As a society, we have found our lives upended as we adjust to new routines, including, for many of us, working from home while juggling caregiving and schooling. Add to that social distancing; although vital, it can contribute to people feeling disconnected while we are also emotionally drained, stressed and fearful. It’s easy to see that managing mental health is more important than ever.
That’s why the practice of “mindfulness” has surged in popularity, with an increasing number of studies showing its positive impact and effectiveness in reducing stress, calming the mind and reducing pain, a reason it’s a technique often used in hospitals.
Bob Stahl, Ph.D., founder of Awareness and Relaxation Training (ART), the first and oldest mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program in California, has been a mindfulness practitioner for over 45 years and has taught in a variety of settings. He founded eight MBSR programs in medical centers in the San Francisco Bay Area and is currently offering programs at Dominican Hospital, El Camino Hospitals in Los Gatos and Mountain View, and Good Samaritan Hospital.
Through its affiliation with El Camino Hospital and impressed by the outcomes of Bob’s programs, the Fogarty Institute invited him to teach an introductory class for its staff and entrepreneurs. The companies-in-residence now hold a weekly drop-in session to help individuals re-focus and improve their mental well-being.
Given the help he has provided to our team, we asked Bob to highlight the importance of taking time for ourselves during this period of uncertainty to pause, recalibrate, connect with our body and mind and then proceed on with our work or daily activities.
A brief tutorial on mindfulness
Mindfulness can be practiced in two ways; the first is in the traditional sitting or lying down pose, where you are doing a guided meditation.
But even better, we can work to make it part of our everyday activities. That’s especially important now when our minds are preoccupied with a myriad of challenges, and it can be easy to forget a few of the simple, but critical, steps to keeping ourselves and others safe, for example remembering not to touch our faces, and for healthcare practitioners to be conscious to put on a mask before seeing a patient.
Paying attention to the “now” can become part of our daily practice. “I think it’s very important in our day-to-day movements,” says Bob. He explains that his team has a useful acronym, called STOP: Stop for a few moments, Take a few breaths, Observe what’s actually happening in your body and mind right now (for example, there has been a lot going on and I’m concerned or whatever it may be) and then Proceed to being more present.
These moments to practice “STOP” can be very helpful in the midst of the busyness. “Mindfulness is like being an internal meteorologist, where you report the ‘weather’ you’re feeling in your own body, thoughts and emotions, and acknowledge those conditions. This helps us be more aware of our mood, posture, level of tension and other factors that affect us physically and mentally; it recalibrates our minds and helps ground us back into the present moment.”
Practice mindfulness to connect and bring wisdom to the crisis
Spending a few minutes in a chair being aware of our five senses and taking a few deep breaths is a great way to reconnect with ourselves and also the outside world, reoxygenating ourselves for a clearer perspective, Bob explains. He adds that it’s a way to find stability as we acknowledge thoughts and emotions as they come and go yet take care not to get lost in our reactions to them. “That brings wisdom as we are able to see things as they are through a clearer lens, rather than dwelling on the false narratives or stories that we repeat to ourselves.”
Offering resources during COVID-19
Bob has seen a strong uptick in people reaching out to find a sense of clarity and peace as they struggle with uncertainties. To meet this need, his organization is now offering online courses, including a free weekly mindfulness meditation drop-in class, “Finding Balance in times of Uncertainty,” which is open to our audiences. The class is every Wednesday from 12:30 to 1 p.m. and can be joined via Zoom using this link: https://zoom.us/j/139854377
He also invites readers to participate in a 15-minute guided meditation on the ART website. “It is my hope that through these challenging times, we develop a deeper awareness of the fragility of life and that we come together – appreciating our differences, showing compassion and acknowledging the many acts of kindness we are seeing. Let’s use mindfulness to cultivate a wiser relationship in living with uncertainty and remember that keeping personal distance doesn’t mean keeping social distance during this time when we need each other more than ever.”
More about Bob
Bob serves as a senior teacher for Brown University’s Mindfulness Center and the Oasis Institute for Mindfulness-Based Professional Education and Training at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Bob leads MBSR teacher trainings and insight meditation retreats worldwide and is the guiding teacher at Insight Santa Cruz and a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Society. Bob is also the co-author of five books: A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (1st & 2nd editions), Living With Your Heart Wide Open, Calming the Rush of Panic, A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook for Anxiety and MBSR Everyday.