Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Awareness helps ease stress | The Poughkeepsie Journal |

Awareness helps ease stress | The Poughkeepsie Journal |

Written by  Lauren Yanks
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction workshop includes exercises to help pay attention to the breath, body and mind, and helps participants observe their constant judgments and evaluations.

The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction workshop includes exercises to help pay attention to the breath, body and mind, and helps participants observe their constant judgments and evaluations.
Today’s busy world presents unique challenges, and most of us could use a little help meeting these challenges. In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program to help people deal with stress through greater momentary awareness. Working with modalities such as yoga and meditation, Kabat-Zinn incorporated ancient healing traditions with Western science and began to teach the eight-week course. Since then, hundreds of health facilities have adapted its teachings.
Psychiatrist Ernest Shaw has been teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workshops since the early nineties. He runs an evening workshop each fall and spring out of his office in Kingston.
“I had explored various meditation practices since the ’60s,” he said. “At one point, I did a mindfulness workshop with Jon Kabat-Zinn at (University of Massachusetts) Medical Center and felt it was a powerful tool, so I began to integrate the work more fully into my psychiatric practice.”
Shaw says being mindful in the moment helps people engage reality and deal better with the choices of living, because only in the moment can we get traction and regain control of our lives.
“Mindfulness is being in the present moment on purpose, and that is very empowering and helps our decision-making,” he said. “If we don’t have an intention to be in this moment, we get lost in our thoughts and anxieties and fantasies, and because we’re so identified with our thoughts, one negative thought or story can block out so much by the decisions we make. The course helps us to step aside from our thoughts and observe them, while no longer identifying with them.”
The workshop includes exercises to help pay attention to the breath, body and mind, and helps participants observe their constant judgments and evaluations. People are also given instructional CDs to practice at home.
“Every class, we explore a formal practice; for example, we might sit, watch and focus on the breath in order to stabilize ourselves,” Shaw said. “We also do a body scan to create awareness of what’s happening in the body because anxiety, emotions and much of our suffering is experienced in the body."

The mindfulness course can help one deal better with stress, as well as expand perspective.
“Stress is the belief that we cannot bring our situations to a successful conclusion, but through practice, we gain the confidence we can,” Shaw said. “When you bring awareness to the present moment, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Life becomes rich and alive with all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows. We can’t get rid of the problematic nature of the world, but mindfulness can help us have a much larger container of awareness, which helps stabilize us.”
Shaw compares mindfulness to a keel on a sailboat — although we are unable to stop the water’s waves and currents, it helps us navigate more skillfully.
“It’s sad that many psychiatrists today are too narrowly trained to give out medication without considering all the other helpful approaches to the complexities of being human,” he said. “Sometimes it’s needed, but a builder should have a wide range of tools in their toolbox, not just a hammer. A psychiatrist should also work with many therapeutic approaches to suffering. The mindfulness practice is a tool that can really help. It teaches us to pay attention and, after all, love is attention.”
Director and founder of the Center for Grief, Loss & Life Transition in Poughkeepsie, Shelley Tatelbaum runs mindfulness workshops at Vassar Brothers Medical Center.
“It’s very clever that it’s called a stress reduction program, because that hooks people’s attention,” she said. “Everyone can relate to being stressed out. It’s universal.”
Tatelbaum emphasizes how present moment awareness can lead to better decisions.
“The practice helps us to detach from what’s happening in the mind, so we become more responsive and less reactive,” she said.
Like Shaw, Tatelbaum’s workshops include teachings on jobs, relationships, grief, loss and more. She also emphasizes diet and nutrition.
“It makes a big difference for people to be aware of what’s entering their bodies, including the air,” she said.
Tatelbaum believes the program can aid people at all stages of life and is pleased that Health Quest pays for their employees to take the course.

“It’s very helpful for dealing with stress at work or helping those with chronic illness,” she said. “It enables the staff to better assist patients. It’s a wonderful preventive program for all aspects of life.”
Salt Point resident Johanna Tomik first took the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class 12 years ago.
“The program has helped give me the ability to enjoy every day as opposed to rushing through the days,” said the retired science teacher. “It might sound overdramatic, but I would say the class is life-changing. It helps you to enjoy the good situations and make the most of the difficult ones.”
Over the years, Tomik has taken the course three times.
“You need to continue to do it, like you need to continue to exercise to develop your muscles,” she said. “Each time I take the class, it encourages me to be mindful every day.”
West Shokan resident Jane Keller is now in the seventh week of Shaw’s spring program.
“I changed careers from being a chef to a teacher, and I was putting a lot of stress on myself,” she said. “Aside from the intensity of our lives, often we berate ourselves and push ourselves, which makes our 
 insides feel even more stressed. Ernie talks about remembering to be kind and gentle with yourself to balance the striving and the pressure.”Ultimately, Shaw believes that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is not about learning a simple method — it’s about enhancing your way of being in the world.
“It’s not a course in learning a technique, but looking to know when you’re out of balance,” he said. “Awakening into present moment, non-judgmental awareness enables people to see life directly as it really is, and that is incredibly helpful. We roll out the red carpet for reality.”


Dr. Ernest Shaw
Shelley Tatelbaum


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