Reducing Stress

imageWe all speak about stress.  But what is it? What do we mean when we say we are stressed?  Stress is the nervous system response to what we PERCEIVE as a stressor.

The key point here is that our perception has a lot to do with what we find stressful and how stressed we feel about something.  Stressors can be life experiences but also our own thoughts can trigger stress.

So the first lesson in learning to reduce stress is to begin to pay attention to how we perceive or interpret the things we feel are stressful.  So why not start by saying: this is how I see and interpret this situation, person, etc. and it is one way of seeing it, there are likely other ways to see it.

THE MIND: The anxious mind

THE MIND: The anxious mind.   IMG_0630

As I said in the previous post, the mind is like a factory of thoughts.  It just releases thought after thought after thought.  Some of these thoughts are just benign like what you are going to have for dinner or how the weather sucks.  However, the habits of the mind that create suffering are torturous at times and can lead people to feel debilitated by their fears and anxiety.

The mind can torture us with awful thoughts of a dangerous future that, almost always, does not materialize. “What if I am rejected?” “What if I fail?” “What if I end up alone?” “What if, what if, what if….?”

Mark Twain once said: “I went through a lot of awful things in my life and the majority didn’t happen.” This is the anxious mind. The part of our mind that anticipates pain, rejection, loss, failure, judgment, and it tortures us with the fear that if these things happen, we will be destroyed.

Mindfulness invites us to witness our thoughts and learn that they are just “puffy” things that are there one minute and gone the next. It is only our mind that feeds them and makes them appear as truths, as solid entities that generate anxiety and panic.

Mindfulness allows us to cultivate the ability to observe our thoughts and to disentangle from them. Tell yourself: Thoughts are just thoughts. Observe them as “puffy” things that just pass like clouds in the sky.

Practice observing the mind with curiosity and with interest. Become an ongoing witness to the habits of your mind. This is the first step to gaining mastery over it.

So each time you have a fearful “what if” kind of thought, just say: “oh there is that thought” and bring your attention back to the present moment by taking 3 deep breaths, and taking in all the information available through your senses: what are you seeing? what are you hearing? What are you touching? what are you smelling?

There is much less suffering in the present moment. Even if there is pain in the present moment, when you don’t let the mind engage in creating stories about the pain, you can be with the essence of the pain each moment by just noticing your breath and the presence of whatever you are aware of.

To learn more  click here

For the next MBSR session, click here



THE MIND: Reflections on the mind and suffering

THE MIND: Reflections on the mind and suffering image

I will be writing a series of posts in the next few weeks about the workings of the mind and its impact on our wellbeing.

In the traditions that teach us mindfulness, the mind is like a factory of thoughts. It just releases thought after thought after thoughts. Many of these thoughts are benign but others are hurtful and torturous.

There is something very illogical about how our own minds torture us. Should our mind be our best friend? Our best advocate? It should but in practice it seems to be our worst enemy.

The mind can be filled with thoughts of self-doubt, of self-loathing, of self-hatred even. It can spend a lot of time anticipating pain, rejection, failure, judgement. It can scare us to death with thoughts of horrible things that could happen (and most times don’t). It can dwell on the past and make us feel depressed and worthless.

There is also a part of the mind that is unknown to us: the contents of the unconscious. As we have travelled throughout our lives we have buried some memories and conclusions we have drawn about ourselves and the world in the unconscious.

Most of what informs how each of us interacts with our world and with others is found in our mind in the form of perceptions, interpretations, core beliefs, conclusions we have drawn, and so on.  The problem is that we identify with these thoughts and beliefs.  We have convinced ourselves that they are true and that they are the only way to view things.

Culltivating Mindfulness is a wonderful way to get to know our minds and to learn to gain mastery over our minds. Not to control our minds but to gain mastery. In other words, to feel at the wheel rather than at the mercy of our torturous thoughts.  To learn to have more flexibility in the way we see things and how we interpret ourselves and the world.

Begin by sitting down in a wakeful, upright position and bring awareness to your breath. Then just follow the breath; the in-breath and the out-breath. And watch what happens with the mind. Each time you are no longer on the breath because the mind has wandered into thoughts, just note where your mind went, what was it thinking about, and then come back to the breath. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes.

