Category Archives: Mindfulness and Schools

Summertime Musings on Koru Mindfulness

It’s summer time. A time for those of us who work on college campuses to take a deep breath and reflect for a moment on the school year just past, and make plans for the year a head.For me, this means thinking about our Koru Mindfulness program, looking at the number of students we served last year at Duke and contemplating how we can continue to expand our programming to meet the growing needs of students. Not surprisingly, this activity produces a surge of gratitude in me. Gratitude for the amazing students I’ve gotten to know through our mindfulness classes and gratitude for their willingness to commit to our short course on mindfulness. Koru classes are only four weeks long and we require students to meditate for only 10 minutes a day while they are participating in the course. But even this relatively short intensive in mindfulness requires them to set aside any skepticism they might have, make time in their already too-busy schedules, and do something entirely unfamiliar to them.

“Twenty-somethings are in the best possible life stage for learning mindfulness.”

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To my delight and relief, most of them do it with great good humor and almost all of them end up teaching me something along the way. For example, this year one student taught me that dynamic breathing (or chicken breath as our students usually call it) can be done to good effect while waiting in the wings to go on stage, so long as you remember to turn off your microphone. OMG, that story had us all laughing until we cried.

Most of the students we teach report some significant personal transformation as they grapple with the challenge of developing a first time mindfulness practice. It continues to amaze me how flexible their young minds are and how capable of change.

It also continues to reinforce my belief that twenty-somethings are in the best possible life stage for learning mindfulness. They are old enough to take the practice seriously, but young enough for the practice to impact some of their most significant life choices.

It was heartening this year to hear one of our Koru students talk about the way she had begun to reevaluate some of her relationships since she’d started her mindfulness practice. She was noticing that when she was with her friends, they seemed to only complain and criticize. She hadn’t really tuned in to this before she began practicing mindfulness, but she was quickly seeing the negative consequences of this in her own life.

She was beginning to think about what it would mean to create different kinds of connections, connections that mirrored her more natural optimism and generosity. You could hear her finding her way into a different way of relating, all because she was learning to pay attention to causes and consequences as her life unfolded.

And it is not just the Koru students, but also the Koru teachers I am grateful for this summer. I am just home from Cambridge, where the Center for Wellness at Harvard University Health Services hosted us as we trained 35 men and women from around the country and the world to teach Koru Mindfulness at their agencies and organizations. I feel tremendous hope for the future as I see this small army of committed individuals preparing to introduce mindfulness to the young adults they serve.

The wisdom and compassion they carry with them to their work with young adults in all walks of life, truly feels like it will change the world. The seeds of mindfulness they sow will influence the lives of our next generation of scientists, artists, healers and leaders. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Koru-Logo1-300x182Register for the upcoming Koru Mindfulness Teacher Certification Training presented through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness (UCSD CFM) Professional Training Institute, August 2-6, 2015, held at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA.

This workshop/retreat is the first phase of the Koru Mindfulness three-phase teacher certification program. Participants in the workshop must be accepted into the Koru Mindfulness teacher certification program. A complete description of the Koru Mindfulness certification program and an application can be found here.

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A Mindful Approach to Procrastination

Written December 10, 2014 by Holly Rogers

About the Author

Holly-RogersHolly has been a staff psychiatrist at Duke University’s student counseling center since 1996, and she is a Clinical Associate in the Department of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. Her professional interests include the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders in the context of young adult development. She has a special interest in using mindfulness and meditation to facilitate health and personal growth in young adults. She is the co-developer of Koru Mindfulness and a co-founder of the Center for Koru Mindfulness.

Image by Lynn Friedman from Flickr. Creative Commons Copyrigh

On college campuses across the country, ‘tis theseason…to procrastinate. Mindfulness offers a strategy to get moving.

It’s that time of year again, final’s week at many of the colleges around the country; the time when a semester’s worth of procrastination finally kicks you in the butt. For the lucky student, awareness that she has reached the bitter end will catapult her into efficient activity that allows her to complete all the necessary tasks on time. The less lucky student may find himself trapped in a paralysis of panic, weighed down by anxious dread as he sees clearly the train coming down the tracks towards him.

Of course, not everyone procrastinates, but in my experience it is pretty common. Procrastination is just one of the many ways we learn to avoid discomfort.

We get very practiced at avoiding discomfort. Our smart phones are an ever-present distraction, saving us from even a minute of boredom or restlessness. It seems practical, avoiding discomfort; what could possibly be the problem with avoiding discomfort? The savvy reader already knows the answer: not all discomfort can be avoided. Life, in case you hadn’t noticed, is not just a non-stop series of delightful events.

Somewhere along the way, we humans got the idea that if we got everything organized just right we would be able to avoid all discomfort. If we can make the work easier, the homes more comfortable, the food more tasty, the sex more available, the internet even faster, then we won’t ever have to experience unpleasantness.

Most of us have gotten pretty good at constructing a life that minimizes our contact with things we don’t like. Unfortunately, that leaves us unpracticed at managing the disappointments and losses that life will inevitably serve up. If we aren’t practiced at managing disappointments, then we easily get overwhelmed when troubles arise. We don’t have a strategy for dealing with the discomfort; even more problematic, we don’t trust that we can cope with whatever challenge comes our way.

One advantage of learning mindfulness meditation is that it helps build your capacity for tolerating unpleasantness without getting overwhelmed. If you are always avoiding discomfort, your capacity for holding difficult feelings shrinks very small, down to the size of an espresso cup, or a shot glass. When you have only a very small cup to hold tough feelings, your cup is easily flooded, and you quickly become overwhelmed. If you can increase the capacity of your cup to hold difficult feelings, say up to the size of a Starbucks’ Trenta, then you can handle a greater degree of discomfort without your cup flooding over. It stays more manageable. Meditation helps you increase the size of your cup.

