Mindfulness meditation eases stress, anxiety
BY JASON ASHLEY WRIGHT World Scene Writer
Thursday, January 10, 2013
1/10/13 at 7:01 AM
Rebeka Radcliff struggled with anxiety for a long time.
She started running marathons to try to manage it. The long distances helped, she said, but it wasn't enough.
"I would go for a run, feel relaxed for a few hours or even for the rest of the day, but then the anxiety would be back again," Radcliff said.
Eventually, she realized that running couldn't be her ultimate anxiety solution. She didn't feel it was severe enough to warrant medication, and she believed there was a way to use mind over matter to manage it.
Then, she became pregnant, which she'd been looking forward to for years.
"Not only did I want to be more happy and relaxed for myself, now I was looking forward to becoming a parent, and I want to be the best mom possible," she said.
That's when Radcliff heard about a mindful meditation class at OU-Tulsa. She dedicated herself to it to see if it could help her.
And it has.
Steven Hoppes is a teacher and researcher of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center's Department of Rehabilitation Sciences.
The originator of MBSR was John Kabat-Zinn, who started this work close to 40 years ago, Hoppes said. Now, the study is Hoppes' primary focus.
"Studying mindfulness is a study of how our minds work, in all their brilliance or all their wackiness," said Hoppes, who was a tad skeptical when he first learned about mindfulness training.
Over time, with practice, he found that it helped calm him, centered him - reduced his stress.
It's a nice tool for finding a common peace among all the expectations, worries and fears we encounter in our daily lives, Hoppes said.
But he realizes quite a few people might be arching an eyebrow or scratching their head at the concept - much like people did with yoga 20-something years ago.
Now, yoga is a mainstream practice combining exercise and a form of meditation, so Hoppes believes mindfulness training may eventually go mainstream, as well - especially when people recognize that it has health benefits.
Plus, it's easy, Hoppes said - it's all about breath and being aware. You just may need some practice.
'Truly alive ... truly healing'
We met Hoppes at his office recently to go through a few of the basic exercises, beginning with a walk outside on the Schusterman campus at 41st Street and Yale Avenue.
The first exercise is called Three Breaths - simply stopping and focusing on nothing but the fact you're inhaling and exhaling three times each. If your mind wanders to something else, no worries - just bring your focus back to breathing.
It takes practice, Hoppes said, and we could see why. We mentally wandered frequently during the first couple of exercises, the second being the Body Scan. It's the act of bringing awareness to your entire body while breathing - noticing the muscles in your face, then moving down your body from there, to your neck, shoulders, arms, fingers. Again, when the mind wanders, simply come back to the awareness of your body while breathing.
"We often forget we have bodies," Hoppe said. "They're vehicles to transport our busy minds from place to place." So Three Breaths followed by the Body Scan can help people become more grounded, less tangled in events from the past or what could happen in the future.
The coolest thing about mindfulness is that you can practice it in any situation, Radcliff said.
"It's about being here and now, and recognizing that the present moment is all we ever truly have," she said. "Yesterday and tomorrow are always just beyond our grasp, but today is full of things to be experienced. I know that sounds cheesy, but it has really changed my approach to life."
She sees mindfulness as an attitude toward life.
"Practicing mindful meditation changes you physiologically so that you stay fairly calm and relaxed even in the face of stress or adversity," said Radcliff, who experienced an increased ability to relax and enjoy each moment through mindfulness. She also started seeing problems as solvable, paid better attention to conversations, remembered details, met deadlines, arrived where she needed to be on time.
"And, most importantly for me, I feel content most days now," she said.
It's not based in any particular religion, although many religious people incorporate certain mindfulness techniques into their spiritual practices of prayer or meditation, Radcliff said.
"Above all else, (it) means accepting the present moment for what it is without necessarily trying to change it or any of the people in it," she said. "That doesn't mean you don't have goals or plans for the future, but rather just that you are making those goals and plans, and working on them when you choose to.
"You don't allow yourself to get caught up in worry or negative thoughts because you learn that these types of mental habits just make you feel bad," she said.
"Past is memory, future is fantasy," Hoppes said. "Present is this one moment when we're truly alive. When we realize that, it's truly healing."
For more information on mindfulness, as well as to find out about upcoming training classes, call the St. John's Center for Spiritual Formation, 5840 S. Memorial Drive, at 918-663-4747. You can also email email@example.com or visit tulsaworld.com/sjcenter
Original Print Headline: Mindfulness meditation eases stress
Jason Ashley Wright 918-581-8483
Steve Hoppes uses chimes in his mindfulness training. The practice is a nice tool for finding a common peace among all the expectations, worries and fears we encounter in our daily lives, Hoppes says. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World