: Weightbot, Lose It, iPump Lean, and Yoga Stretch.

In the area of improving the Mind, I look to read more in the New Year. This is easily done on the iPhone with Apps for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and book readers such as the Kindle. I also intend to be more regular with my postings.  I welcome any ideas you may have for topics.

For Spiritual growth, I plan to continue reading the Bible daily using YouVersion’s The Bible which has multiple translations, allows bookmarking of verses and sharing through Twitter and email, and is free. I also will get back to meditating, using guided mediations from iTunes or the Mayo Clinic Meditation app.

I was pleased to see that the Habit Factor included a category of Social growth. This year I aim to improve my relationship with my family in several ways: I will be doing The Love Dare and playing more games with my boys including UNO and LIFE. I continue to enjoy the socialization available through Twitter and Facebook; I’ve made some great connections and look forward to the insights and entertainment. However the biggest resolution that I am making this year may require only one button on my “trusty iPhone”: the power switch. The most meaningful thing that I will work on this year is being present….and that requires the removal of distractions and banishment of partial attention. Wish me luck!

imagesIt seems that everyone is a-twitter about Twitter. This social networking site has exploded in recent months leading many to ask the questions: “What is it?” and more importantly, “Why Twitter?” I created an account to experience the phenomenon for myself. Twitter appeals to me on several levels: from the tech/gadget geek side as well as from a psychological perspective—”tapping into the stream of human consciousness”. Fellow psychiatrist Dinah Miller, of ShrinkRap fame, did a similar experiment herself: after one week of Tweeting she posted: “My week is almost up. I still don’t get this. Who is rilescat and why does he have a dead panda on his desk?” There is certainly no shortage of characters in Twitterland. I was impressed with the amount of wit and wisdom being shared in 140 characters. The requisite brevity forcing some to re-discover the art of editing: making every word count. I also observed some incredibly empathetic and compassionate exchanges: including one mother’s life-changing foray into the world of childhood leukemia. Twitter has been described as “a cocktail party” and Facebook as “a dinner party” given the degree of intimacy with ones friends and followers; this seems to be quite accurate. Twitter seems to function best in niches: thus promoted by the use of “Hashtags”.

 

To “get it”–to understand WHY, it is necessary to look at the motivation of each individual. Twitter asks the question: “What are you doing right now?” Differences in motivation lead to diverse responses to this simple question and a variety of Twitter experiences: some individuals are looking for entertainment, some for connection, some for information, and others for self-promotion. The potential for all exist in abundance on Twitter.

 

Many basic emotional needs of individuals can potentially be met through social networking: feeling validated, belonging, being heard… and with minimal risk of emotional trauma and physical effort (as one can happily tweet away in ones pajamas). While this connection for such individuals who may have limited access to other interaction can have certain positive aspects; (ie, a mom who stays home with her children); one must also consider the potential negative consequences of such virtual relationships as well. When needs are met in this superficial way… is the individual kept from developing deeper, albeit more complicated relationships in the world beyond the internet?

 

The potential for constant connectedness leading to the loss of being fully present in one’s “real” life is another concern. When I first began looking for people to follow, I searched for Jon Kabat-Zinn (author & founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction): figuring that he would disseminate some incredibly wise tweets. He’s not on Twitter; the closest I could find was a remark about Twitter being the antithesis of mindfulness. No less concerning is the diversion of time and energy from other “real world” relationships. It is not unheard of for people to spend upwards of 5 hours daily checking their Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts.

 

Perhaps the first question to answer before “What are you doing?” is “What am I doing here?”; consider if the virtual world is the best place to accomplish your goals. As for myself, I remain undecided. While I am absolute junkie for wit and humor, I have found the pace of information to be excessive at times. As with most things in life, it will come down to finding the right Balance… and the determination of how long to stay at the “party.”