I'm three sessions (of eight, plus a day-long retreat) into a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course being offered at the medical facility in my town. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is the brainchild of Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School after studying Buddhism with noted teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh. He eventually honed his work to create an 8-week standardized series called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, largely uncoupling the method from Buddhism, instead emphasizing the scientific aspects of the practice. His course, marrying meditation with Hatha Yoga, has spread worldwide and seeks to help those suffering from stress, anxiety, pain, and illness. He teaches "moment to moment awareness". He's also written books on the topic; the most read being: Wherever You Go, There You Are, and, Full Catastrophe Living.
I've always wanted to take an MBSR course, but never was one offered near where I live. I wasn't into commuting long distance to go once a week, although in times of battling my Twin Demons: Anxiety and Depression, I've been very tempted to just do it. So, I was thrilled to find the course offered a 10 minute drive from my front door.
The first session was an orientation and introduction to meditation using the "Body Scan" technique. Yoga practitioners would find it a familiar practice, lying in savasana and focusing on discrete body parts, as in practicing Yoga Nidra, or "yoga sleep". The idea, of course is not to go sleep but to find awareness in each body area and to also find relaxation in quieting the mind while concentrating on the sensations in your big toe, for example.
Our homework was to do a guided visualization 30 minute Body Scan (accessed through Mindfulness Northwest website, or the Insight Timer app.) six days a week.
The second class focused on Perception. The idea was to separate the fact of what we experience from the story we tell ourselves about it. Our response to life's ups and downs is often far more dramatic than it needs to be. Could we be more objective about the events that arise? Even positive ones?
Our homework was to continue the Body Scan, as well as making note once each day of something positive and to be aware of our thoughts, emotions, and body response to the positive event.
This week we are to continue awareness of the waves of "good" and "bad" that arise in life, but to focus primarily on our responses to the negative or unpleasant events. Can we name it, and be aware of our physical, emotional, and intellectual responses to it? We've also added a 30 minute sitting meditation, following the breath or a mantra, as well as a 30 minute very gentle yoga practice.
There are 20 people in the class, most total novices to meditation and yoga. I have some quibbles with the fact that not enough attention is being paid to having precise instruction and good props for the asana poses and that the facilitator often rushes us from a deep meditation on to the next thing, but that's just cuz I think I know better. I don't want to be the class critic!
I'll keep you posted as the course goes on.