Category Archives: Substance Use & Abuse

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

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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.

Staying : turning towards what is difficult [ Part I]

By Char Wilkins,

charwilkinsChar Wilkins, MSW, LCSW is a mindfulness-based psychotherapist who works with individuals, couples and groups incorporating the intention and skills of mindfulness as a foundation from which to explore one’s life. She leads  MBSR, and Mindful Eating/Conscious Living (MECL) retreats for our Professional Training Institute and programs in her own practice for the general public.

When challenging or unwanted thoughts, emotions or behaviors arise most of us want to avoid or distract ourselves. We may use food, drugs, work or exercise to temporarily sooth, comfort or numb the difficult internal experience. Unfortunately, repeatedly coping in this way creates a habituated pattern that carries with it more shame and fear, and the hope of change slips further away into a seemingly endless out-of-control cycle.

There is of course, a reason why in mindfulness-based work we turn towards what we believe to be so difficult that if we don’t run, we won’t survive. And that is because when we come to know the taste, texture, temperature, shape, sound and movement of the unwanted thought, emotion or sensation, it is no longer a lurking shadow threatening to overwhelm us. It is felt and known for what it is: just a thought. Observed and held in awareness without judgment, it takes its right-sized place in the scope of who we are. Turning toward the difficult offers the possibility of freeing ourselves from the very patterns we fear the most.

Perhaps you’re thinking that this “staying with thing” is not the way you want to spend your day off. It’s not a comfortable thing to do. It just doesn’t have the same feeling that you get when you’re angry, depressed or anxious and think: ” A day at the beach is what I need.” or “A hot fudge sundae would do the trick right about now.”   But one getaway is never enough, is it?  And then, of course, returning is too much. This jumping back and forth we do is wearisome. That’s why the practice of mindfully staying with what is here right now, is so important. Ultimately it conserves energy, time, wear and tear on body and soul, and so much drama is avoided.

I’m aware that I ask participants in MBSR, MBCT and MECL programs to do a very challenging thing: be present to what is arising in the moment and to allow it to be known. It isn’t easy to not turn away from, to not disassociate, to not to run.  Bolting is the norm. If it doesn’t feel good, leave. Leave the person, place or thing. I’m not suggesting that you stay if you’re being abused. I’m talking about the everyday moments when we think, “I wouldn’t have to get so angry if only he wouldn’t ____________.  If she’d just ______________, I’d be happy.” As I’ve sat with clients and participants over the years, I’ve watched so much “bolting,” that recently I thought a new reality TV show entitled “Extreme Bolting might get higher ratings than the X Games since more people bolt than Cave Dive, go Wingsuit Flying or attempt Extreme Ironing. Look it up, it’s worth it.

In Part 2, I’ll share how in working with women who have experienced abuse or trauma mindfulness of the body can help them learn how to stay with what is difficult.

Listen on Monday September 9, 2013 from 12:00pm-1:00pm to Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW, in a special teleconference  exploring how we sometimes use food which temporarily soothes, comforts or submerges the difficult internal experiences.

 

Seizing the Moment and Supporting the Work: Giving Mindfulness to the Next Generation

Ellyn Wolfe (2)By Ellyn Wolfe, MEd
Co-Director Workplace Initiatives & Giving
UCSD Center for Mindfulness

Within the virtually exploding field of mindfulness, perhaps no facet is growing faster and spreading wider than that of teaching mindfulness to the youth of our society. Imagine the vast potential of transforming this generation of children into a future generation grounded in a practice that promotes stability and composure, wellness and healthy relationships, and enhanced cognitive function.  This movement is on an unprecedented ascendant path within education, clinical practice and research.

bridging2013badgeThe UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Second Annual conference February 1-3, 2013 in San Diego is uniquely positioned to further contribute to the growth and vibrancy of the field by assembling the thought leaders, program developers, researchers and educators in an environment of collaboration, connection and dialogue. From presentations by leaders like Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn, to the diversity found in innovative school-based programs such as Katherine Weare of the .b The Mindfulness in Schools Project  and the amazing work of bringing mindfulness and yoga to the inner city by Ali & Atman Smith’s Holistic Life Foundation,  it is all represented at the conference. This year the conference opens with first-ever research symposia covering a variety of topics, including interesting work by Lisa Flook of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds  on “Mindfulness in Early Education to Promote Self-Regulation”and a full symposia session exploring research around clinical interventions using mindfulness to address issues of kids and teens with chronic pain, HIV, and ADHD. This movement is on an unprecedented ascendant path within education, clinical practice and research.