This gives you an opportunity to begin to observe the habits of your mind.

Mindfulness Vancouver!

It is so refreshing to see how many people are realizing the power of learning to live mindfully.  My MBSR class that started few weeks ago filled up quickly.  Participants who signed up found my class on line as they were searching where they could go to learn more mindfulness.

Every day I see the benefits of mindfulness in the lives of people around me.  For example, a young woman who was quite impacted by her panic disorder took the MBSR class twice, and at the end of the last class, she said to me that her last panic attach occurred on the day of her first MBSR class.  She never had another panic attack!

Another participant who struggled with bi-polar disorder was emotional at the end of the last class because she said that she would not have not been able to finish graduate school if it wasn’t for MBSR.

In my personal life, I find that being able to tolerate distress and still feel some sense of calm can be what allows me to get through difficult times.

As every day goes by, I feel more and more committed to this practice.

I will be starting a fee meditation class soon, so keep checking for more information!

Mindfulness, one moment at a time

IMG_5705Mindful awareness is cultivated by the formal practice of meditation.  Sitting or walking with focused awareness usually on one object of attention at a time.  For many, this formal practice is difficult to establish so they give up.  Here are some tips to keep you moving in the direction of a daily practice:

  1. Start with doing some practice every day.  This may involve sitting or walking meditation for 5 minutes.  But it may also include informal practices such as washing the dishes mindfully every day; or having a mindful shower or walking to work mindfully, and so on.
  2. These informal practices help cultivate mindfulness in our daily life.  In order to do an activity mindfully, you invite your awareness to notice what you are aware of in that present experience.  For example, if you are washing the dishes, notice the sensations of the water, the soap, the smell of the soap, the sensations of standing, the sound of the water, etc.  The same for the mindful shower, and so on.  If you commit to doing one informal practice a day, you are on your way.
  3. Another tip is that because we all lie down to go to sleep every day, we can end our day in mindful meditation every day.  Come to your breath; notice the sensations of the bed holding your body, of the warm blankets, of your head resting on the pillow, and then go to the breath, and stay there.  When you become aware that your mind has wandered off into thoughts, note briefly where it went (planning, worrying, remembering, analyzing, etc.) and then gently escort it back to the breath.  You may fall asleep right away or you may be in meditation for a while. It doesn’t matter as long as you do it.
  4. Do the same when you wake up.  Take a few mindful breaths before getting out of bed.
  5. Lastly, chose one thing that you do many times a day to remind yourself to come to the present.  Maybe every time you wash your hands or every time the phone rings.  Take 3 breaths and become aware of your present experience.

I hope these little tips are helpful to keep  you in the path to a formal practice.  Don’t give up!

Mindfulness and Stress

Mindfulness is more than a meditation  It is a set of instructions for living.  The mind is very IMG_8817involved in how much we experience stress and suffering.  Mindfulness helps us to bring clarity to our thoughts and reactive patterns.  When you are in a state of distress, follow these steps, RAIN:

RECOGNIZE: Mindfully Recognize what is going on.  Pay attention to how you feel, what your thoughts are, what you are feeling, the sensations in your body, and what is your impulse.  Just take a few breaths and observe.

ALLOW: Allow the experience to be as it is.  When we resist things as they are, we tend to aggravate our suffering.  Allow the feelings, thoughts, emotions, sensations to be as they are and observe with focused attention. So again, take a few breaths and allow yourself to experience things as they are.

INVESTIGATE: Investigate your experience by asking yourself, what am I feeling? What wants the most attention?  What am I believing? Activate your own curiosity about what is going on inside.  This will help you bring to awareness what is really going on for you.

NATURAL LOVING AWARENESS: In this step, you bring a spirit of kindness to your experience.  A softening of rigidity by just imagining you wrap your experience with warmth, like a warm cloth of caring for your experience.  This allows you to sit with the experience, and with practice you become more and more connected with your true nature and the core of your essence, which not the part of yourself that stresses and worries, but the part of yourself that can trust and be resilient.