For me personally, this has been one of the most tangible benefits of my meditation practice. Over time I have developed the ability to sit quietly, still-ly, and watch the way difficult feelings come and then go again. I’ve learned that if I just breathe and watch, everything moves on. I’ve seen over and over and over again that my thoughts can grab onto a situation that has produced an unpleasant feeling, and review it endlessly, forcing the unpleasant feeling to last indefinitely. Or, I can just let it go. Watch my breath. See what’s next. Maybe the feeling comes back. Or not.

I’ve been meditating long enough that I’ve developed a small amount of skill at doing this. I can do it now even when I’m not meditating, like when I’m in a rush and the light turns red. Or when I’m just about finished writing an article, and the computer crashes. I’m not even close to perfect at this trick of course, but it comes easier these days. Perfection was never the goal, anyway.

What does all this have to do with procrastination? Typically, underlying procrastination are some negative thoughts. I don’t want to do this stupid paper. I’ll never get it done. I don’t know where to start. I’m a horrible writer. This is a waste of time. What if I fail? These thoughts breed anxious dread and are of no practical use when completing a task. Rather than just tolerating these unpleasant feelings and carrying on, we try to avoid them by avoiding our work.

So how might mindfulness help with this? If you can bring some mindfulness to these moments, you might become aware of the thoughts coming up, notice the accompanying anxious dread and also notice the feeling of your feet on the floor, your fingers on your computer, your breath going in and out. The thoughts about your potential failure and your feeling of dread need have no more significance than the feel of your body in the chair. They are just thoughts passing through. You don’t have to make the negative thoughts and doubts go away, just leave them alone. Tolerate the discomfort without fretting about it. It’s OK to have those thoughts. And you also don’t need to be controlled by them or wait until your mood changes to get started. Just turn your attention to the work at hand and begin.

With practice, you can learn to notice your distracting doubts without getting caught in them or taking them too seriously. You can feel the discomfort they cause without having to react to them. You move on. The work gets done. It’s no big deal.

Koru-Logo1-300x182Register for the upcoming Koru Mindfulness Teacher Certification Training presented through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness (UCSD CFM) Professional Training Institute, August 2-6, 2015, held at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA.

This workshop/retreat is the first phase of the Koru Mindfulness three-phase teacher certification program. Participants in the workshop must be accepted into the Koru Mindfulness teacher certification program. A complete description of the Koru Mindfulness certification program and an application can be found here.

 

 

 

 

Discover Koru Mindfulness: Mindfulness Sparking Joy, Mindfully

Weeks ago I read an article by Penelope Green about a woman named Marie Kondo who gives advice on de-cluttering our lives. I was quite taken by her advice, and I have continued to ponder her suggestion that if we pay attention when sorting through our stuff, we will see that some of our possessions “spark joy” while others don’t. According to Green, Kondo says we should keep only those items that spark joy. I decided to turn the search for sparks of joy into a daily mindfulness activity; to my delight, I found joy sparking in all sorts of unexpected places.Sparks of Joy MindfullyThe first thing that is remarkable about this is the fact that I remembered anything for several weeks. The half-life of my memory seems to be about 24 hours, so I’m usually completely blank about anything that occurred more than five days ago. That just tells you how compelling Kondo’s idea is.The second thing that is remarkable, is that I read this article the day after I had completed a clean out of my closet, doing the semi-annual migration of seasonal clothes between the storage boxes under the bed and the closet. During the migration, I tossed out or kept items based on some idea of what I “should” keep. If something was expensive, then I “should” keep it, even if I was not fond of it. If something was old and showing a bit of wear, I “should” toss it, even if I loved it.The sorting was mostly a cognitive exercise, without much attention paid to feelings. After all, what feelings does one expect to have for a tattered hat or an old pair of socks?

Then I read about Kondo’s advice to pay careful attention to our emotional responses to our possessions when we are clearing out our clutter. Items that “spark joy” should be kept. Items that do not “spark joy” should be honored and thanked for their service, and then tossed.

“Often, it’s the unnoticed moments that are the islands of comfort and calm in our day.”

I must admit it had never occurred to me to systematically assess my possessions for their ability to spark joy. I tend to think of friends and family, occasions and events, sparking joy, but not possessions so much. It seemed like a great mindfulness exercise though, so I returned to my closet and my cast offs to apply the joy-sparking test.

I was surprised to find that many of my possessions did spark joy, and it wasn’t always the ones I expected. The disparity was enough to require a re-sort of the keepers and the cast offs. For example, the pale pink sweater that is incredibly soft had been placed in the cast off pile because really, I’ve just been wearing it too long. It looks tattered. When I picked it up, though, I felt definite sparks of joy, identifying the tired sweater as a keeper. But the expensive tweed jacket that had survived the cut the day before? It was a joy kill, so into the cast-off pile it went.

Other surprises. The socks that I’d kept when helping my sister clean out our mother’s belongings after her death three years ago sparked smiles and warm memories. Strangely, her sweater just made me feel sad. So I kept the socks and gave the sweater an honored farewell. Sadness is a useful emotion, but it didn’t feel like a prompt for saving old things.

I was so delighted by this new mindfulness game, that I carried on into the kitchen. Sorting through drawers, eliminating those things that did not spark joy and noting with delight how many items surprisingly created sparks. The bright yellow lemon squeezer and the tattered old wooden spoon were definite keepers.

In our Koru Mindfulness classes, we ask our students to choose an activity that they do daily and do it will full attention and mindfulness. We call this our “mindful daily activity”. The idea is to bring the practice of mindfulness more fully into our lives by paying closer attention to moments that typically go unnoticed.

Often, it’s the unnoticed moments that are the islands of comfort and calm in our day; it is helpful to take notice of them. For several weeks now my mindful daily activity has been to apply the joy-sparking test wherever I go. All manner of things are joy-sparkers: evening light, brisk wind, distant laughter, salty chips, soft mittens, warm water, and on and on.

