So, back in June, I wrote this post about stress and health. I know what I can do to reduce stress and support mental (and physical) health: eat well, get enough sleep, exercise . . . . I’m pretty good at all of those things (except for when the stress is interfering with sleep).
But what about the mind-body connection, and practices such as meditation and yoga? I know there’s research backing it’s importance, but this is a weak link for me.
A year-and-a-half ago, when I was struggling with depression (a follow-up to my post-partum depression), my mom (who’s a licensed clinical social worker) sent me Jon Kabat-Zinn’s The Mindful Way through Depression. She has quite a bit of experience with mindfulness practice and recommends it highly. I’d like to say it changed my life, but that wasn’t quite what happened.
The book lays out an 8-week program, with readings and suggested practice for every day of the eight weeks.* I had good intentions, and I stuck with it for two or three weeks (practicing most days), and then, I don’t know, life happened, and I put mindfulness practice on the back burner.
While talking with my mom last month, she once again encouraged me to look into mindfulness practices, specifically Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) workshops.*
A quick internet search turned up two main options in St. Louis. The first local MBSR course that came up is one offered at UMSL. It is primarily for UMSL employees (and their spouses/partners), but the site says they have a limited number of seats for the “general public.” However, the next session doesn’t start until January, and driving out to UMSL once a week in [possible] winter weather didn’t sound that appealing.
The second option was the Mind-Body Stress Reduction program offered by Masterpeace Studios. Held in Webster, the location of these classes was much more appealing, and there was a fall session about to start. Convenient location, reasonable cost, and workable dates. (The course offered at Masterpeace is a condensed 6-week version of what is normally an 8-week program.)
I went to their free intro class/info session on September 8th. I turned in my registration paperwork that night, for the session to start the following week, but held off on writing a check. Once I wrote that check, I would be committed, and I was still on the fence. Did I really want to do this? Could I make the commitment to practice every day for six weeks?
Even though it meant I would be out one night a week for the next six weeks (leaving Matthew solo with G at bedtime), Matthew was very supportive, and really encouraged me to go through with it.
I went into it unsure if mindfulness would “work” for me. What if my brain just couldn’t do it?
Bridget, the instructor, told us from the beginning that the mind is a muscle. If you want to be reap the benefits of mindfulness you have to practice. When practicing, your mind will wander, and you just have to keep bringing it back, over and over again. (Bridget uses the analogy of training a puppy to heel.)
With those things in mind, and with the motivation of being part of a class (that I paid good money to take) plus a log to record our daily practice sessions, I’m now into the third week of the course, and I’ve devoted time to practicing every day.
It’s not always easy, and I’m not “good” at it, but I’m doing the work, building that brain muscle. I have to bring my mind “to heel” constantly — thoughts of decisions I’m trying to make are particularly intrusive. Mindfulness practice won’t make the hard things go away, but it can lessen their negative effects. No matter what was happening prior to practicing, I almost always feel calm and centered after practicing, ready to take another stab at life’s challenges.
I’ll check in again here in a couple of weeks with an update on my practice, challenges, observations, etc.
If you’re struggling with stress (and who isn’t?), anxiety, chronic pain, and/or depression, I’d highly recommend looking into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. If you’re not lucky enough to have a nearby program, you can try it on your own, using the book I mention below. The University of Missouri Mindfulness Practice Center has some guided mindfulness meditations that you can listen to or download to help you get started.