Pilgrimage to Montgomery - Mary Roy, LICSW

A few years ago, I read the book Just Mercy and I have followed and supported the work of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative ever since. He and his staff stand out for me as an inspiring model of social activism fueled and sustained by an unwavering dedication to justice, so when I received notice about the long-awaited opening of the National Memorial For Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration, in Montgomery, Alabama, I booked my tickets without hesitation.

I wanted to know from my own experience that we could tell the truth as a country, that we could take a close look at our own centuries-long terrorism of African Americans and the racism and oppression that people of color and Native Americans experience in America. I wanted to know that we could begin to heal what has long festered in the murky blindness of our carefully constructed white privilege: the insidious dehumanizing of entire races of humans defined by the color of their skin, a distorted perspective that is aided and abetted by the media we consume rabidly. I expected to be confronted with the horrors of slavery, lynching, police brutality, and the intact school-to-prison pipeline for African Americans. I did not expect to come away so energized and hopeful.

Continue reading here: https://www.wsscsw.org/Current-Events/6261952

SMC Featured in Local PhinneyWood Blog

Develop your awareness at the Seattle Mindfulness Center

March 8th, 2016 

By Lindsey Yamada, University of Washington News Lab

Anxiety and increased stress are two common reactions we have when under pressure. Many people experience these automatic reactions, but the practice of mindfulness can help prevent us from doing that.

Seattle Mindfulness Center, located at 6306 Phinney Ave. N., is one of many organizations offering mindfulness meditation classes.

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Holds Promise For Treating Addiction: The treatment protocol targets the very roots of addictive behavior.

Carolyn Gregoire Senior Health & Science Writer, The Huffington Post

A new wave of research on meditation shows that mindfulness-based treatments can effectively treat everything from depression to autoimmune disease to post-traumatic stress order.

But mindfulness can also help the nearly 24 million Americans struggling with drug and alcohol addiction to find lasting recovery, according to some experts.

Research on mindfulness-based relapse prevention, an eight-week program developed at the University of Washington, offers hope even for addictions with the lowest recovery rates, such as opiate and crack cocaine addiction.

Modeled after mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression andmindfulness-based stress reduction, MBRP tackles the very roots of addictive behavior by targeting two of the main predictors of relapse: negative emotions and cravings. Treatment centers, prisons and Veterans Affairs centers across the country have implemented the program.  

While the treatment is still relatively young and more research is needed to determine its long-term efficacy for various types of substance abuse, the results so far look promising. Compared to people in traditional 12-step relapse prevention programs, those in MBRP programs for substance use and heavy drinking experienced a significantly lower risk of relapse, a 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found. Even people who did relapse reported significantly fewer days of substance use and heavy drinking at six-month and one-year follow-ups. 

There's reason to believe that these benefits can be seen on the neurological level, too, as research has shown that mindfulness training affects areas of the brain associated with craving, negative affect, and relapse.

HuffPost Science chatted with one of MBRP's creators, Dr. Sarah Bowen, a clinical psychologist at Pacific University in Oregon, about how mindfulness works to short-circuit addictive behaviors and why researchers are optimistic about MBRP's potential to change the landscape of addiction recovery. Here's what we learned. 

Dr. Sarah Bowen told HuffPost that mindfulness-based relapse prevention is a "radical" treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

What is an MBRP program like for patients?  

In developing the program, we used Zindel Segal's work on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression as an exemplar, so MBRP has elements of both cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation.

In each session, there's a meditation practice as well as a practice with different cognitive and behavioral skills -- for example, noticing what kind of problematic thoughts might arise, and actually writing them down and becoming familiar with them. It's about practicing very applied skills for day-to-day living. 

MBRP is group-based, with 8-15 people meeting for two hours weekly over the course of eight weeks. Originally, it was created as an aftercare treatment for those in recovery. Patients have gone through some kind of initial treatment so that their system is clear of drugs. They've been through that detox and stabilization -- and now what? Well, now they have the rest of their lives to try to live differently. That's where this program comes in. 

How does the program borrow from the protocol of MBCT? 