I have been delighted to find this to be a useful and transformative exercise. It has helped me see that I am surrounded by little puddles of joy that I usually fail to recognize. Yes, I have problems. Yes, life is busy and things don’t always go as I would wish. But if I pay attention, there are little sparks of joy all around me. I just have to remember to notice.

Koru-Logo1-300x182Register for the upcoming Koru Mindfulness Teacher Certification Training presented through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness (UCSD CFM) Professional Training Institute, August 2-6, 2015, held at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA.

This workshop/retreat is the first phase of the Koru Mindfulness three-phase teacher certification program. Participants in the workshop must be accepted into the Koru Mindfulness teacher certification program. A complete description of the Koru Mindfulness certification program and an application can be found here.

Are you OK with a 2-and-a-half-year-old child undergoing bariatric surgery?

by Char Wilkins and Jan Chozen Bays

mindful-eating-360x200A two-and-a-half-year-old boy weighed 79 pounds, three times normal weight for his age, and he suffered from sleep apnea. After his parents’ two attempts to control the boy’s weight through dieting failed, surgery was approved.1 A laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy was performed on the boy which involved removing the outer margin of the stomach to restrict food intake, leaving a sleeve of stomach, roughly the size and shape of a banana. Unlike a lap band, the surgery is not reversible.

You might take a breath right now and become mindful of your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. Anger? Fear? Denial? Sadness? Any judgments?

Welcome to the world of excess that affects all of us . . . at any age.

Over a period of 14 years (199-2012), the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected information about the prevalence of obesity and severe obesity in the US, examining differences in the trends by age, race/ethnicity, and sex. During that time, 17.3% of children in the United States aged 2 to 19 years were found to be obese. Additionally, 5.9% of children met criteria for class 2 obesity and 2.1% met criteria for class 3 obesity. Although these rates were not significantly different from 2009 to 2010, all classes of obesity have increased over the last 14 years.3

We in this mindfulness community need to not only contemplate our responsibility to the obesity crisis which is fed by greed in its many forms, but we need to act, not react.

Dr. Rohit Kohli, MBBS Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, while acknowledging bariatric surgery can be a life-saving procedure, said:

There are case reports now in the literature and in the public domain in which 4- or 5-year-old children have undergone bariatric procedures. We should definitely think about this, as a community, with open eyes. There are consequences for bone development and metabolic concerns such as mineral and vitamin B12 deficiency or beriberi developing in these children. When we put all of this together as a consequence of a bariatric procedure and weigh it against the benefits that we have just outlined, it is a fine line that we need to walk.

As a pediatrician, first and foremost, I have learned to say, “Do no harm.” We need to take a step back, acknowledge that these procedures work, but in the same breath try to understand the consequences, both moral and physiological.2

But we who practice and teach mindfulness can do more than “do no harm.”

We can help people learn to eat mindfully. We can help them understand how conditioned patterns around eating can impact the way they eat for their entire life. We can help people make connections between thoughts and emotions and disordered eating. We can help them rediscover how to listen to the body so as to know what hunger, fullness and satiety are. We can help people of all ages slow down and re-discover the pleasure of eating through engaging their senses.

And we can help them find alternatives to work with a truth they already suspect: You can never fill the hole in your heart by filling up the stomach.

Our kids are eating their anger, sadness, disappointment and fears.

We tend to point fingers and talk about the issues that swarm around food, eating and body image: the media, fast food chains, genetically engineered food and stressed life styles. Most of us feel pretty helpless in the face of corporate and global forces that shape our lives. We have to acknowledge that we cannot change all these external factors. However we can change our relationship to our bodies and our food. We can choose to focus our time, energy and love on helping one person, one child.

Bridging BadgeJan Chozen Bays and I (Char Wilkins) have been teaching people for many years, individually or in small groups, how to rediscover a kinder and more joyful relationship with themselves, food and eating. A few years ago we formed a teaching partnership in order to spread the benefits of mindful eating by training other professionals in these skills. In our full-day workshop at the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in February, we’ll be exploring fun ways to help children use their innate wisdom to eat for nourishment and enjoy the process.

  • What do you think about mindful eating for kids?
  • How do you feel about bariatric surgery for children? Laparoscopic adjustable gastric band, the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, or a nitrogen inflated balloon placed in the antrum of the stomach?
  • Do you have experience with mindful eating?

THANKFUL: Appreciating Beautiful Gifts from Children and Youth

By LeesaMaree Bleicher

LiseeMaree-Bleicher-300x168-2Visit LeesaMaree Bleicher, along with M. Mick Gardener, at the 2015 Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference in their 90-minute breakout session called enlighten: a Trauma Informed Mindfulness Based Therapeutic approach combining Restorative Justice as an answer to youth involved in the criminal justice system. Promoting the concept of: Survivor Empowerment not Victimization of Recovery not Incarceration.

LiseeMaree BleicherAlbert Schweitzer said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Nowhere is this spark as bright than in the heart of a youth. Nowhere does there lay a stronger elixir to waken your purpose than in the sparkling enthusiasm of a child’s spirit. And nowhere is there a grander purpose than the need to ease the suffering of a child.

The beautiful thing about helping children is that buried beneath the armor and attitude is this snow-white innocence, this flawless foundation, this feral potential still connected to God, or source, or that which is greater than us individually. This goodness remains steadfast despite the harm adults have done.

Our mission is to guide them back to this place of bliss, if only momentarily. In the shift to recovery, not treatment, we have come to understand “recovery” as recovering that which was lost from us: innocence, joy, light, that feral potential. Discovering the road back to that place of purity and reclaiming our power is the key to freedom from suffering.

Our mission, should we choose to realize it, is to be the guides whose purpose is to steer youth back to reclaim their potential. We do this each time we teach that even in the unbearable moments in life and in the dark of a night of unimaginable pain, there shines a dim but powerful light that will one day illuminate the darkness. And within this light, there shines their power and their way out of suffering.

Ideally we strive to plant the seeds of patience, tolerance and acceptance in our youth.

