The Key is ‘Living in the Moment.’
by Fay Reiter
The Times of Trenton Times, May 2007 and at NJ.com
“There is a lot more right with us than wrong,” observed Pat Vroom, director of integral medicine at Capital Health System, as participants gathered recently to learn about a new approach to stress management.
With a dozen others, I sat in a circle in a large studio on a cool Monday evening at the Princeton Center for Yoga and Health in the Skillman section of Montgomery Township. The session was the first of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course, a structured, educational program teaching mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga as tools to manage chronic pain, stress, anxiety and depression.
The eight-week series is being offered as a joint venture between Capital Health Systems and PCYH. The program was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, best known for his books Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness and Wherever You Go, There You Are (ROUGH CUT) at the Center for Mindfulness, University of Massachusetts Medical School. The highly acclaimed and evidence-based course is being offered for the first time in this area courtesy of Vroom, who received formal trained by Kabot-Zinn.
I had been interested in taking this course for some time and thought this was an excellent opportunity to experience it firsthand. I will be participating in some of the sessions and committing to the required “homework” of daily meditation using the CD provided.
Vroom is excited about her collaboration with Deborah Metzger, founder and director of the PCYH, a yoga instructor and co-leader of the workshop. Vroom hopes the program will teach participants to “live in the moment” through mindfulness.
“When our mind is racing, we can’t hear our wisdom. By living in the moment, we are able to notice what a beautiful day it is,” says Vroom. “By living this way for eight weeks, you actually begin to feel it.”
The series combines, lecture, discussion, meditation and yoga as part of a stress-reduction practice for participants to continue to develop after completion of the program.
Inner wisdom awaits
Vroom says this approach has helped people with a whole host of medical conditions, from chronic pain, headaches and sleep disorders to emotional problems such as anxiety and depression. According to Vroom, research has shown that in those who meditate, the optimistic area of the brain is more ac tive, immune function is enhanced and the practice can lower blood pressure. Meditation can also be helpful for cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Metzger will be teaching the yoga segments of the program, which will focus on body meditation and breath. Participants are instructed to do exercises at home and practice guided meditations daily on their own.
“This program really involves learning about ourselves, determining the causes of the stress and quieting our minds so that we can find our inner wisdom,” says Vroom. “When we listen to this inner wisdom, we are more creative and see more options.”
The goal of meditation, she says, is to become focused: “You are letting go and becoming present.”
Metzger is enthusiastic about the collaboration between her center and Capital Health System to emphasize the collaboration between body and mind as means to reducing stress. “Through meditation, you are making a commitment to yourself to focus by exercising the meditation muscle. The mind has a tendency to wander. Meditation helps you bring it back by creating a space for yourself to focus,” Metzger says. “Yoga is a meditation in motion. I hope this program will empower people and enable them to come back home.”
A stressful beginning
The hours proceeding the first session had been rather stressful for me. I’d had some unexpected complications arise in my work. I knew that when I got home, I had a tight window to make dinner, finish a writing assignment and get to the yoga center to attend the session. The pressure increased a few notches when my son announced that he’d left his social studies map at school and he had to go back to get it. I drove him to school and back, then quickly prepared and ate dinner. My mind was racing as I drove to the PCYH and I could feel my hunger raging because my fast dinner had not satisfied me.
How ironic, I thought, to experience such stress while on my way to a stress-reduction program.
After introductions and a discussion about stress, Vroom guided us through our first exercise, instructing us to feel, smell and taste a raisin. I rubbed the dried fruit through my fingers and noticed how soft it felt. I placed it on my tongue and bit into it. How sweet it tasted!
Then Metzger led us through a focused breathing exercise. By this time, my mind had quieted considerably with my thoughts shifting into neat compartments. I wrote them down on a sheet of paper.
The final exercise was a body scan in which we were talked through a process of relaxing each body part in a systematic fashion. It felt relaxing to lie on a yoga mat and have nothing to do but be present.
As I drove home, I noticed that my hunger had dissipated, along with the chatter in my head. The discussion and exercises contributed to the improved feeling of well-being. But I believe it was the simple act of taking the two hours of time and focusing on being present that had the most powerful impact. My perspective had shifted.
When I got home I was greeted by my son who asked me what a stress-reduction course was like. I explained the format and my favorite part where we were asked what we liked most about ourselves when we felt relaxed.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“When I am relaxed I like to laugh,” I responded.
Now that’s a concept.
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© 2007 The Times of Trenton © 2007 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.
During the next eight weeks, Fay Reiter will be meditating 45 minutes each evening and tracking her experience.
My assignment was to complete the guided body scan every day. I have been practicing meditation somewhat irregularly for about a year now, so I did not come to this entirely as a novice.
I was used to mediating in the evenings whenever the urge hit me and this commitment required doing it even if I was not in the mood.
Day 1: I had difficulty getting comfortable and felt resistant to the idea of completing the body scan. I had been enjoying silent meditations and the sound of Pat Vroom’s voice on the CD felt like an intrusion. I positioned myself in the chair I normally sit in to meditate despite the instruction on the tape to take a supine position. (We are such creatures of habit.)
I shifted my position frequently, and managed to get through it, but never ended up focusing.
Day 2: I decided to lie down on my bed and do the scan this way and it felt more comfortable. I got through it with a lot less resistance and no discomfort. The next morning I found it difficult to wake. It seemed as if I had been in a much deeper sleep than usual, somewhat reminiscent of how I felt when I woke from sleep when I was a child. An aura of grogginess permeated my head. Is this an allergy or the meditation?
Day 3: I proceeded with the body scan without resistance like a good student. I was actually able to focus on the voice and carry out the instructions. It felt very peaceful lying on the bed until my son burst into the room to read me a poem from a book he had been reading. (Remember to remind family members that you are not to be disturbed when meditating.)
Day 4: I had been out to dinner and was not in the mood to meditate but I began the body scan anyway. I must have gotten through about half of it, when I started to fall asleep. I shut it off and went to sleep.
Day 5: I had no difficulty completing the body scan and was able to focus. I am starting to get used to the ritual and it requires less effort now.
Day 6: Although the body scan requires less effort, I continue to feel groggy upon waking in the morning. I believe that I am sleeping in a deeper state of restfulness as a result of the meditation.
Day 7: I have mastered the body scan and I am looking forward to the guided meditation next week.
© 2007 The Times of Trenton
© 2007 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.