It borrows from MBCT in the eight-week structure, and also in the way that it's secularized mindfulness to make it more accessible. It's not about becoming a Buddhist, it's about learning these ways of training our mind and changing processes that are problematic. 

But the processes that we're targeting are different. In MBCT, there's a lot of focus on the ruminative thought patterns and cycles that can lead to depression relapse. In MBRP, we work much more on reactive, impulsive sorts of behaviors. We're paying attention to the experiences of craving and how, for so many people, that can automatically lead to an impulsive behavior. There's also more of a focus on the physical aspects of craving. 

How does mindfulness get to the roots of addiction? 

There's a shift in the individual's relationship to discomfort. Let's say someone is feeling depressed, or sad, lonely or bored -- something that tends to trigger craving and then substance use. These practices are teaching people to notice that arising, and to relate to that differently. 

So, there seems to be a shift between the experience of emotional discomfort and having that almost automatically lead to substance use. We're seeing a reduction in craving, and also a reduction in the tendency to reach for something in order to feel better. 

Additionally, from what I see and experience, it's helping people become really aware of what's happening in their minds. Once they see that, they have a choice and they have some freedom. We're trying to teach people to become experts on themselves so they can see these processes unfolding and how they lead to places they don't want to go. Then, they see the places where they can intervene. How do we become aware of how we feel, and practice sitting with things that are uncomfortable -- things we feel like we can't tolerate? In fact, we can tolerate them. We just need to practice. 

Do you think this program is able to help people in a way that previous treatments haven't? 

I do. I hear that from both the clients and the clinicians who are burned out from old ways and old models of addiction. 

There's a tremendous amount of trust and respect in this program. I think where it's really different is that we're looking at the human condition and what it means to be human, much more than simply asking, "How are you going to not use drugs again?" That's where it's a radical shift. We're all sitting in the same circle, we're all swimming around in the same human mess, and we're all struggling with things -- whether or not we're addicts. Maybe one person has particular tendencies that are manifesting in addiction, and another person can have the same basic makeup but their problem is different. It could be working too much or eating too much. 

This is where it's a radical shift. We're all sitting in the same circle, we're all swimming around in the same human mess, and we're all struggling with things -- whether or not we're addicts.

So the approach is, "Hey, we're all human, it's really hard to be human, and we're doing our best." Sometimes we don't know how to make ourselves happy, but we're all trying. It's coming from a very positive place -- as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "There's much more right with you than wrong with you." 

It's not really about not doing drugs -- it's about what it means to be human and how we can live our lives a little more skillfully. 

Taking on that perspective seems like a nice way to help lessen the stigma of addiction, too. 

Yes. And on that note, we've really started working with kindness practices, being kind with ourselves and forgiving ourselves. It's so important for everyone, but especially for people with addiction -- there's so much shame and resentment and guilt.

A huge piece of this work is acknowledging that we're really doing our best, and we need to be kind to ourselves to get through it all. 

Is there a patient who is particularly well-suited to a mindfulness therapy? 

Anecdotally, it seems that this is particularly helpful for people who have been through these cycles repeatedly -- someone who's maybe gone through AA a number of times and continues to relapse, and needs something different and maybe a little radical in terms of how they experience themselves and their life. 

Those people seem to be really ready for something different, because what they've done over and over isn't working, and they seem to be very ripe for this kind of intervention. The people who seem to do really well with this and are really open to it are folks who are kind of on their knees, they've been through these cycles, they've been through treatment and they need something different. 

I appreciate that you use the word "radical," because I think a lot of people will see meditation as being perhaps not radical enough for something as intense as an opiate addiction. Why do you think this approach is radical? 

What I appreciate about this approach is that I'm not trying to come in and tell someone what their experiences are and what the truth is. It's much more, here's a way for you to look at your own experience and tell me what you notice. 

We're learning how to be aware of what's happening for us and to have a little flexibility and choice and freedom. Once people see that, they get that it's not about meditating per se -- it's about learning more about myself and being on my own side. 

 This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Visit mindfulrp.com to learn more or to find a trained clinician in your area. 

