Friday the 13th is often considered unlucky; this past one was most fortunate for me. I participated in a full day Mindfulness Core Concepts workshop. It’s part of the health professionals program at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies. What an enlightening day!
My introduction to meditation was as a kid. My unconventional father took our entire family to Transcendental Meditation training. I didn’t really get into it. My mantra sounded similar to the name of a family friend and for some strange reason that bothered me. Looking back though, I appreciate my Dad’s efforts.
In the past few years, I’ve been exploring meditation through a variety of resources. I’m particularly drawn to mindfulness. I used to practice yoga regularly and miss the relaxation of the asanas, prāṇāyāma, and savasana. So I was keen to attend this workshop to enhance my understanding of mindfulness. It was even better than I anticipated.
There were just 3 participants – a psychiatrist, another practitioner specializing in anxiety, and me. Our facilitator, David Denis, a naturopathic doctor and psychotherapist, exuded an inspiring serenity and warmth.
We started our experiential journey with a 5-minute breathing exercise. I immediately felt conflicted with the instruction to breathe into our bellies. I’ve been diligently practicing active rib breathing to avoid increasing abdominal pressure. I decided not to worry and just breathe more deeply and focus on the sensations in my belly and elsewhere.
After the chime of the bell to signal the end of the meditation, we each shared what we had noticed – our emotions, associated physical sensations, insights, and receptivity. David asked us questions to help draw out the details, to “track” our experience and memories as a process, not just the result. This practice of inquiry is considered the heart of both mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
Intention, Attention, and Attitude
What is mindfulness? In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “it’s the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (2013). Three key components of mindfulness are intention, attention, and attitude.
If you would like to learn more, check out Mechanisms of Mindfulness.
Our next activity was bringing our full sensory awareness to a raisin. Who knew a shriveled grape could make a sound? I couldn’t hear it, but my fellow participants said they did. The intention was to engage our body, foster awareness and encourage focus on the present moment.
David challenged us to make our lunch break a silent mindfulness practice, with the exception of ordering our food, of course. I savoured my Salad Niçoise in a reflective manner in spite of the chaos in the crowded Drake Hotel café. I took the time to observe the presentation and aroma, tasted before adding salt and pepper (one of my vices) and chewed slowly before swallowing. I resisted the urge to check in with my technology too.
In the wake of the raisin exercise and mindful lunch, I realized how much I enjoy the sensory input and ritual of food preparation. I find it realxing, especially the chopping. My partner usually has dinner almost ready by the time I arrive home. My commute is a short walk, leaving little time to transition from work to personal life. Taking the time to prepare a healthy salad or side helps me unwind and better enjoy our shared meal.
A walking meditation was next, perfect after eating. As we moved back and forth across the room, my focus shifted from assessment of my gait mechanics to the sensation of warmth in my feet as they grounded to the floor and earth below.
Take Three Minutes for Yourself!
We wrapped up our day with a “3 Minute Breathing Space” meditation. David asked us to bring to mind a worry or concern we encounter in everyday life. Something low level to keep the exercise manageable. After thinking about the stressor and checking in with the thoughts, feelings and associated physical sensations, we shifted our focus to our breath, then expanded our awareness back to the whole body.
The “3-Minute Breathing Space” is a quick and easy exercise to gather attention and step out of our usual pattern. It’s a way to be present with a challenging experience, develop a different relationship to it and recognize that everything is transient. Something I think most of us can use! You can try it, and other free guided meditations, on David’s Natural Happiness site.
This day expanded my knowledge of mindfulness and gave me new skills for both my osteopathic practice and personal life. I feel better equipped to ‘stay in the moment’ and let go of outcomes, for myself and others. I left feeling energized, empowered and eager to continue my mindfulness practice.
The Centre for Mindfulness Studies offers both personal and professional development programs and is located at 180 Sudbury Street in Toronto.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my fellow participants, our facilitator David Denis and The Centre for Mindfulness Studies. Namaste.
Note: This post was originally published in September, 2013 and recently updated to add a link to David Denis’ ‘Three Minute Breathing Space” guided meditation.
I’ve since attended a second workshop at the centre and continue to reap the rewards of a personal mindfulness practice.