Tag Archives: char wilkins

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?
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Introducing Mindful Eating Within a Family

By Jan Chozen Bays, MD

baysjanJan Chozen Bays, MD, is a pediatrician and Zen teacher from Oregon. She is the author of Mindful Eating: Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food and How to Train a Wild Elephant, a collection of 53 mindfulness exercises. Jan and her colleague Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW continue to offer a 5-day Professional Training through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness entitled  ”Mindful Eating, Conscious Living” based upon their work in this field and Jan’s book.

One of the most common questions we get in our mindful eating events is how to teach mindful eating to children and practice it during family meals. The answer is for everyone to practice mindfulness while cooking and eating together as a family.

Young children have a natural internal nutritionist that tells them what and how much to eat. Little kids who are provided with a variety of foods on the tray of their high chair will eat the appropriate types and amounts of each food. The catch is that they will not eat in a balanced way in one day, but over the course of a week. We can imagine how quickly this intuitive way of eating is disrupted. Parents see that their toddler has eaten only mashed potatoes one day and applesauce the next. Worried that their child is not getting the proper amount of protein, they begin to interfere, cajoling, bribing and trying to force food into the child’s closed mouth. Research shows that by age 5, children will valiantly try to eat all of an inappropriately large helping of macaroni and cheese.

Thus begins our uniquely American habit of trying to clean our plates at “family style” restaurants where huge portions of cheap food are considered “a good deal.” We are even taught to feel guilty if we don’t eat it all and somehow worsen the situation of starving children in Africa.UCSD CFM Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is a way to become reacquainted with the guidance of our internal nutritionist. How can parents introduce mindful eating to their children? Here are some suggestions.

(1)   Have at least one congenial family meal a day. If the atmosphere is relaxed and each person shares the events of the day, children learn to eat slowly and to pair eating with enjoyment and connection. Eating and anxiety are not a healthy pair. Eating and a sense of ease are.

(2)   Let children help you prepare the meal. Talk about where each item of food comes from and how the Earth, sun, rain and many people helped bring it to your table.

(3)   Begin family meals with a simple grace. It could be just holding hands briefly and bowing heads around the table in order to stop, remember and thank the many people and creatures who brought the food to the table. Pausing helps teach children not to bolt their food and run.

(4)   Experiment with new foods and drinks. Try fresh apricots, pineapple or dates. Buy something from an ethnic grocery store: persimmon, papaya, mango, kiwi, star fruit or red bananas; tamarind, guava or coconut juice. Encourage curiosity: “This is a fruit that children in (Mexico, Japan, Thailand, etc.) like to eat. Smell it. What does it smell like? Take a little bite or sip and tell me what it tastes like.” Experimentation helps children explore the vast world of different tastes and not collapse into a steady diet of boxed macaroni and canned ravioli.

(5)   Be creative with food. When one boy’s mother told him that broccoli is trees for dinosaurs to eat, he spread the story to his entire elementary school class and every kid began to enjoy eating broccoli.

(6)    Talk about the benefits each food confers. For example, milk, cheese and spinach have calcium that builds strong teeth and bones.

(7)   Play the “how full is my stomach” game. Ask children to check in with their stomachs before, halfway and at the end of a meal. Is it empty, half full, or all the way full? This helps them (and you) stay in touch with body signals of fullness and not overeat.

(8)   Avoid  talking  to kids about calorie counts or diets in restrictive ways. Research shows that girls who begin dieting as preteens have a much higher risk of eating disorders. Don’t be too rigid about junk food. If your kids have been raised on home-cooked organic food and they have a McDonald’s hamburger and cola at a birthday party, it’s not a tragedy. It’s a cross-cultural experience.

(9)    Help children discern the difference between actual physical hunger and emotions such as  boredom, fatigue and anxiety. Help them learn to work with real solutions to these emotions, using activities such as exercising, playing a game, reading a book, doing crafts, and connecting with friends.

(10) Celebrate holidays and special occasions. Let kids help with creating a party. Set the table with a tablecloth, a candle and flowers. They can make simple decorations such as hearts, stars or Easter eggs cut out of paper. When we treat ourselves as guests, we infuse the food with an important ingredient, an extra scoop of love.