Awareness Is Power: Technology Addiction and You

We can sit next to each other and yet be in completely different worlds.

We can sit next to each other and yet be in completely different worlds.

The other morning, as I was waiting for my bus, I was scanning the day’s headlines on my phone. A reminder popped up from my meditation app, reminding me to pause and take a couple of mindful breaths. I took out my earphones, closed my eyes, and took a few mindful breaths. When I opened my eyes, I noticed people all around me with their earbuds in and their eyes low – staring at their screens, with a lifeless look on their faces. And then I realized that up until a minute or two ago, I was one of them. What a difference a few breaths can  make!

When mobile technology was young, Blackberries were at the top of the heap. Only a few people had them, and the rest of world laughed as those early adopters started to get hooked. We joked and called them “Crackberries”, comparing them to crack cocaine. Users started to tune out – hunched over their Blackberries, typing away furiously and oblivious to the world around them. It wasn’t a pretty picture.

For those of you who don’t recall it, when Blackberries first came out, it was really a big deal. It was the first time we had mobile access to things like our email, and the internet, and even some games. Before that, we were still using paper maps in the car and putting tapes and CD’s in our car stereos. Talk about a shiny new toy! And people who bought it found it really hard to put it down. And initially most of us found it funny. It was funny because we couldn’t relate.

But in the last few years, smartphone technology has gotten so much better, and so much more accessible. Now, instead of reaching into your pocket or purse for your phone, you can just ask your watch. Or your car. Suddenly, whatever answer you need, whatever song you want to hear, or whatever video clip you want to see, everything can be accessed in the blink of an eye.

It’s magic. And it’s addictive.

We don’t talk much about Crackberries anymore. Maybe this is because the mobile market has grown and not many of us use them anymore. But I think it’s about much more than that. I think it just hits us way too close to home. I’m afraid that the image of the Crackberry addict is something we are all too familiar with these days. Honestly, I think that we are in the middle of an epidemic, and we don’t even know it. We are, as a culture, getting addicted to technology. We aren’t in control of our behavior, and that’s a red flag if I have ever known one. Just try leaving your phone at home for one whole day. See if you don’t go through withdrawal. Technology addiction is real, but that doesn’t mean you have to give into it. In this case, awareness is power.

How many times have you looked at your phone today? How many minutes (hours?) did you spend scrolling through headlines? When was the last time you enjoyed a moment of quiet reflection when standing on line or riding the bus? 

When addiction is in the picture, relationships tend to suffer. How many times have you seen a group of people, maybe friends, maybe family, sitting together in space, completely disconnected from each other- all of them looking down, lost in their own screens? How many times have you stayed up too late scrolling through your Facebook feed, fooling yourself into feeling like that’s enough human connection for you? When was the last time you experienced an undistracted moment of real connection with another person?

We have created some pretty amazing technology. But we have to be careful with it, because it’s downright addictive. One of the hallmarks of addiction is that the addict keeps doing something in spite of the negative consequences. How does your technology use impact your life? Your attention is a valuable (and limited) resource, and your smart phone can can be utterly seductive with its demands for your attention. How many reminders or notifications do you get a day? How much time do you spend looking at your screen?

There are some wonderful apps out there that are designed to keep track of your smart phone use. Apps like Checky help you assess exactly how much time you are spending on your phone. What do you think you would find if you installed it for a few days? Would you want to see your results?

If there’s a part of your behavior that you would rather look away from, do your future self a favor and address it now. Because it’s only going to get worse.

If you are ready to improve your relationship with the technology in your life, start by just paying attention. Try to just notice, without judgment, when you pick up your phone. Ask yourself why you’re doing it. Make a conscious choice about it. Every once in a while, when you reach out for your phone because you’re bored, or looking for distraction, just wait. Pause for a few moments, and check in with yourself. Why are you reaching for your phone in that moment? Is it really necessary? If so, then go ahead, but make a commitment to shut it off after you have finished. See how it is to follow through.

Do you want some support and personalized guidance as you develop healthier habits with technology? Contact me to schedule a meeting where we will talk about your goals, develop an action plan for you to follow, and a toolbox to help you along the way.

