by Fay Reiter
The Times of Trenton and at NJ.com, June 2007
FOCUS ON FITNESS
Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts.
Five weeks have passed since I started the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, a joint venture of Capital Health Systems and the Princeton Center for Yoga and Health in Skillman.
The eight-week series is a structured, educational program teaching mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga as tools to manage stress. Most significant has been my commitment to daily meditation, which I have been practicing every evening at bedtime.
Although I long ago embraced the concept of “being present,” the knowledge I have acquired from the course has helped me strengthen my ability to “live in the moment” as a way of life. I find I am more present in my encounters with others and while carrying out daily activities. I have always had difficulty falling asleep and the nightly ritual of meditation has been extremely helpful.
Every evening, I get ready for bed, light a candle, put on the meditation tape and immediately go to sleep after the guided meditation. Although my sleep problems have not disappeared entirely, I do fall asleep faster and experience a deeper level of sleep most nights. My level of awareness has increased and it feels as if a cloudy filter has been removed from my eyes.
My practice of clearing my mind of unnecessary chatter, through the meditation, has motivated me to purge other types of clutter from my life. I find my self cleaning out closets, discarding unused items and removing various forms of debris to clear a path to move forward.
I recently applied my newly improved skill of “being present” to manage a situation that in the past might have created unnecessary stress. It was a rainy Monday morning and I was driving along Interstate 95. I heard the radio news forecasting rain throughout the day. I had planned on taking my son to his baseball game at 6 that evening. Immediately my mind filled with a flurry of thoughts and the prattle of conversation began: “Will the game be canceled?” I thought. “What if it is rescheduled for Wednesday night; how will I get him there? I have to work. How will he feel if he misses the last game of the season? What about the playoffs?”
I felt the tension building. But, as a result of strength-training my mind through daily meditation, I was able to catch myself in the midst of this anticipatory conundrum and shift my thoughts to the present. I reminded myself that there was no point in jumping ahead and trying to determine whether we can attend a makeup game until I knew whether the game was canceled.
Even more important was that by quieting my mind, I was able to gain perspective on the importance of the event. “It’s only a baseball game,” I realized.
I decided to put the whole issue on hold and check for an e- mail from the coach later in the day. By four o’clock that afternoon, the sun was shining. When we arrived at the Chamberlain baseball field in Hopewell, I assumed my assigned field duty responsibilities of raking the sand on the baseball field. Fatigued by the day and the sweltering heat of the sun, the task seemed daunting, but I decided to approach my labor not as a burden, but as a meditative endeavor. I pushed the giant rake through the damp, bronze-colored sand forming neat rows on the massive field.
The wet sand was quite heavy but I managed to settle into a peaceful rhythm. I felt almost disappointed when one of the other parents took pity on me and suggested he take over. By this time, my arms were aching, so I accepted the kind offer and sat on the bleachers soaking in the anticipation of watching the game and relaxing on a warm summer evening.
Diane Dowler, a 34-year-old Plainsboro resident, is one of the 12 participants of the program. It was a recent health scare that convinced her to take the course.
“I recently underwent a lot of medical testing for swelling of my lymph nodes,” says Dowler. “I had to have a biopsy to determine if I had lymphoma and I felt such anxiety about it.”
Ultimately she was diagnosed with a manageable condition, but her anxiety continued.
“Since taking the course, my approach to dealing with my health problems has changed,” Dowler explains. “In the time leading up to the biopsy, I was caught up in all the ‘what ifs’ such as ‘What if it is cancer?’ and ‘What if I have to have chemotherapy?’ I think there is a tendency to think that if we worry about something we are somehow protecting ourselves,” she says.
“We see a safety in worrying. But after participating in the mindfulness training, I have learned to come back to the moment. And trust the future.
“We don’t really know what the future holds for us, but now I believe that when I do get there, I can handle whatever I am faced with,” she says.
Dowler also has learned to communicate more effectively with her husband.
“I tend to be the excitable one and it makes such a difference to communicate from a calm point of view,” she says. “In the past, I would become reactive and get excited. Now I can catch myself get ting excited and I am able to calm myself down. I have a long way to go, but I am building a foundation to become peaceful and calm that I can always come back to. I just want to be in this moment and enjoy it.”
Fay Reiter is a weight control mentor and coach. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2007 The Times of Trenton
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