(11) Everyone’s deepest hunger is for love and connection. Loving words are vital to our health. Loving words are a way to feed the heart that does not involve food. If you want your family and friends to feel well nourished, give them generous helpings of genuine expressions of gratitude and affectionate words. “I really appreciate your …”  “When I am with you I feel …”

Mindful eating in a family means making a good mixture of these basic ingredients: eating as a family, pausing, slowing down, having fun, experimenting, being curious, exploring new tastes, and bringing the flavors of kindness and love to your meals.

Join Jan Chozen Bays, MD and Char Wilkens for a A 5-day Mindful Eating, Conscious Living (MECL) Professional Training Retreat April 29-May 4, 2014, at Great Vow Monastery, Clatskanie, OR.

Locally in San Diego, we invite you to join Allan Goldstein and Megan Leuchars for our 8-Week Mindful Eating Program beginning Monday, March 17, 2014, 6:30-8:30 p.m, at our University City location.

Mindful Presence: Embodying sensitivity with a heartfelt presence

Professional Training Institute BannerThe UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: MBSR:Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 5-day Teacher Training, November 11-16, 2013, at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia, NY. The following is the second in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know them through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

By Susan Woods

WoodsSusanIn the second of these of these reflections on the nature of teaching mindfulness I thought it would be interesting to continue with the theme of mindful presence.  As teachers of mindfulness in secular settings, we bring an emotional and cognitive sensibility to our teaching that is based on our personal experience and understanding of mindfulness.  When we respond to questions from our participants via the process of mindful reflective inquiry, we are embodying an awareness that embraces and acknowledges a way of being that is able to stay quietly present even in the midst of ambiguity.  Being able to allow for those places of uncertainty, anxiety, and doubt and then know when and how to respond are important components for our teaching.  It is likely there will be times when one of our participants will ask a question or make a comment that elicits a moment(s) when we have no idea of what’s next or how to respond.  In addition these moments may touch a strong emotional reaction inside of us of doubt, worry, distress, anxiety, irritation, despondence, even anger.  I suspect we have all had some or perhaps all of these instances.

No experience is wasted; even those that have challenged me in sometimes very uncomfortable ways.  When I have found myself in those places, part of my own journey of mindfulness, has been in allowing an emotional and cognitive unfolding that can be relaxed. Remembering to take a breath can help to soften into these moments; relaxing into the body another.  This becomes a way of sensing into the current experience where understanding grows from letting all of the uncomfortableness be present, cognitive, emotional and somatic.

reflectionsBeing emotionally sensitive to these moments requires an active intention and receptivity. Being a mindfulness teacher asks that we are willing to take our seats in the uncertainty and teach to and through that experience.  This means that we include an experiential sense of our own complexity in those moments and in that awareness do our best to step out of our own way.  As we meet these moments we also notice that being gentle and patient rather than a problem solver, allows us to start from where we truly are rather than from where we think we should be.

It is this emotional awareness and sensitivity that we bring to our teaching of mindfulness.  It allows for the landscape of the moment to reveal itself, an inner and outer attunement and brings us into the present, one where we are receptive to our own experience and at the same time responsive to that of the other.  It is a moment of being attuned to an inner and outer noticing, where compassion is embodied through mindful presence, heartfelt sensitivity and through mindful reflective speech.   In this way the teacher and participant(s) are involved in co-creating a journey of relationship which entails a kindhearted understanding of self, of other and the unfolding nature of the present. These moments of connection are sacred moments of wisdom and humility.