The conference presents an opportunity for those who actively participate and contribute, to make a real and lasting difference in the course of society, and in particular, to the field of bringing mindfulness to the next generation. The Center for Mindfulness is actively seeking the financial support of individuals and corporations who are interested in making an impact on the emergent field of mindfulness as an agent for change.  These contributions are essential to our success in connecting and supporting the hundreds of educators, researchers and experts who will attend the Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth conference and then carry the practice and research learned to every corner of the globe.  Every donation as a general conference supporter or as sponsor for the Friday night Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn public lecture (which benefits the Youth and Family Programs at UCSD CFM) is important.  Every donation makes a difference.

We welcome the support of anyone in a position to give and make a significant difference in the lives of our children through supporting the important work of this conference and its attendees. If you or someone you know is interested in supporting this work, please feel free to contact us at mindfulness@ucsd.edu or by calling 858-334-4636.

One can also donate directly via the Center for Mindfulness Online Giving site.

Author’s Note: Education that motivates the individual to higher levels of being has always been a part of my life.  With a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a master’s certificate from the Fielding Institute in Evidence Based Coaching, and Clinical Training in Mind/Body Medicine with Dr. Herbert Benson at the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston, I train corporate leaders in the art of coaching and coach clients to be the best they can be.  For the past twenty years I have worked in the corporate world teaching mindfulness-based programs for a variety of companies, including Dr. Herbert Benson’s Mind Body Medical Institute, FleetBoston Financial and the San Diego Convention Center.  What a different place the corporate world would be if employees and leaders had grown up understanding and practicing mindfulness.

To that end, I have recently been named as Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving, a newly launched arm of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness.  I will be working with my co-director, Christy Cassisa, to develop programs that address corporate need and also to elicit support for the UCSD CFM. I look forward to hearing from you through the Center for Mindfulness at mindfulness@ucsd.edu.

Loneliness and Boredom “eat” at us! by Jan Chozen Bays, MD

By Jan Chozen Bays, MD
Dr. Bays is a pediatrician and Zen teacher in Oregon. She is the author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.

Loneliness and boredom are often triggers for eating comfort foods, or for eating at inappropriate times.
When we feel the impulse to eat at an odd time (such as an hour after lunch or when we can’t fall asleep at night ) we can take a moment to investigate what is happening in our body, heart and mind.
We can check within our bodies to investigate if we are actually hungry. How full does our stomach feel? Empty? One quarter full? Half full? Full? Stuffed? If we realize that we’re not actually hungry, we can investigate our feelings and thoughts.
We can check in with our feelings to investigate what emotions might be present. It helps to become acquainted with the particular body sensations that accompany different emotions. For example, the body signals of loneliness in one person might be a sagging feeling in the eyelids and heaviness in the chest. We find that the body can tell us about feelings of loneliness or boredom that we are not fully aware of.
We can check the background dialogue in our minds. The mind might be subtly murmuring, “I feel so alone. I need to comfort myself with something to eat, ” or “I’m bored. I need some exciting taste sensations in my mouth.”
Once we’ve identified the emotion we are feeling, what can we do? If the discomfort we are feeling is arising from loneliness, we can reach out. We can call someone who cares for us. We can reach out to another person who might be lonely. We can play with a child or pet. We can go outdoors and open our awareness to the company of trees and birds.
If the discomfort arises from boredom, we can challenge the mind that says, “There’s nothing going on, ” by looking directly and carefully at just what actually IS going on. We can sit down for a moment and focus on the breath, curious about the thousands of tiny touches in and on our body. We can look at a flower close up, drinking in its color with our eyes. We can open our ears to the many sounds, obvious and subtle, that surround us. We can sip a cup of tea slowly, aware of changes in temperature and flavor. When we are fully present, when boredom is replaced by curiosity, when loneliness is replaced by connecting to others, our discontent can dissolve and be replaced by satisfaction and ease.

Register, and join mindfulness teachers and retreat leaders,
Jan Chozen Bays, MD and Char Wilkins, LCSW
for Mindful Eating, Conscious Living, a 5-day Professional Training Retreat, August 4-9, 2012, Chapin Mill Retreat Center, New York.

This training emphasizes experiential engagement in mindfulness meditation practices and mindful eating awareness exercises, so that the participant will be able to pass the benefit of these exercises on to clients and patients in a variety of settings. These practices and exercises are integral components of the Mindful Eating program, designed by Bays and Wilkins, which provides the organizing structure for this training.