We affirm: “Life is not fair 8359890249_ed085986b0_b-360x200-1and no you did nothing wrong. No it is not your fault. No you do not deserve what happened to you. No one can make it better, but one day if you just hang on — have faith — one day, I promise you will be OK. One day you will emerge from this stronger and more powerful than you can ever imagine.”

When the testimony of sharing lived experience trumps our cool “professional boundaries,” we make a true and lasting difference. Speaking from the heart and sharing our human experience plants seeds of hope, inspiration, and resilience in youth. Nowhere can we feel the way of freedom from suffering than knowing someone who has walked down a similar path of torment, come out standing steady despite someone else’s best effort to make them fall, and still has enough fierce courage left to tell their story.

Speaking candidly, most youth who like myself come to be in jail, in foster care, or other programs do so by force of their external circumstances. Many come from fragmented, broken homes where they witness and endure unspeakable acts of cruelty from the adults who should be protecting them. Rarely do youth land in these places by their own choice.

Emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse manifest in the blueprint of our souls and spirits. Such abuse might express itself as a 4th grader bullying his classmate, a youth stealing, a youth who yells obscenities at authority figures, who refuses to eat, who is promiscuous, who skips school, who takes drugs, who cuts their flesh in an effort to feel or not feel pain. It’s the days of silence before an attempted (or successful) suicide where we often mistake the symptom for the cause and fail in our attempts to “treat” them. It’s that approach which undermines the very core of their suffering. And it’s where we as adults fail them yet again.

It was in the vacant blue eyes of an 8-year-old boy named Travis who came to live in my home when I first realized how futile, how misguided, and how inhumane this system to care for children was. It is still raw, and I am not sure yet if I can fully capture how profoundly my time with him altered my heart. This experience both expanded my heart beyond what I thought was possible and then reduced it to nothing when he was gone.

One day while we were together, Travis “disconnected.” Fell silent, withdrawn. And I asked him, “What are thinking about? What makes you so sad? You can tell me anything, and I will believe you. And there’s nothing you tell me I won’t think is important.” After awhile, he came to me and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why sometimes I can be happy, and all of the sudden I feel sad. It comes out of nowhere.” I looked at him, cupped his tiny perfect chin in my hand, peered into his blue eyes and wrapped my arms around him. I hugged him tightly and said “I know. And it’s OK. I feel like that sometimes too. And you know what? One day you won’t feel like that all the time. One day you’ll take that sadness and turn it into happy.”

All he was unable to say was conveyed in the way he hugged me back. And in that precious moment when he mumbled “Thank you.” I thought my heart would break.

There was nothing I learned from a text book, nothing from evidence-based practice, and nothing in the foster parent orientation that prepared me for that moment. I reacted from my heart.

My only desire was to ease his suffering and instill within him the tiniest notion that no matter what he felt, it was OK and that it was only temporary.

The reality is that when we come into a child’s life to aid them, they are held in a punitive, restrictive, inflexible system. We don’t always look past that to what brought them into that system to begin with. If we increased our awareness, we would see that few children are delinquent, homeless, end up in jail, or in foster care by their own volition. They come to these places battered, bruised, and sad, having been victimized by adults.

In the months that passed with Travis, after my heart ran ahead of any reason, I watched a sad little boy turn into a bright, happy, fun-loving child who didn’t need medication or to be bounced around from foster home to foster home. What he needed was to be loved.

Now, there was nothing I could have offered Travis that ever could have replaced what his parents failed to give him. My love was a Band-Aid to soothe him until he could grow enough to care for himself. But far more miraculous than anything that I gave him was what he gave to me.

One of my tendencies was to over-explain myself; to offer excuses and/or apologies for nearly everything to everyone. One day, I was going on and on to a friend about why I didn’t do something when from the top of the stairs I heard this little voice say, “LeesaMaree, stop that. You don’t have to explain yourself. It’s OK whatever you do.” I froze at his wisdom and the fact that he cared to try to ease my suffering. Wow.

Then, I came to deeply understand the bigger context of this whole boundary thing. And I came to know that anytime we seek to engage in the helping of another being, it is not so simply a gift we give. It is not one sided.

The moment we think this, we have already failed. We as the perceived “givers” are really part of a mutually beneficial healing exchange connected to a greater energy. Once we come to understand and seek to increase our sensitivity and re-establish the heart in recovery and treatment, once we incorporate living testimony in our practice, only then will we make a true and lasting impact.

This time of year we celebrate thanks for Bridging Badgemany blessings. But as a “profession,” we overlook the rich and beautiful gifts that the children we encounter give us: the opportunity to care, to express our warmest compassion, and to ease suffering. All these things alter us. They allow us to ascend toward the deeper meaning of our shared human experience. The next time a child or a parent or someone else says thank you for the work you do, with humility and honor defer him or her and say, “No, thank you.”

Thankful

(a poem inspired the youth who have walked into my life and left imprints upon my heart)

The leaves fall…fluttering to the ground…landing like a thrush
Awaiting winter’s rush from summer’s dream
I remember summer… bright green and sparkling
and I remember you…your hand extended towards mine…offering me your heart
Giving me that moment…your time…yourself
You said, “Come this way. Here, let me show you… See the sun how it shines?”
Your smile confused the sun and stole starlight’s sparkle
“Listen. You can hear the grass tell its secrets …follow the burrowing bunny, he knows the way…see the Stellar Jay…as he chats up dawn…urging the flowers to wake up…he knows what I am talking about. His blue wings touch heaven”
I ran away from you…but never far… You were everywhere…in everyone
You tied me with a fragile cord of compassion…bound me to the fertile ground…tied me to heaven…left seeds in my hand
You allowed me to fall but not be crushed
Like the leaves, I too have been pink, russet, pumpkin and golden
It was the seeds you left… clutched tight in my hand
One day I remembered…it all came back in one fell whoosh
You cared …You took the time…You forgave me
You gave me another chance and a million more
You listened to me…You reignited the spark
Oh I am so thankful for You
Oh those seeds you left… I planted them under the moonlight…and when they blossomed…I crushed them and stuffed them in my heart
I knew what to do ’cause you said “the best way to show someone how much you appreciate them is to pass on what they gave to you.”
So…I watered the seeds with tears…transformed my fears…infused them with love
Oh I didn’t have it for myself…that care and concern
But I do for them…the ones that come behind me
So I scattered the seeds in the wind of each encounter
Oh, and I did exactly as you taught me …I gave my heart generously and… I fertilized the seeds with glitter…so that those who come behind me will sparkle brighter…than I ever did