Mindfulness Invites Engagement & Connection

charwilkins-2By Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW

What fascinates me about this mindfulness work is the way in which the different qualities and characteristics of being mindful engage and connect us. Recently, I wrote about the rich possibilities inherent in cultivating the skill of listening mindfully and the presence of respect, wonder, gratitude, reverence and connection that naturally seem to co-arise.  It makes me think of the lyrics from an old song that goes “. . . you can’t have one without the other.”  I haven’t done any scientific research on this, but it seems that when making the intention to cultivate even one of these, the others appear.

reflectionsTeaching MBCT or MBSR in a group setting or adapting the program for individual work provides multiple opportunities to nurture connections.  In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown has a lovely, yet practical, definition of what she feels it means to be connected. She writes “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

As we teach we become aware of many different connections and relationships that arise as the weeks pass.  Daniel Goleman, in his book Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships writes about how recent findings in neuroscience and biology confirm that we are hard-wired for connection and that our relationships shape our biology as well as our experiences.

There is the relationship a participant creates with the material being presented which may fluctuate from boredom to confusion to excitement.  There is the evolving relationship he or she establishes with the teacher.  In a group setting, each participant determines whether or not they will connect with others and to what extent they will interact with fellow participants.  And then there is the intra-personal work of connecting to oneself that each participant is invited to embark on.  For the teacher, there is the opportunity to model healthy boundaries while nurturing curiosity, potential, and the possibility of connection to self and others.  And there is the ongoing development of the teacher’s own relationship with the program material, the practice and the embodiment of the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness that Jon Kabat-Zinn articulated: patience, trust, beginner’s mind, non-judging, acceptance, non-striving and letting go. Maybe it is true that we teach what we most need to learn.

I’ve barely touched upon the value of and ways this work invites us to connect. Perhaps you have an example or are aware of other connections taking place as you teach a mindfulness-based intervention that you’d be willing to contribute to expanding this exploration.

_______

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness Professional Training Institute has partnered with experienced clinicians and mindfulness teachers Susan Woods, MSW, LICSW and Char Wilkins, LCSW, to offer two 5-day MBSR teacher training retreat programs.

MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 5-day Teacher Training, June 2-7, 2013 at Joshua Tree Retreat Center, in Joshua Tree, CA

Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful Inquiry, June 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. and November 11-16, 2013 at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Rochester, NY

Mindful Presence: Embodying kindness and the listening heart

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful InquiryJune 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. The following is the second in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know them through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

WoodsSusanBy Susan Woods, MSW, LICSW

Suffering is not personal, but in so many ways we are inclined to feel it in that way.  Of course the feeling of pain and heartache is universal; it’s what connects us and also what can separate us.  Mindfulness meditation practice encourages and supports us in developing a profound understanding about how we relate to pain and gives us choices on how we can respond.  It took me some time and lots of practice to relax into appreciating this.  What I became aware of was the more I could allow myself to show up and pay a kind and steady attention, without denying or pushing anything away or alternatively chasing after something, the steady momentum of mindfully noticing became compelling as an act of generosity.

reflectionsWe don’t often talk too much about acts of generosity when facing suffering; a sense that it is permissible and might even be imperative to be kind when facing the overwhelming; that by cultivating a tender abiding, embodying an intentional and attentive mindful consciousness which supports a friendly and intimate awareness we come to experience our pain, our difficulties in a different way.  We also come to notice that being mindful is dynamic and creates just enough intuitive and emotional space to acknowledge pain and the story around it without needing to react to it so much.  Learning by this measure we come to see directly the simple and powerful presence of kindness and patience, acknowledging that nothing needs fixing, residing in the meaning of being present and in the power of deep noticing and listening.  And so paradoxically we are able to let go more and more sensing what lies behind the narratives of our ego driven world.

It is this awareness, this presence, that nurtures caring which is deeply compassionate; an attentive listening heart which is quiet, calm, loving and knows from experience the storms of suffering, the rages, the hatreds, criticisms, judgments, frustrations, sadness’s and anxieties.  And when these arise, the listening heart opens, quivers, creates space, embraces, bearing witness to all while residing with the movement of breathing.  Breathing in, inhabiting this moment, breathing out, softening and letting go.  This heart has learned the worth of gentleness, has learned the value of an attending presence – a presence that asks for nothing in return, only this moment now.

In our lives and in our teaching of mindfulness, embodying a mindful presence conveys the hope that we may all slowly walk this journey of kindness with a listening heart.

