The first time was more than ten years ago. I was in a rocky relationship. My partner at the time had anger issues and could get pretty aggressive with his words and actions. At one point, an emotional outburst escalated to a threat with a loaded gun. Needless to say, it was scary. While in this relationship, I struggled with anxiety, depression, and other types of mental illness. My therapist recommended that I try yoga to complement my treatment. I initially attended yoga for the fitness benefits. However, I soon learned that there was so much more to the practice! I began to re-identify with a part of myself that had been dormant for years. I began to feel awake, alive, and aware in ways that I hadn’t since I was a kid. I tapped into an internal resilience and confidence that allowed me to see that my relationship was not positively serving me. After months of engaging in intense daily yoga practices (which involved a ton of introspection), I found the courage to pack everything I could fit into my car and I left. I never looked back. I am grateful every day for that decision. Looking back on this part of my life, I now see that yoga (which is classified as a mindfulness practice) helped me identify a toxic situation and take action, putting an end to it and the pain it caused.
The second time I believe mindfulness saved my life occurred in my thirties. I was working long hours for a large biotech corporation—for many years. At first, I was swept away by the excitement and intensity associated with the job assignment. I traveled internationally and was granted a ton of responsibility. However, the long work hours and strict deadlines weighed heavily on me. My health began to decline. I suffered from chronic infections and was on medication nearly daily. I knew that if I didn’t make a change, something big was going to give.
That’s when I found the 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I remember thinking, “Wow! Stress reduction and mindfulness all rolled into one! That’s right up my alley!” So I enrolled in the program. I had no idea what I was about to experience.
A central focus of the MBSR program is to help people integrate mindfulness into their daily lives. There’s a pretty big commitment required on the part of the participant, and I found myself practicing mindfulness for an hour a day. I experienced nearly instant changes as a result of participation in the program (note: this is not something that happens for everyone). I knew I stumbled upon something rich and meaningful. I quickly began to understand myself and my life experience differently. As much as I had come to rely upon the financial stability of my work, it was clear that my job was not providing a positive experience and I saw that there were other professional options for me. I decided to quit my job and take up part-time work. I simplified my life, which involved making some big financial changes. I don’t know how much longer my body and mind would have lasted in the high-stress environment before I became seriously ill. But I do know that my days are now infused with peace and fulfillment. I will be forever grateful for these simple practices of mindfulness that have helped bring increased clarity, understanding, and purpose to my life.
If my experience has piqued or supported your interest in mindfulness practices, I’d love to see you at the free mindfulness session I’ll be offering on January 6th from 6pm – 7pm at JTB Wellness. Also, it would also make my day to see you in the upcoming MBSR program!
Take good care,