Please click here for information on our local UCSD Center for Mindfulness 4-week Mindful Eating Conscious Living program starting June 28, 2012 6-7:30pm.

Mindfully Slowing Down, Pausing and Pacing Can Add to Your Eating Enjoyment and Better Choices

By Jan Chozen Bays, MD
Dr. Bays is a pediatrician and Zen teacher in Oregon. She is the author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.

One of the simplest ways to get more enjoyment out of eating while eating more appropriate amounts of food, is to deliberately slow down. Our digestive system sends “satiety” signals to our brain when we’ve had enough to eat. These signals take about 20 minutes after we begin eating to be activated.

Americans are speedy eaters. Beginning in the elementary school lunch room, we consume our meals in about ten minutes. This means our body doesn’t have a chance to give us “feedback” about how much food is the right amount. We can easily eat too much food too quickly. Because there isn’t time to release the satiety hormones, we also miss pleasant sensation of satisfaction after our meal.

There are some simple ways to slow your eating down. Try taking a small first portion and deliberately eating it slowly, with full attention to the flavor and texture. Avoid “layering” that is, don’t put additional bites of food in on top of previous ones. Try putting down the fork or spoon between bites, and don’t pick it back up until the food in your mouth is savored and swallowed. Check-in with the sensations in your stomach a few times during the meal to see how full it is feeling.

Ordinarily our food seems to lose flavor after the first bite. When you slow down, however, pausing between bites, you will discover that each bite retains that “first bite” flavor. Your body also has a chance to register a sense of satisfaction with just the right amount of food.

Register, and join mindfulness teachers and retreat leaders,
Jan Chozen Bays, MD and Char Wilkins, LCSW
for
Mindful Eating, Conscious Living, a 5-day Professional Training Retreat sponsored by the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, March 10-15, 2013, Joshua Tree Retreat Center, Yucca Valley, CA

This training emphasizes experiential engagement in mindfulness meditation practices and mindful eating awareness exercises, so that the participant will be able to pass the benefit of these exercises on to clients and patients in a variety of settings. These practices and exercises are integral components of the Mindful Eating program, designed by Bays and Wilkins, which provides the organizing structure for this training.

Please click here for information on our local UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness 6-week Mindful Eating, Conscious Living program starting January 7.

Shambhala Sun Features Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) in latest issue

One Moment at a Time, is the title of a recent item in David Swick’s column The Mindful Society published in the most recent edition of Shambhala Sunabout the relationship between mindfulness and substance use disorders. The article specifically highlights Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) and the work of the late G. Alan Marlatt, Sarah Bowen and colleagues at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington. 

By Blair Buckman

Most of us are looking for magical solutions to solve our problems instantaneously. Some of us turn to indulgences like ice cream for a quick fix, and others habitually turn to more harmful addictive substances, like alcohol or drugs. Addiction affects millions of individuals and their families each year and can be an insurmountable obstacle for many. Dr. Lawerence Peltz, a Massachusetts psychiatrist, describes mindfulness as “the microscopic version of One Day at a Time,” adding “it’s One Moment at a Time.”

Much of the research on mindfulness and addiction is conducted at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, established by the late Alan Marlatt. Dr. Sarah Bowen and her colleagues there have conducted a number of studies on the topic, including a study examining mindfulness implementation among previously imprisoned drug and alcohol offenders. She found that by learning mindfulness practices, they were able to recognize internal triggers without responding to them, therefore reducing the likelihood of returning to drug and alcohol use as compared to control subjects that did not receive mindfulness training. Their MBRP program was modeled after Segal, Teasdale and Williams’ Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBRP assists people in developing awareness of what their triggers and habits are, in addition to changing how we respond to physical and emotional discomfort. Furthermore, MBRP assists in developing a compassionate and nonjudgmental mindset.

The program emphasizes meditation practices and implementation of mindfulness practices in daily life in order to regain control of our attention and actions. Bowen and colleagues will be integrating mindfulness meditation practices and utilizing demonstration, role-play, simulated exercises, and inquiry to teach MBRP in a 5-day intensive retreat training through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, California in April 2012. More information about the training is available through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness.

We invite you to read the full text of David Swick’s article, in the November issue of the Shambhala Sun, available on newsstands now.

