MBSR: Week 1

by mandy lipka

I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend my first eight-week MBSR intensive course at the center established by the MBSR founding father, John Kabat-Zinn. This is my first formal foray into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and needless to say, I’m pretty excited. It’s coming at a very timely point in my life and I finally feel ready to start simultaneously working on aligning my mind, body and soul, instead of working on these parts individually.

Immediately, from the day of orientation, I felt this soothing connection with our instructor (I’ll call her A). She knows exactly how to get a varied group of minds on the same wavelength, or at least open to being on the same wavelength. She and JKZ define mindfulness as the act of paying attention to our lives with self-care and on purpose, without judgment. It’s the practice of cultivating a quality of awareness in our daily lives and a quality of attitude we use to do this so that our challenges become workable. Ideally, we want to come to the practice with an attitude of experimentation and the understanding that we’re not getting rid of these challenges, but rather, we’re changing how we face these challenges. After all, there will always be things beyond our control. Mindfulness helps us make those things feel less overwhelming.

A led us through our first meditation which was pretty typical. Personally, despite the tumult in my life at the moment, I was able to focus and close the meditation without any racing thoughts. Phew. Others, had a bit more difficulty– noticing twittering eyes, sleepiness, drifting, running thoughts. A reminded us that we are working to strengthen our internal muscle to come back and that by bringing our attention back to our breathing, we are, in fact, practicing mindfulness. Instantly, I sensed a wave of relief fall across the crowd.

After a guided reflection, A asked us all to share a few thoughts about why we are here and what we hope to gain from the class. Nearly 1/3 of us expressed anxiety/stress issues, many referenced health issues, nearly all of us yearned for better work/life balance, several suffered recent losses and others wanted to use the opportunity to strengthen their practices (yoga, psychiatry, surgery). A took the opportunity, knowing that most of us would have trouble with being too hard on ourselves, to smartly introduce an analogy. We’re all like guitar strings, she said. We don’t want to be too light that we don’t make any sound and we don’t want to be too tense that we break. Our goal is to find that combination of comfort and effort. And, we’re all in this together.

We briefly did some standing yoga and then A launched us into our first mindful eating experience— with raisins. She guided us through each of our senses to experience the raisin, which naturally, brought a variety of responses from strong distaste to a surprising link to wine and to illusions of inadequacy.

We ended the class with a half body scan. Proudly in my astronaut pose, I only experienced one monkey dance. Some folks got so comfy they fell fast asleep, others lied restless and many fought the dancing monkey. Generally, we all came to realize how rarely we take time to just stop and breathe. The variety of experience is greatly refreshing. I look forward to learning so much from such an amazing group of folks. Stay tuned…

Our homework:

  • 6 guided body scans
  • one mindful meal
  • brain puzzles
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