Read About Insights Into Mindfulness at Work From: A Career Professional’s Perspective

By Roxanne Farkas, original post National Career Development Association

Roxanne FarkasRoxanne Farkas, M.A., is a Career Advisor and professional career coach at the University of California, San Diego. She’s a Certified MBTI Practitioner and future Yoga Instructor who loves helping her clients and colleagues create clear, compelling visions of their amazing futures through a creative holistic and integrated approach to career advising. Roxanne may be contacted at rfarkas@ucsd.edu

Mindfulness: What is it?

Within the world of work, we face multiple demands and pressures on a regular–even constant–basis. We’re juggling multiple (and changing!) priorities, balancing competing demands for our personal and professional goals, and handling routine conflict and chaos.

More than meditation or simply paying more attention to our lives, mindfulness is “the intention to pay attention to each and every moment of our life, non-judgmentally,” through the focused development of awareness (Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction FAQs, 2014). Mindfulness includes “purposeful action, focused attention, grounded in the current experience, and held with a sense of curiosity” (Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction FAQs, 2014).

My Connection to Mindfulness at Work

Participants in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs enter with stress, low motivation, bad health habits, and a deep desire for change. Eight weeks later, through workshops, practical exercises and practice, participants experience deep and profound change. I know, because I participated in the University of California, San Diego MBSR and experienced these transformations myself. I have incorporated mindfulness in my own career coaching and advising, helping my clients to practice and enjoy the positive benefits of mindfulness for themselves. As a result, I feel I like I am helping to create a more mindful world of work through the individual clients I help.

Connecting Mindfulness to my Practice

In my career development practice, I have engaged clients in journal writing, career mapping, and imagery meditation activities to focus on goal setting and career action planning. Activities like these and the following help my clients think more creatively, experience more hope, and feel more confident in their career discovery and development, and ultimately, the work world.

  • Journaling. If something has meaning, write it down. I draw futuristic images of what goals I would like to accomplish someday. I love to brainstorm ideas and personal goals. Writing helps me focus on what matters to me most.
  • Meditate at Lunch. Sit in stillness like a mountain. Life can be so chaotic at times that sometimes just to to be grounded in a relaxing pose will allow me to regain my energy. Use mini meditations to tune into the present and just be.
  • Charting Ideas and Interest. Draw a mapping chart of all the things you like to do, and create a powerful vision for planning the future. Look over your map. What are some themes, hobbies, music, and books you enjoy? Share your map with someone you trust, or who believes in you.
  • Practice Yoga/Running/Movement. Exercise reduces tension and clears the mind. If you have the opportunity to exercise at work – take it!
  • Breathe. Drink lots of water and breathe deeply. Try to stop for one minute every hour and become aware of your breathing.

Mindful Mindset Activities in Career Counseling

In a Discover Your Dream Workshop” I teach, I have students go through an image gathering exercise where I have them draw and predict a future seven years from now. As the facilitator, I offer guided prompts and create a peaceful atmosphere with my calm voice, appropriate music, and lowered lighting.

In my Career Peer Educator Program, we take a guided walking tour of the school campus. I help them draw attention to different aspects of our campus, and ask them to pay special attention to the moment-to-moment aspects of our walk. For example, the way the wind feels right now, or the many different sounds they can hear, right down to the sounds of their own footsteps on the paths.

A quick assignment I often give is writing a “gratitude email” to influential or inspirational staff, faculty, friends, family, or mentors.

In advising, I ask clients to share one favorite quote and explain what the meaning or value may be. In this way, I am encouraging deeper exploration and reflection than they might normally do.

During advising sessions, I will use focused breathing activities to help students focus their attention, relax, and create a more powerful state for reflection and action.

I frequently conduct advising outdoors or at one of the many community centers on campus to encourage students to notice and possibly connect with the many different resources available to them.

My office setting includes artwork, meaningful objects, and inspirational quotes which I refer to during advising sessions to inspire creativity and motivation.

Another favorite activity is creating workshops and panel presentations that focus on careers in wellness, public health, and alternative medicine. Special career panels include Careers in Wellness, Public Health, Alternative Medicine and Wellness Careers.

Mindfulness at Work in Organizations

With the rising costs of healthcare and a stronger emphasis on wellness, it’s easier than ever to participate in a mindfulness program through work. You can find mindfulness programs in Fortune 500 companies like Monsanto and Google, magazine publishers like Marie Claire (Klein, 2013), and as programs offered through company wellness programs.

Searching for mindfulness in your favorite internet search engine will produce a wide variety of results for further research. Likewise, several great books are available, and you’ll find several mindfulness apps available as well.

Now, as you finish reading this article, take a moment to pause, reflect, and notice your surroundings. Take a deep breath, slowly exhale, and allow your mind to wander…and when you’re ready, take one final, refreshing deep breath, stretch, and feel yourself re-energize for what’s next!

References

Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction FAQs. (2014). Retrieved July 23, 2014 from: http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/Stress-Reduction/Faqs/

Klein, K. (2013). Why mindfulness and meditation are good for business. Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/why-mindfulness-and-meditation-are-good-for-business/

flower2For more information about the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Worklife Integration programs please visit our website. “Our WorkLife Integration programs address the stress and pressures that work and life have on our minds and bodies, our work performance and our personal lives.”