Taking time to practice RAIN will assist you to gain insight into your experience and to reach deep insight so that you can then discern now to respond (rather than react on automatic pilot).

If you would like to practice this and other mindfulness tools, join me in my next MBSR class. September 22nd.  Click here for more information and here to register.


Being happy can be cultivated!



We all want to be happy.  We all seek experiences that give us happiness. On the flip side, we tend to avoid or want to get rid of pain and suffering. And yet our minds always occupy themselves with the negative a lot more than with the positive.  Scientist believe that this habit started back in the prehistoric times when we had to dwell on the bad in order to make sure we survived.  So if your brother was killed by a tiger, you dwelled on this so that you would avoid being killed by the tiger  next time.

Neuroscientists are also finding the happiness and positivity can be cultivated.  The parts of the brain that are involved in feelings of contentment and happiness can be strengthened.  So how might we do this?

Tip #3

Mindfulness practices help us learn to be awake and aware of our thoughts, impulses, and beliefs. The more you practice, the more you learn to catch your mind in its old habits.  At the time that you catch your mind engaged in negative or destructive thinking, you want to redirect your attention to the present moment (click on the word moment for additional tips on this).

At the same time, when we cultivate mindful awareness into the present moment, we begin to notice when we are having a good moment; this can be something small or something more significant, it doesn’t matter, just pay attention.  When you become aware that you are in a good moment, stop for at least 12 seconds.  Take it in, notice your body and the sensations of feeling good, happy, content or whatever the feelings are.  Be present for it.  This is a way that you will cultivate happiness and your brain will begin to change so that the areas of the brain involved in happiness will begin to get stronger and stronger.

Want to learn more about how to cultivate mindfulness? Join the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class, click here more information.

The Brain and Mindfulness Meditation

THE MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION PROGRAM STARTS MAY 19TH! Read to find out more about the amazing benefits! image

One student in my MBSR class recently told me that the MBSR class was truly life changing; another student who struggles with arthritis told me that thanks to mindfulness she is now able to dance, whereas a year ago she could hardly walk.  The brain is plastic and this may be partly why we find mindfulness so beneficial.  If you find yourself being a “worrier” or with a very busy mind that won’t stop,  I have good news for you! Your brain and thinking habits can change at the neurological level.  We now have evidence that the brain is plastic and that it changes in very positive ways with Mindfulness.

In a recent study, researchers looked at the brains of 16 people who signed up to do the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program by taking MRI scans (magnetic resonance images) of their brains before and after the 8 week program.  They also scanned the brains of a control group of people who did not participate in the program.

After finishing the program, all participants reported they had improved in measures of mindfulness, such as acting with awareness and in reduced judgement towards others and themselves.

What was more amazing was that the MRI scans showed that those who had taken the MBSR class had an increase in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temper-parietal junction, and the cerebellum.  Brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking (Harvard neuroscientist group, Britta Hölzel, Sarah Lazar).

This study among many others suggests that our brains are plastic and that with discipline and practice we feel better not only  because we are spending time meditating, but because our brains are changing!



Finding peace in your life….

We often imagine peace will come when things in our lives are calm and we have no problems.  If imagewe think that this is the only way we can achieve inner peace, it often feels unattainable because of the reality of our lives: work, relationships, children, financial concerns, illness, anxiety, worries, demands, obligations, and so on.  Is it possible to find inner peace even when life is full of turmoil? Can we learn to cultivate inner peace?

Yes, we can.  Mindfulness teachings do just that.  With practice, we begin to see life from a different perspective.  We begin to see that it is our interpretations of our experiences that lead us to loose our peace.  How we perceive what happens in our lives is what can make us feel lost.

We spend too much time fighting our reality, or in the past dwelling on things that we did or didn’t do, or in the future worrying about something that has not happened, imaging the worst.  If we are ill, we feel that our bodies have become our enemies.  So much of this is literally in our mind!