When listening is everything you ever wanted

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful InquiryJune 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. The following is the second in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know them through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

CharWilkinsBy Char Wilkins, LCSW

On the opening page of Mark Nepos’s book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, he quotes an epigraph by Abraham Heschel:

 [We] will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation . . . What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder . . . Reverence is one of [our] answers to the presence of mystery . . .

There is a longing for connection that we all experience and repeatedly hear as participants in our MBCT and MBSR programs speak of disappointment, fear and hope.  And we notice that as we cultivate the ability to listen to each one of them, we begin to hear the themes of need and desire that weave us together in our collective humanness. We begin to hear that indeed, no one is alone in the tangle we call life.

reflectionsNepo believes that if we limit our existence to only what we know, we blind ourselves to the “mystery.” Mystery is about open-eyed wonder, appreciation and gratitude. So when we engage in mindful listening, in which our conditioned mind and heart open in sincere and kindly curiosity, we create a pathway not only to the mystery of what is present in each moment, but to the possibility of a peaceful connection to self and others.

We ask our clients and participants to listen not because it’s a Mindful Rule, but because listening is a threshold between our inner and outer worlds. It’s an entryway to pause in, a vantage point from where we can see our own limiting beliefs and also the possibility of choice. From this doorway we can begin to hear harmonies that strike a chord within, where perhaps before we only heard the dissonance that isolated and left us feel disconnected from ourselves and others.

In our teaching, we become aware that it isn’t the dissemination of information that connects people intra and interpersonally, but rather being listened to- their story heard and appreciated. We may call it group dynamics or breaking the isolation or normalizing, but in the end I believe it is simply the reverence of listening. This is what MBCT and MBSR offer teacher and participants: the possibility of discovery through wonder and freedom through listening.

Cultivating Ease and Freedom When Consuming: The Case for Mindful Eating and Conscious Living

Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.

Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.

By Jan Chozen Bays, MD

You’ve been working hard on a project on the computer, and it’s time for a treat. You’ve been holding off, waiting for the delicious taste of __________ (please fill in the blank). Coffee ice cream? a piece of dark chocolate? a donut? an onion bagel? some fresh strawberries?  For me, it would be a creamy, sweet‑sour lemon tart.

You take the first bite. Very yummy! You take the second bite. Still yummy, maybe a little less yummy than the first bite, but never mind. You glance at the computer and something catches your eye. A Hollywood scandal, a political gaff, a weird and wacky video. You click on it, watch, and continue eating.

Disappearing food!

strawberrySuddenly you look down. Where did that treat go? Your fingers are sticky and there’s still a trace of flavor on your tongue, so it must have disappeared down the hatch while you weren’t looking . . . or smelling, or tasting, or enjoying. Disappointment and dissatisfaction set in. “That one just vanished! I’d better have another one.” Next the internal critic voice pipes up “What are you thinking? One treat is enough. You know you’re trying to lose weight/eat better/stop grazing/etc.”

Thus begins the struggle over the simple, biologically natural, pleasurable act of eating. When I tell people that I’ve written a book on Mindful Eating*, and describe what it is, almost everyone will relate some difficulty they have with food, from an embarrassed confession of an addiction to chocolate to the palpable misery of binging and purging.

How is it that food and eating have become such a common source of unhappiness? And why has it occurred in a country with an abundance of food? The fundamental reason for our imbalance with food and eating is that we=ve forgotten how to be present as we eat. We eat mindlessly.

Food, fat cells and the stomach are not the problem

We decided that the problem was in the food, so we’ve used chemical technology to take the calories out, the fat out, and to substitute chemical sweeteners and artificial fats. Food is food. It is neither good nor bad. Then we decided the problem was our fat cells, so we liposuctioned them out. Fat cells are just trying to do their job, which is to store energy for lean times ahead or for famine. For most of our evolutionary history, starvation was one snowstorm or drought away. Our fat cells are there to help us survive! When I lived in Africa I discovered that skinny women there have trouble finding a spouse. They aren’t considered good marriage material —- they’ll get sick and die on you!