Free Gift Offered to Students and Lifelong Learners: “A Mindful Way to Study: Dancing With Your Books”

by Jake J. Gibbs and Roddy O. Gibbs

The Mindful Way to StudyAs a way of expressing gratitude to the mindfulness in education community and in preparation for the upcoming Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference, Jake and Roddy Gibbs are offering The Mindful Way to Study: Dancing With Your Books FREE on January 16, 17, and 18 as part of an Amazon Kindle Promotion.

“The ability to pay attention is a key component of effective learning. Just think of all the times in your life when parents, teachers, bosses, and coaches have told you to pay attention to what you are doing. You would think that with all of the attention paid to paying attention, we would be pretty good at it. The problem is we’re not, because most of us have never been taught how.

Commonly adopted methods like forced concentration are actually counterproductive to learning and achieving our goals. In addition, too much focus on future goals and rewards takes our attention away from what we need to be doing in order to achieve them. Luckily, there is another way, a better way: the mindful way.

The Mindful Way To Study: Dancing With Your Books is a guide to help students, professionals, and other lifelong learners develop a better approach to their educational and career pursuits. By using mindfulness, or the practice of bringing full awareness to the present moment, the authors blend the latest research with entertaining stories and specific techniques to teach readers how to truly pay attention, and even learn to enjoy it.”

More from Jake and Roddy can be found at:
Website: http://www.mindfulwaytostudy.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mindfulwaytostudy
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mindfulstudy

Roddy Gibbs may be contacted directly at 724-422-6237

Conference Keynote Speaker Daniel J. Siegel, Neuropsychiatrist, on Why Our Teenagers Feel Compelled to Connect on Social Media

by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. republished from The Huffington Post , Dec. 30, 2013

n-TEENS-TEXTING-large570

bridgingTile_forUCSDWe are inviting you to start the new year by reading this insightful post on the effects of social media from Dr. Daniel Siegel  (author of the forthcoming book (Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain). Hear, see, and meet him at this year’s Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference! Dan will offer a keynote talk on Saturday afternoon following the regular sessions. The general public will be able to purchase tickets to hear his talk, and attendance will be free for conference registrants.

In these fast and furious days of digital overload, we parents often worry about our teenagers’ interactions with one another on social media. Who hasn’t seen a teenager deeply absorbed with a smartphone or breaking off a face-to-face conversation to take a picture for their friends on Snapchat? With heads down and screens lit up, watching our teens plug in can feel confusing, disappointing and even like rejection to us.

It can, however, be helpful to realize that the teen years are a time of incredibly important brain changes. Changes that drive an adolescent to turn toward peers rather than to the parents they leaned on for support during their childhood years.

In one way, it’s simply evolution: Throughout history, adolescents banded together to find safety in numbers as they moved out into the world, a world that was unfamiliar, uncertain and unsafe.

That world remains risky, even with all the advantages that modern gadgets provide us to map out our routes and pinpoint our coordinates. But to leave home and feel safe, we need to belong to other teens on the same journey. As teenagers, we are compelled to turn towards one another.

In order to get ready to leave the home nest, adolescents seek out membership in groups of other adolescents in order not only to feel good, but to survive. And feeling connected to others doesn’t just seem crucial to contemporary teenagers. In fact, the very engrained genetic programming of our brains gives us a feeling that connection is a matter of life and death.

Understandably then, social media can become a modern medium of connection that is deeply compelling for adolescents.

Here’s the great news: Social media provides a way for our evolved (and evolving) teenagers to find that connection in one another. That’s because social media actually provides the opportunity for creating relationships, and even can promote more face-to-face time.

Our traveling son, headed out to a new country without any contacts, checked on Facebook and found some college classmates headed to exactly the same town — with a spare room in their rented apartment! Years ago, when we traveled, such a connection would have been impossible to create.

While this medium may not be right for all teens, especially those with social challenges like anxiety, phobia or communication difficulties such as those on the autistic spectrum, some studies suggest that social media actually enhances positive relationships in adolescence — as it did for our son. And these relationships not only influence us, supportive relationships actually create health in our lives. Isn’t that something we all want for our adolescents? (And, yes, for ourselves too!)

Indeed, many of the changes in the remodeling adolescent brain can be seen to support a drive to explore novelty and to take risks, just like it encourages teenagers to make and sustain social connections. These adolescent changes are not signs of immaturity, but signs of preparation.

The emotional spark and social engagement, the novelty seeking, the courage and creativity of adolescence all have downsides and upsides, but the essence of these changes is to prepare for the transition between childhood dependence and adult responsibility. And social media may just be a modern means to make us become more deeply social and even more fulfilled in our lives.

Instead of viewing their behavior as impulsive or irresponsible, we can now see the adolescent period as one of wonderful transformation, of needed exploration of a new and changing world. The key is how to best make these vital means of social connection deeper, more meaningful and more likely to cultivate a sense of well-being in all our lives.

In the Wisdom 2.0 meeting held in Northern California each year, these are the very issues we toss around in our in-person meetings. You should see the pre-meeting buzz on social media channels that gets us all connected and primed to engage with each other face-to-face!

Together, we can cultivate a new conversation in our culture about how to make the most of these channels of communication, our collective effort to create media with meaning.

Brainstorm_Cover_LGLearn more about ways to communicate with your teen in Dan’s new book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain available on January 7, 2014.

Like Dr. Dan Siegel on Facebook
Follow @DrDanSiegel on Twitter (#Brainstorm)

“Bridging” Conference Keynote Speaker Daniel J. Siegel, Neuropsychiatrist, on the Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain

by Molly Petrilla republished from Smart Planet, Dec.7, 2013

Photo: Son of Groucho/Flickr

Group of Teens

Siegel unravels the courage and creativity of adolescents — and reveals that teens are both impulsive and hyper-rational.

Teenagers don’t have the best reputation. They’re often called reckless and immature or written off as self-obsessed adult-haters. But as neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel watched his own kids make their way through adolescence, something occurred to him: This was nothing like all those pop-culture stereotypes.