By Samara Serotkin; October 29th, 2015

Buddhist groups around Chicago offer another path to sobriety

At first glance, the basement gathering in downtown Woodstock seemed just like one of the 12-step meetings that take place thousands of times a day across America. Ten people dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction and other issues sat on stackable chairs and talked about how they were trying to keep their lives together.

But when the participants closed their eyes to meditate, it was clear that this was something different.

"Imagine covering the world with … positive thoughts," said Bhikkhuni Vimala, a Buddhist nun wrapped in the maroon robe of Woodstock's Blue Lotus Temple. "Send compassion to north and south, east and west. Radiate an open heart and fearless mind to all beings in existence — those above and below, the seen and the unseen, those being born and those dying."

Such astral contemplations are the hallmark of Refuge Recovery, a self-help program that uses Buddhist teachings to guide adherents toward sobriety. It's one of several recovery movements undergirded by the philosophy, and some who have tried it say it has helped in ways traditional programs have not.

"I had worked all the 12 steps and felt like I had all these pieces to the puzzle, but some pieces were missing and I didn't know where they were," said a 31-year-old attendee named Matt, who has struggled with heroin and other addictions. "For me, meditation and being able to learn about other religions has brought me to a greater understanding of spirituality and made me a better person."

The classic 12-step model of sobriety, in which addiction is banished by a spiritual awakening, was introduced in the 1930s, but in recent years it has been subjected to steady criticism. A psychiatrist concluded that no more than 8 percent of people who try the program maintain their sobriety for longer than one year, while a comparative analysis of treatment programs found that Alcoholics Anonymous was only the 38th most effective method for people with drinking problems.

A hunger for alternatives has led to new approaches such as SMART Recovery, which aims to use rational thinking instead of a higher power to conquer substance abuse. Buddhist philosophy keeps the spirituality but takes it in a different direction.

"Feeding an addiction is like scratching an itch," said Peter McLaughlin, who for several years has led a group called Heart of Recovery at Chicago's Shambhala Meditation Center. "The practice of meditation might slow us down enough that we actually don't need to do that. We see it, we experience it, we feel the pain of the wound, but we don't immediately start scratching away at it."

Stephen Asma, a philosophy professor at Columbia College and the author of "Buddha for Beginners," said addiction treatment is a natural extension of Buddhism.

"Other religions and philosophies are worried about how the universe began, and whether we have an immortal soul, but Buddha said we should forget about that stuff and learn to control our desires through meditation," he said. "The use of Buddhism to treat addiction is an old tradition in the sense that everyone is a potential addict according to Buddha — because craving is the natural human default psychology."

Meditation techniques separated from the context of Buddhism are catching on, too. Researchers have looked at a practice called "mindfulness meditation" — in which people focus without judgment on their thoughts and emotions — and concluded that it can be an effective way to prevent relapse.

"It's awareness and also building our tolerance for things that are uncomfortable," said Neha Chawla, a psychologist who founded the Seattle Mindfulness Center. "That gets to the heart of it, especially the self-medication part. You learn to recognize when there is discomfort so you're not jumping to fix it or reacting automatically."

Refuge Recovery is a relatively new program, created seven years ago by Noah Levine, a Buddhist teacher and author from California who was unfulfilled by what he regarded as the 12 steps' Judeo-Christian slant. Levine said he does not see Refuge Recovery as a challenger to 12-step meetings — many participate in both programs — but rather an approach for people looking for another path.

"The Buddha himself was almost like a psychologist," Levine said. "His own understanding was that suffering is the repetitive craving for pleasure, and that is the cause of all human unhappiness. This craving is what people who are addicted experience in a very heightened way. The challenge is to figure out a way to relate to pleasure with a nonattached attitude."

His program aims to cultivate that attitude through meditation, which takes up a portion of each Refuge Recovery meeting. At the recent Woodstock meeting, Bhikkhuni Vimala read one dealing with compassion, directing the participants to close their eyes, relax, focus on their breathing and ponder three phrases:

May I learn to care about suffering and confusion.

May I respond with mercy and empathy to pain.

