Two years ago I took an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) class with a girlfriend. Developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zin at the University of Massachusetts, MBSR brings together a combination of mindfulness and yoga in order to bring about a unity of the mind and body.
Out of desperation to quiet our over-stressed minds and to ease the resulting pain in our bodies, my friend and I responded to an advertisement we saw for an eight-week meditation class in Seattle. Like so many people today, our lives were a constant whirlwind of activity that rarely allowed our minds to slow its frenetic activity. We had become addicted to adrenaline and we needed to shift into neutral for a while to recharge.
The first day of class our instructor taught us mindful breathing. I tried it. I choked and hyperventilated. My girlfriend sat next to me gasping for air. We both considered leaving class at break. But later we were asked to lay on the floor on a yoga mat to practice a body scan, beginning with our right big toe. We were supposed to observe each part of our body without judgment, taking note of whether it felt hot, cold, tingly, sore, painful or nothing at all. The goal was to become aware of each part of our body, acknowledge how it felt at that very moment and move on. The goal was not to fall asleep. My girlfriend was in a coma after noticing her big toe. I was asleep by the ankle.
The truth was, we were exhausted mothers who spent every waking moment trying to care for our families and everyone else around us, and we seemed to be having more bad days than good days. I was only months home from an extended year-long stay at the hospital with my son while he underwent a bone marrow transplant and she was managing a small business and two, active teenage boys.
On week two we were asked to come to class with a list of ways we naturally meditated in our daily lives. “But my mind never turns off,” I thought. Then I remembered a group called Knit For Life that came to the hospital each week to teach the mothers of critically ill children how to knit. The moment I held a set of knitting needles in my hand, my mind focused only on the feel of the soft yarn as it slid through my fingers and the sound of the tips of the needles as they scraped against one another. I remember feeling peace for the first time in months.
Today I look for new ways to meditate and practice being still. In the mornings I read, I write, and I thank God for another good day. I sneak away on a summer weekend with friends whose only desire is to have good conversation. I watch my husband tend our garden in his own meditation with the earth. I play with my daughter as she cuts old family photos into new shapes to puzzle together into a scrapbook of memories. I sit quietly with my son on our front porch in the rain as he talks to his pet chicken, reassuring her that today is going to be a good day.
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