When he couldn’t find a book written for adolescents about the changes happening in their brains, Siegel decided to write his own. He began looking into the science behind the teenage brain and “I was shocked to find the disparity between what science was saying and what popular views of adolescence are,” he says. “Then I thought, maybe this book should be for adults, too.”

The result was Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, which will be released later this month and is aimed at both teenage and adult readers. Several weeks before its publication date, the book was already ranked the second highest-selling book in Amazon’s parenting-of-teenagers subcategory — but Siegel is no stranger to bestsellers. A psychiatry professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, he has already written several of them, including The Developing Mind and The Whole-Brain Child.

He recently spoke with us about the brain during adolescence — a period that spans ages 12 to 24 — and explained why he says, with complete confidence, that “the reason we’ve populated every aspect of the planet is because of the courage of adolescents.”

Taking the second half of your subtitle first: What is the purpose of the teenage brain?

DrDanSiegelDr. Dan Siegel (James Reese)

Going from the dependency of childhood to the responsibility of adulthood requires not just a leap, but a transformation. The brain needs a transformative time to prepare for that. At a species level, for us to adapt to everyone on the planet, you can’t just accept what the current adult population has learned and transmitted to you in your childhood. You’ve got to push away from that and start thinking in new ways. For the individual, at a very basic level, there need to be changes in the brain that allow you to leave home and start changing out the combinations of genes so we diversify the gene pool. If you remain in the role of dependent child, you’ll never figure out how to approach dangers and challenges while you’re doing all this. It’s a time where you have to court danger and take risks so you’re ready for adulthood.

In Brainstorm you talk about four major aspects of the teenage brain, all of which seem geared toward those broader purposes. What are those aspects?

I love acronyms, and I call this one ESSENCE. ES is emotional spark. The lower parts of the nervous system rise up and affect the higher part of the brain — the cortex — which gives us this passion and vitality. The SE is social engagement. The brain is literally programmed to start having you turn to your peers rather than your parents and engage socially with your peer group. The brain’s change in dopamine drives you to experience novelty [N] as very rewarding, and that allows you to go out and take risks. And CE is creative expression. The brain is achieving new levels of complexity that open the mind up to creatively exploring the nature of reality in a new way.

Digging into that last one, you write that adolescence is “a golden age for innovation” and “the gateway to creative thinking.” Why is that?

When adolescence comes, we’re programmed from an evolutionary point of view to push away from the status quo. In concrete terms, we push away from our parents and parent figures. But from a more abstract sense, we start imagining the worlds that don’t quite exist yet. Those are the sources of creativity: this push against what exists to not only think out of the box but to actually re-imagine the world. If you look at the data even in science, which is a hard field, a lot of the new ideas come from people in their adolescence. That’s true in art and music, too, and obviously in technology.

How does ESSENCE apply to adults? Is it something we can hold on to through life, or at least reclaim now that we know about it?

The ESSENCE of adolescence is something you don’t ever have to let go of, but if you have and now you need to reclaim it, there are things you can do. To get your emotional spark back, I would suggest using mind-training practices to enhance your awareness of non-verbal signals that arise from your body. You also get used to the familiar and the routine as an adult. To bring back novelty, simply try new things; introduce new things into your life on purpose.

You also write that it’s inaccurate to dismiss adolescents as simply impulsive. In fact, you say that they can actually be too rational when making risky decisions.

The research term is hyper-rational thinking. It’s related to the idea that the appraisal centers of your brain highlight and emphasize and amplify the meaning and significance and import of a positive aspect of an experience. If I’m going to drive a car 100 miles an hour, it would be how thrilling that will be. The potential cons — I could crash into a tree, I could kill someone, I could kill myself — are minimized. When you hyper-rationally do your calculation, you say that the chances are very likely everything will be fine. There may be a five percent chance I’ll crash but a 95 percent chance I won’t. Sadly, the hyper-rational thinking accurately assess probabilities, but it de-emphasizes the severity of the negative outcome, simply because there’s only a slight chance it will happen.

What are some of the other major myths you discovered about adolescence?

One is that to grow up, adolescents need to be totally independent of adults. In fact, adolescents need adults in their lives. We don’t have much in the structure of modern society that provides trusted, non-parental adult figures that the adolescent — whose brain is naturally pushing away from parent figures — can turn to during this transformative period of life. We need to rethink that as a society.

I also disagree with the belief that adolescence is this horrible time of life that you just have to get through. I think the courage to creatively explore the world is an untapped resource for humanity. If we don’t work together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems with the help of adolescent minds, then we’re not going to do so well.

Is there something that still puzzles you about the teenage brain, even after writing a book about it?

So many things! Mostly there are fundamental questions about how we can reach individuals entering the adolescent period to minimize danger to themselves or others. We need to really think deeply about how to develop communities of support for teens.

bridging2014badge

The 2014 Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference is pleased to announce the welcome addition of Dr. Daniel Siegel (author of the forthcoming book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain). Dan will offer a keynote talk on Saturday afternoon following the regular sessions. The general public will be able to purchase tickets to hear his talk, and attendance will be free for conference registrants.

Can Mindfulness Make Us Better Teachers?

By Vicki Zakrzewski | October 2, 2013 Republished by permission of the Greater Good Science Center University of California Berkeley. Please click here to view the original article.

bridging2014badgeA new study suggests that training teachers in mindfulness not only reduces burnout but also improves their performance in the classroom.

Imagine this: In the middle of a lesson, one of your students deliberately makes an offensive remark that causes the other students to laugh and threatens to derail your lesson. Your fists start to clench and there’s a tightening in your chest. Before you know it, you snap angrily in a way that 1) doesn’t calm the students down, and 2) makes you spend the rest of the day, or several days, wondering if you’re a terrible teacher. Sound familiar?

This scenario is only one of many that add to a teacher’s daily stress level, which, over time, can lead to burnout—a major issue for those in the education profession. However, adding to this stress is often an educator’s own lack of social-emotional strategies for dealing with the stress and emotional intensity of the job, which researchers suggest may diminish his or her effectiveness as a teacher.