 

Bringing Affectionate Curiosity to Urges and Cravings: Mindfulness as a Means to Prevent Relapse for Women in Early Recovery

Zayda Vallejo

Zayda Vallejo, M.Litt is a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher and professional trainer, and co-developed a Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Program for women in addiction recovery for the Boston Public Health Commission. Zayda is the newest addition to the faculty of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, joining Sarah Bowen and Joel Grow to lead the 5-Day Professional Training in Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA on April 1-6, 2012. The following article describes some of her important work in applying mindfulness (and MBRP) to relapse prevention specifically in a unique population.

The following is a description of the process of adapting the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) to work with women in early recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, enrolled in three residential substance abuse treatment programs, and in one outpatient program, located in an urban center in Massachusetts. Most participants started the intervention two to three weeks after detoxification treatment. A total of 318 women (45% Latina, 35% Black, 20% White) completed baseline interviews. Two hundred and sixty-two women enrolled in the classes, and 61% completed the intervention. The aim was to provide skills training for relapse prevention.

Addressing Barriers
The most important change was the redirecting of MBSR into a program focused on the role of stress in relapse. This was accomplished in part by teaching the participants to become aware of the cravings and urges, with the intention to observe them with a certain spaciousness and affectionate curiosity. A drawing of a triangle with thoughts, feelings/emotions, and body sensations represented in a corresponding apex was presented in every class and created a visual tool that the women remembered easily. By separating the emotions, bodily sensations, and thoughts, and paying attention to each one individually in a systematic way, with moment-to-moment awareness, intending to hold judgments lightly, participants gradually began to feel freedom in choosing their responses instead of continuing with their habitual automatic ways of reacting. Most participants found this visual exercise and the freedom experienced very helpful.

Each class had a theme related to areas that were meaningful to the participants. Some of the class themes included intra- and interpersonal mindfulness, understanding how perceptions could compromise treatment and lead to relapse, and learning how to use mindfulness skills to relate differently to feelings of anxiety, panic attacks, fear, guilt, and shame.

The four practices employed in the traditional MBSR classes were used but the length, sequence, and ways of presenting them varied substantially. The body scan was shortened to reduce potential interference from trauma experience. It was performed in a sitting or standing position, non-sequentially, and interspersed with yoga movements. The eyes were open to promote a sense of safety. The scan began with the feet and legs, followed by yoga for the feet and legs. This process was repeated for all the different parts of the body. Instead of a detailed scan of the pelvic area and breasts, the revised body scan focused on the abdominal area and front of the chest. At times, movement took place first followed by the scanning in order to enhance connectivity with the body.  Though the participants did not do a lengthy body scan they would usually practice daily a two or three minute scanning of the body.

Walking meditation was preceded by very fast walking, decreasing the speed gradually and ending in the mountain pose. After that the participants could do walking meditation at a slow pace. The goal was to meet the women where they were, matching the movement to the agitation and pent-up energy they would exhibit and then progressively slow down.

Sounds were an easier gateway to awareness than the breath. Sitting meditation started with sounds, progressed to body sensations, and then the breath. Participants initially experienced the breath as boring and abstract. At times, it also triggered flashbacks for some of the women with trauma histories that included choking or a hand being held over their mouths. Interestingly, even though the breath was very difficult to connect with at the beginning, when asked in six and twelve month follow-up interviews, the women often reported that awareness of breath was the ‘tool’ that they practiced on a regular basis and the most helpful to ride cravings, urges, and impulses.

Hatha yoga, called mindful stretching exercises to avoid connotation of a religious nature that exists in some Spanish speaking regions, was the basic staple, and it was performed in any of the segments if the mood of the participants was too lethargic or too distracted. Participants enjoyed both the floor and standing yoga and often mentioned how helpful it was for lower back pain, shoulder and neck pain, and to release tension.

It must be noted that these adaptations were temporary ‘bridges’ until the women had the internal resources to do the practice similarly to the regular MBSR program. For example, during the half day retreat on week seven, women were able to do a body scan lying down on the floor for 45 minutes with no perceived adverse reactions.

Conclusion
The most important change was reframing the approach to focus on relapse prevention. Due to the participants’ trauma histories, short attention span, and low literacy, the language needed to be simplified and more visual components added. The length of the practices was shortened and the sequence and ways of presenting them were changed substantially.

In summary, MBSR is beneficial as an adjunct intervention in residential treatment facilities with individuals in early recovery. However, we found that adaptations were needed in order for the participants to see the program as relevant to their recovery. The participants needed to understand how the skills and tools learned could help them hold or relate to the stress in their daily life with less suffering and more compassion for themselves and those around them.