May I be filled with compassion.

That led to a discussion about building compassion for oneself as well as for others, and about how people can practice that in their own lives. Bhikkhuni, a Texas native known as Judy Franklin until she was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 2007, said such insights are what make Buddhism a natural fit with recovery programs.

"Addiction is a suffering; it's something we create ourselves because our desire for something is stronger than our ability to relinquish it," said Bhikkhuni, who has used Refuge Recovery to help with her own issues of overeating. "Letting go of those attachments that become suffering — that's what we're always working with."

Though Woodstock appears to have Illinois' only Refuge Recovery meeting, two regulars hope to start another soon in Des Plaines. Meanwhile, some say its techniques are starting to bleed over into more traditional programs.

"I'm very active in the 12-step world, and I hear very regularly about meditation," said Tyler Lewke, who co-founded the Woodstock program. "I did not hear that 10 years ago. Back then, hard-core prayer was part of the package. ... I'm overwhelmed by how much I'm hearing now about mindfulness and meditation as part of people's program of recovery."


Twitter @JohnKeilman

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

5 Meditation Apps

By Kate Bayless

June 24, 2015

Looking to achieve inner peace and serenity? You might have guessed—there’s an app for that. In fact, meditation apps make up eight of the top 100 free and paid health iOS apps. Although the practice of meditation dates back centuries—with proven health benefits such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation and improving your immune system—it can now be accomplished via more than 100 different smartphone apps to be used at any time or any place.

“Before apps, many people didn’t learn meditation because they just couldn’t find a meditation class or didn’t have the time to take one,” explains Dr. Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of The Mindful Living Network and The Stress Institute. 

In addition to convenience, apps provide a nonthreatening way to try meditation. “When I bring up the idea to clients, I explain that mindfulness and meditation don’t mean spending hours sitting and reflecting, as people sometimes believe,” says Cara Maksimow, LCSW, a clinical therapist at Maximize Wellness Counseling & Coaching.

Another great benefit of meditation by app is the ability to curate your ideal experience. Looking for step-by-step instruction on how to meditate? There’s an app for that. Want a guided meditation set to calming ocean waves or the soft chirping of birds in the forest? There’s an app for that. Are you an experienced om-er just looking for a timer to track your sessions? There’s an app for that, too.

Finding a meditation app that’s right for you is important. First, you’ll need to decide if you want an app with guided meditations (a voice providing instruction on what to do with your body, breath and mind) or just a meditation timer that may provide ambient sound such as waves, rain or intermittent sounds to help you keep time, such as chimes or bells.

If you choose a guided meditation, you’ll want to find an app that provides a coach you connect with. For example, you might like the slow, reassuring female voice of The Mindfulness App (see Sources below), the upbeat Australian accent of 1 Giant Mind’s (see Sources below) Jonni Polland or meditation explained by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons in his just-released app, Meditation Made Simple (see Sources below). Just like finding a friend or fitness instructor, you want to choose a meditation coach whose style you can relate to. “When you choose an app you really enjoy, you will be more compliant and want to meditate more,” says Hall.

And while meditation apps offer benefits (convenience, choice, ease, affordability), it’s still important to understand the benefits of meditating with a real, live person, says Samara Serotkin, PsyD, clinical psychologist and mindfulness meditation coach at Mazlo. “We all have blind spots, habitual mental loops that we get stuck on. It takes a human being, who takes the time to be present and really understand what you’re experiencing, to help guide you through your growing edges.”

Either way, an app can arguably teach you the basic meditation practice and is ideal for the novice that wan't to dip their toe into relaxing waters. Here are five we recommend, including tips for navigation.

Five to Try

1. Short and Sweet: One-Minute Meditation (OMM) http://www.onemomentmeditation.com/app/#.VXCbjqZCehA (free)

Worried about your ability to sit still and be quiet? Ease into the meditation habit by starting with a single minute. The no-frills One-Minute Meditation app is simple to use and free to download, and allows you to just do the minute of meditation or add on the brief warm-up and cool-down to help you get the most out of your 60 seconds.