Then we decided that the digestive system was the problem, so we staple the stomach or surgically bypass the small intestine. The digestive system is just trying to do its job,  breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and excreting what’s not needed. (There’s no question that bariatric surgery can be an emergency life-saving measure for some people. It works by forcing people to eat mindfully, causing pain and vomiting if they don’t. It is very expensive, has lots of side effects,  and is not a long-term solution for the majority of people or for children with out-of-balance eating.)

The problem is not in the food, the fat cells or the stomach and intestines. The problem lies in the mind.  It lies in our lack of awareness of the messages coming in from our body, from our very cells and from our heart. Mindful eating helps us learn to hear what our body is telling us about hunger and satisfaction. It helps us become aware of who in the body/heart/mind complex is hungry, and how and what is best to nourish it. Mindful eating is natural, interesting, fun, and cheap.

What is Mindfulness?

Let’s start with what Mindfulness is. It is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside and outside yourself — in your body, heart and mind — and outside yourself, in your environment. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement.

The last sentence is very important. In mindful eating we are not comparing ourselves to anyone else. We are not judging ourselves or others. We are simply witnessing the many sensations and thoughts that come up as we eat. The recipe for mindful eating calls for the warming effect of kindness and the spice of curiosity.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. We pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds (crunch!) of our food. We pay attention to the experience of the body. Where in the body do we feel hunger? Where do we feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?

We also pay attention to the mind. While avoiding judgment or criticism, we watch when the mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what we are eating or drinking. We watch the impulses that arise after we=ve taken a few sips or bites: to grab a book, to turn on the TV, to call someone on our cell phone, or to do web search on some interesting subject. We notice the impulse and return to just eating.

We notice how eating affects our mood and how our emotions like anxiety influence our eating.  Gradually we regain the sense of ease and freedom with eating that we had in childhood. It is  our natural birthright.

The old habits of eating and not paying attention are not easy to change. Don=t try to make drastic changes. Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes. We start simply.

NOTE: Jan and her colleague Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW continue to offer a 5-day Professional Training through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness entitled  “Mindful Eating, Conscious Living” based upon their work in this field and Jan’s book. Upcoming training dates and locations include March 10-15, 2013 in Joshua Tree, California and September 15-20, 2013 in Batavia, New York.

Further Reading and Listening:

* Mindful Eating: a Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by Jan Chozen Bays, with an introduction by Jon Kabat-Zinn, released February 3, 2009 by Shambhala Publishing. (Includes a CD of 14 mindful eating exercises and meditations.)

** Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink, published 2006 by Bantam Books. (A very funny look at very interesting research about how we all eat mindlessly.)

From: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mindful-eating/200902/mindful-eating

Hurrying up so we can slow down!

CharWilkinsBy Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW
Mindfulness Teacher and Trainer

Well of course that makes sense! We leave work and drive too fast to get home so we can finally relax.  Between patients we scribble notes in the file, run to the bathroom, and make a phone call while slurping caffeine so that after the next patient we can catch our breath. We inhale lunch without looking at it while we order holiday gifts on online because we don’t want to waste time just eating.

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
tis the season of endless folly.”

It’s high season for too much and not enough, and Heart Hunger moves to the number one spot on Jan Chozen Bays’ list of Seven Hungers. As the holiday hype heightens and family drama, anxiety, depression and distress eating increase, we may feel anxious about our ability to respond to our patients’ escalating worries and fears about out of control holiday eating.  As clinicians, may find ourselves thinking that the problems that come with the season are just too much and that we don’t have what it takes to help those in our care with their overwhelming concerns.

holiday-foodDuring this holiday season of “food fests” at the office, with family and friends, in the media, schools and stores, we often suggest to our patients that they slow down when eating and savor the smells, tastes, textures and visual aspects of their food. But sniffing platters of food at the holiday office party isn’t going to happen. And slowing down with the very object that is their biggest “problem” can be daunting especially at this time of year.

We’re now in the throes of holiday madness sales, unrealistic expectations and personal history- a perfect recipe for reverting to the entrenched coping habit of eating foods that comfort or numb.  So even though it’s a season of huge over-indulgence, it can be a time during which small steps count.