Summer_Institute_Teachers_with_closed_eyesParticipants at the GGSC’s Summer Institute
for Educators
Roibín Ó hÉochaidh

So is there something teachers can do to develop their social-emotional skills, not only to guard against long-term burnout but also to help them deal with stressful events while they’re happening? Yes, according to a new study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM):
the practice of mindfulness.

A decade’s worth of research has documented the great physical, psychological, and social benefits of practicing mindfulness, which involves paying careful attention to your thoughts, feelings, and environment. In recent years, schools have embraced mindfulness to help improve students’ attention, emotion regulation, and learning. For the most part, the focus has been on students rather than teachers.

A group of the Center’s researchers, led by Lisa Flook, took a different tack: They conducted a small pilot study to test the impact of an eight-week mindfulness course adapted specifically for teachers. The study found that those who completed the training enjoyed a myriad of personal benefits, including elevated levels of self-compassion and a decrease in psychological ills such as anxiety, depression, and burnout. In comparison, a group of teachers placed on a wait list for the course actually increased in their stress and burnout levels.

But what made this study unique is that it also looked at the participants’ classroom performance, such as their behavior management skills and their emotional and instructional support of students. What it discovered was this: The practice of mindfulness made them more effective teachers, possibly by buffering them from the impact of stressful experiences as they were happening.

In other words, the study suggests that when teachers practice mindfulness, students’ misbehavior and other stressors become like water off a duck’s back, allowing them to stay focused on what teachers really want to do: teach.

So how does the practice of mindfulness actually help teachers in and out of the classroom?

To start, the CIHM researchers defined mindfulness specifically for this study as, “Paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, and without judgment.” Anyone who has taught knows that paying attention in the present moment is incredibly difficult because of the thousand demands on a teacher’s attention all at once. And judgment is a very easy state-of-mind to slip into when confronted by a misbehaving child—you don’t only judge that child but judge yourself for judging him or her.

One of the most basic mindfulness practices involves sitting quietly and bringing one’s awareness to thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, or an external object. Neuroscientists and emotion researchers have found that this kind of practice heightens the activity in the regions of our brain that regulate our attention, which then carries over into our everyday lives.

For teachers, this means that in the midst of the craziness that is a classroom, we remain aware of what’s going on inside our minds and bodies, which can help us rein in our knee-jerk angry reactions to a situation and instead choose a kinder and more compassionate response.

Lisa_FlookFor example, in the scenario I described at the beginning of this article, a teacher skilled in mindfulness would notice his or her clenched fists and tightening in the chest, take them as a sign that he or she was about to hit the roof, and perhaps take a deep breath or two to calm down. Then he or she would be much better prepared to calmly redirect the students’ attention to the task-at-hand. Boom, done, just like that. Moment passed, no lingering stress in the body or mind of the teacher, and the lesson continues.

Mindfulness practice is also a way to deliberately cultivate positive qualities such as empathy and compassion. Previous studies have linked mindfulness to increased activity in brain regions associated with these positive emotions. In its training for teachers, CIHM included activities such as loving-kindness meditation, which has been found to help promote kindness and compassion toward others.

I like to think that teachers are naturally empathic and compassionate toward their students. But often these qualities get lost in the stress of classroom life, and what suffers most is the all-important relationship between the teacher and the student. By deliberately practicing mindfulness techniques that cultivate kindness toward others, a teacher faced with a misbehaving student might ask the question, “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?”—a more compassionate response that strengthens rather than hinders the teacher-student relationship.

Finally, the CIHM researchers found that the mindfulness group’s self-compassion increased as well—an important component of teacher well-being. Educators have a tendency to beat themselves up over so many things: a failed lesson, saying the wrong thing to a parent, an inability to reach a challenging student, helplessness in the face of a student’s tragic home life—the list goes on and on. And we take it all home at night, leaving us with little psychic space to re-charge for the next day. Over time, our teaching suffers.

Time and again, teachers ask me in workshops and at our Summer Institute for Educators how they can stop thinking about work after they’ve gone home. My suggestion, based on the research, is to have a personal mindfulness practice coupled with self-compassion. Mindfulness teaches us to “notice” our thoughts or thought patterns without judging them as “good” or “bad,” which helps diminish the emotional charge that keeps these challenging school situations reverberating in our heads. Once we’ve neutralized that charge, we can choose to take a more compassionate stance toward ourselves, realizing that all teachers face these challenges and that everyone, including yourself, is doing the best they can.

One caveat: The changes rendered through a mindfulness practice do not happen overnight, nor do they last without continuous practice. Although this study showed significant changes in just eight weeks, Richard Davidson, one of the study’s co-authors and a leading expert on the science of emotions and mindfulness, is quick to point out that mindfulness is like going to the gym: You have to keep practicing to enjoy the benefits.

While the practice of mindfulness is never a “cure-all”, research suggests that it is a powerful foundation upon which teachers can start to build their social-emotional skills—and, in turn, improve their teaching. So while we may never be able to stop that student from making an offensive remark, we can control our reaction—which, in the end, may make the student think twice about doing it again.

Resources for educators who would like to start a mindfulness practice:

In addition to the resources listed below the UCSD Center for Mindfulness offers free guided audio and other resources, 5-Day professional mindfulness retreats through our Professional Training Institute, along with next year’s annual 2014 Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth conference.

If you would like to try mindfulness in the privacy of your own home, UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) offers these free recordings.

If you would like to learn mindfulness in a class, there are several programs geared just for educators, including the Greater Good Science Center’s Summer Institute for Educators, Mindful Schools, the Garrison Institute’s CARE for Teachers, PassageWorks’ SMART-in-Education, and Margaret Cullen’s Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance.

If you’re unable to attend one of the above teacher-focused programs, there are numerous workshops throughout the U.S and the world teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the program, founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, from which the CIHM’s training was adapted.