Mindfulness is a discipline that helps us gain mastery over our minds.  With mindfulness practice we learn how to become observers of the thoughts and stories that our minds generate.  In being able to observe our thoughts, we become able to discern which of our thoughts are useful and which are destructive and torturous.  Furthermore, we learn that thoughts are just thoughts; they do not have any power unless we give it to them.  So, we can begin to say “oh, that’s just a thought, I don’t have to believe it or get hooked by it.”

Tip: Every time you notice yourself stressed and anxious or upset, pay attention to your thoughts, observe them as if you were watching a movie.  Say, “oh there is that thought again…” or “oh, there is that awful thing I am telling myself.”  “I don’t have to identify with my thoughts.”  And then attend to what is in front of you, here in the present (for a mindfulness strategy that helps with this, click here.  Imagine being like a tree; just there, stable, grounded, accepting of what comes (weather, storms, heat, etc.), you grow leaves in the summer, lose them in the fall, welcome snow in the winter, and grow flowers in the spring.  We can cultivate our ability to be steady, grounded, and accepting of what comes with peace and acceptance.

To learn how to cultivate mindfulness and the well being that comes with it: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, for more information, click here  or to register click here registration

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: Effectiveness

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Life Changing!image

I have been a psychologist and counsellor for over 20 years, and my work with Mindfulness Therapies has been some of the most rewarding.  But what is more, I have developed a commitment to my own practice of Mindfulness meditation and mindful living, which has been life changing!.

In order to train to become an MBSR teacher, I immersed myself in the practice of Mindfulness mediation and I attended 3 trainings and 2 retreats offered by my MBSR teachers at the Center For Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts.  Our learning paralleled the deep experience of MBSR that our clients receive when they come to our classes.

I found that during those 5 programs, the teachings of MBSR changed me in deep ways. I have learned to be more calm, to be less married to time, to slow down and not feel like I have to be productive every minute of every day.  More importantly, it has taught me to be more present and to view life’s stressors in ways that do not disturb me as much as before.  Living in the present moment has brought me much joy and happiness and, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, I feel like I have been intensely trained in the art of living.

And I am finding that the participants who have taken my classes are finding these instructions for living present and happier life changing as well.

Here are some other stories and comments from clinicians and participants (these are extracted from an article by Brant Rogers)

Clinician and MBSR Participant Comments about their Experience of MBSR

“I find that those of my patients who participated in the MBSR course had better awareness and attitude toward their symptoms. In their own personal ways, this positive internal shift of attention helped them gain new understanding of their symptoms (i.e., pain, anxiety, etc.) and even help them in times of more severe symptomatology. In some cases, this skill has helped them become less dependent on pharmacologic therapy and more willing to adopt other self-care methods.” – MD, Internist, referring physician, Hillsboro

“The body aches and discomforts that the medical doctors couldn’t even explain, much less fix, MBSR has alleviated.” – MBSR graduate, Public School Teacher

“I had already endured years of chronic illness, multiple surgeries, and breast cancer with ever- dwindling inner resources to sustain me before discovering the MBSR 8 week course. This course gave me back my connection to healthy self that had been stripped of me over the course of my medical journey.” – Cancer Survivor, MBSR graduate

“Overall, I am calmer with my clients and sharing what I have learned with them is helping them to change their views of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges._ – LCSW, MBSR graduate, referring clinician, Hillsboro

“I work in palliative care and to provide the greatest benefit to patients and colleagues I need to practice effective self-care; MBSR is the center of that practice. I believe MBSR sustains me during difficult times and it allows me enjoy the bountiful times all the while helping me to remain mindful of my health and wellness.” – MSW, cancer survivor, MBSR graduate

“MBSR training gave me an exciting tool to share within the self-care opportunities offered by Occupational Therapists.” – OT and MBSR Graduate

“Due to my Crohn’s diagnosis my pregnancy was classified ‘high risk.’ MBSR was import and in my taking time to recognize and relieve the effects of daily stressors and helping to reduce inflammation. My son was born healthy and unmedicated in a natural delivery.” – MBSR Graduate

1 This presentation is part of a panel discussion at the Pain Management Options for Chronic Pain Disorders Continuing Education Interprofessional Series at Pacific University’s College of Health Professionals, October 19, 2012.