Pausing can be one of those small steps. Rather than suggesting pausing before taking the first bite, suggest they pause before entering the room or building where the office party spread is on display.  Offer the idea of taking one minute to stay seated at their desk and feel the sensations in their feet in contact with the floor, or as they walk down the hall. Suggest sitting quietly for 60 seconds before getting out of the car to enter the house of a friend’s holiday brunch, aware of the feel of the steering wheel, or sounds inside or outside of the car, or the coming and going of the breath at the belly.  I call this “backing the movie up” far enough so that we can find a reasonable spot in which they might pause instead of hoping we can do it amidst the noise and pressure of the festive event. This way they begin building a slowing-down habit where and when it’s possible, rather than in the fray of things.

I try to take my own suggestion and see where in my day and my thinking I can slow down and pause. I try to “walk my talk” so that my practice becomes a skillful way of being with myself and others. I’d be interested to hear how you navigate the holiday food landscape mindfully (or not so mindfully!). Please share below your own observations and experiences, or perhaps the kinds of exercises of mindfulness practices you suggest to others.

(Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW and her colleague Jan Chozen Bays, MD, author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food  are co-leading an intensive 5-day Professional Training in a program called Mindful Eating, Conscious Living at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in the high desert of Southern California March 10-15. See the website for more information.)

Experienced Teachers Reflect on the Opportunities and Challenges of Teaching Mindfulness

With the proliferation of mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Interventions, there is increasing demand for foundational and advanced training for teachers of these so-called “MBIs”. The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to partially meet this demand through a 5-day program entitled: Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful Inquiry, June 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. The following is the first in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know Susan and Char through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

By Susan Woods
What a true joy it is for me to anticipate this possibility of bringing MBCT and MBSR teachers together for this training. As the community of MBCT and MBSR teachers has grown in breadth and depth I believe it has become increasingly important to hold in awareness certain questions. What is it that helps sustain our teaching? What are our aspirations? How do we find ways to articulate and live inside the teaching process? How do we come to see the challenges of teaching as the wealth of continually opening landscapes of compassion, generosity and kindness?

At its core the Advanced training for MBCT and MBSR teachers is about supporting and strengthening the skills that characterize teaching mindfulness in the MBCT and MBSR programs.  At its deepest depth, it is about our relationship to the practice of mindfulness and to the articulation of that process. Collectively, it is my hope and belief we will weave a process of contemplative awareness that not only supports and strengthens our teaching, but that emphasizes embodying mindful presence as the heart of teaching with mindful reflective inquiry as the journey.  I look forward to joining you there.
Susan Woods

Susan Woods, MSW., LICSW is a psychotherapist in private practice and has been practicing mindfulness meditation and yoga since 1981.  She teaches MBSR and MBCT groups through her private practice and since 2005 has been immersed in teaching and developing mindfulness-based professional trainings.  She has presented on the clinical application of mindfulness at numerous conferences and is a published author on the training of health professionals in mindfulness-based skills.   www.slwoods.com

By Char Wilkins
As a teacher, the moments that inspire me to keep teaching are never the moments when I’ve cleared up a participant’s confusion for them or said something that a group member thought profound.  Rather, they are the times when coming from a genuinely curious and patient place within myself, I have mindfully attended as the participant found her own truth and understanding.  This relational field that is created between teacher and participant holds the potential of accessibility and possibility.

Is it possible for a teacher to cultivate patience, focus, curiosity and compassion to such an extent that it becomes an articulated and felt sense through his or her teaching?  This is the exploratory path of the Advanced Training for MBCT & MBSR Teachers that invites investigation of two important aspects of teaching MBCT and MBSR, that of embodied mindful presence and the facilitation of mindful inquiry.  I am delighted to be teaching alongside my colleague, Susan Woods, as we offer this program which is both deeply personal and universal in its intentional and heartfelt focus.
–Char Wilkins, LCSW

Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and certified MBSR teacher. She trains professionals in Adv. MBCT, MBSR and MECL (Mindful Eating/Conscious Living) and offers consultation to MBI teachers and in the use of mindfulness in psychotherapy. She considers her long standing meditation practice to be the foundation of all her work and continues to train in the Dhamma, Qigong and Tai Chi. In her private psychotherapy practice she specializes in working with women who suffer from the ramifications of childhood abuse, depression, anxiety and disordered eating.  www.amindfulpath.com

MBCT Ushers in the Next Era with Second Edition and Two Innovative Training Opportunities

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionFew psychological interventions have engendered so much promise and delivered on that promise with such impressive clinical outcomes and research findings as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). The skillful “marriage” of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practice, MBCT has emerged as an effective treatment to prevent relapse in depression and is yielding good initial results in other settings and with other populations as well. With the imminent publication of the Second Edition of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy  (Guilford Publications), MBCT has entered it’s next generation, incorporating the ongoing work of co-founders Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale, with the input and efforts of numerous clinicians and researchers worldwide.

Zindel Segal, Ph.D.

Zindel Segal, Ph.D.

“Ten years have passed since the publication of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy,” noted Zindel Segal recently, “and in that time there has been a productive engagement and interchange with clinicians and researchers who have offered and studied the program with their own patients.  Mark, John and I have been fortunate to be involved in some of these discussions and have learned from many ‘early adopters’ as well as from the increasing volume of empirical work that has evaluated and stretched MBCT to novel populations.  The second edition of MBCT gives us an opportunity to embed this ‘crowd sourced’ wisdom and feedback into an updated and expanded version of the book that offers a few refinements to the 8-week program and grapples, more generally, with the question of how the delivery of mindfulness based interventions can be optimized.”

“Kindness and compassion are the ground from which we practice, the ground from which we teach, and the ground that participants may then use in cultivating their own practice.”                 (From the Second Edition)

Perhaps most notable in the new edition is a chapter solely dedicated to the topic of compassion in MBCT. Segal reports that “an oft-repeated question I hear is ‘what is the role of compassion training in MBCT?’  This reflects perhaps the pervasive interest in bringing compassion to patients who are suffering, as well as an enthusiasm for newer protocols that feature compassion training as a central intervention.  The answer with respect to MBCT is not as straightforward as checking whether formal compassion or loving kindness is or is not taught within the 8 weeks.  It revolves around the deeper question of what exactly compassion means in a clinical context and how it can help address the vulnerability or illness perpetuating factors that keep people locked into symptoms and distress.”

FREE CHAPTER PREVIEW!
In advance of the release of the Second Edition of MBCT, Chapter 8, entitled “Pausing for Reflection: Kindness and Self-Compassion in MBCT” is available for free by emailing the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness at mindfulness@ucsd.edu and requesting a copy.

Book purchasers get access to a companion Web page featuring downloadable audio recordings of the guided mindfulness practices (meditations and mindful movement), plus all of the reproducibles, ready to download and print in a convenient 8 1/2″ x 11″ size. A separate web page for use by clients features the audio recordings only.

As innovative as the MBCT program itself, the 5-day MBCT teacher training offered through the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness is a “wonderful opportunity to experience the intricate interweaving of mindfulness practice and cognitive therapy skills in the delivery of the 8 week program,” said Segal. “Our days are long and incorporate elements of personal practice and clinical training all held within a retreat framework that clarifies intention, observation and self-compassion in the learning process.  If you are interested in learning the MBCT program ‘from the inside’ this is the best vehicle for doing so.”

For those who already have experience teaching MBCT or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) UCSD is now offering an Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers taught by experienced teachers and trainers Susan Woods and Char Wilkins. Intended to focus upon universal principles for teaching mindfulness-based interventions. As such, the focus for this training is less about teaching to the structure of MBCT and/or MBSR and more about intentionally embodying mindful presence and strengthening the facilitation of mindful inquiry.

What Are Your Thoughts? We would love to hear your thoughts on the approach of explicitly teaching compassion and lovingkindness practice within mindfulness-based interventions like MBCT, versus the more implicit approach described by Segal et al in the new 2nd edition of the MBCT book (free pdf copy of the chapter available upon request at  mindfulness@ucsd.edu ). Please share your thoughts and opinions below.