2. Step-by-Step Instructions: Headspace

https://www.headspace.com (free; includes 10 meditations, then subscribe for $7.99/mo.)

Founded and narrated by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, Headspace is one of the top meditation apps in iTunes and boasts a membership of more than 2 million meditators. The free app gives you access to its Take10 series that provides step-by-step instructions on how to meditate. It demystifies the process for newbies and helps to provide a foundation for building a meditation habit in just 10 minutes a day. After you complete the free 10-day intro, you’ll need to purchase a subscription to access additional meditations.

3. Always on the Go: Buddify2

http://buddhify.com/ (iOS $4.99, Android $2.99)

Too busy to meditate? Try Buddify2. Designed for a life on the go, this app offers a wide variety of meditations geared to blend with your daily life. “Just Meditating,” “Going to Sleep,” “Walking Around the City,” “Eating” and even “Being Online” are a few of the 16 different categories to choose from. There is also a timer for silent meditations and a stat section to rate your mindfulness, concentration and balance, and track your progress.

4. User-Friendly: Stop, Breathe and Think

http://stopbreathethink.org/ (free; in-app purchases)

Before you get to the guided meditations on Stop, Breathe & Think (SBT), each session starts by asking you to check in and provide feedback about your mental, physical and emotional states. The free app then gives you suggested meditations based on your check-in report. Some meditations have a set time, but many offer a variety of lengths, allowing you to squeeze in a three-minute mindful breathing meditation or a 17-minute body scan. SBT also lets you track your check-ins and meditation progress, and “awards” you for things like meditating for five days in a row.

5. Soothing Sounds: Calm

http://www.calm.com/ (free; in-app purchases)

If you find yourself soothed by images of a setting sun or calmed by a relaxing melody, you may enjoy meditating with Calm. This app blends guided meditations from two to 30 minutes with your choice of nature scenes and blissful music tracks. The free download gives you access to “7 Days of Calm,” which teaches the basics of mindfulness meditation, with an optional monthly or yearly subscription to access dozens of additional meditations focused on sleep, energy, creativity and more.


  1. The Mindfulness App
  2. 1 Giant Mind
  3.  Russell Simmons Meditation Made Simple

Awake & Alive: Mindful Living with Cancer Retreat Mar 30-April 3rd


Registration is open for Awake and Alive- Mindful Living with Cancer Retreat-  a mindfulness retreat for people living with cancer. This retreat is for anyone who has ever had a cancer diagnosis whos  interested in learning tools to alleviate stress,  improve health and increase resilience. Healing takes place  at all levels  – physical,  emotional,  psychological and spiritual – and the retreat offers everyone an opportunity to explore their unique healing journey with cancer.  Small group- only 10 participants.   

 The author of the NY Times bestseller  Radical Remission wrote: “ Surprisingly, only two of the nine most frequent factors of Radical Remission are physical; the rest are emotional or spiritual in nature. When I first started this research, I fully expected the most common things people would report doing for their healing to be physical in nature, such as changing their diets, taking supplements, exercising, having coffee enemas. So no one was more surprised than I was when I kept hearing, in interview after interview, so much about mental, emotional, and spiritual healing factors. "   

Balanced program of healing modalities including mindfulness and stress reduction practices;  daily Qigong;  small group sharing and expressive arts. Delicious, organic meals, as well as time for personal exploration and deep rejuvenation in the beautiful, tranquil environment of Whidbey Institute's protected old-growth forests and trails.                                                                                                                                      

Participants have found it a powerful, transformative experience.   Here are a few of their comments and a short video from one participant: http://vimeo.com/116578462

  • This retreat really helps one deal with the pain and uncertainty of living with cancer. Helps one live a “healed” life, regardless of diagnosis and prognosis.—Betsy D.
  •  I highly recommend this program; I found a different relationship with cancer and tools to find my own healing within me  – Wendy H.
  • This is my first time in a group with other people living with cancer-it has been so healing. I feel heard and understood at such a deep level– Robin B.

For further information and registration:  http://whidbeyinstitute.org/event/awake-alive-retreat-2015/  


Mindfulness Isn't Just Mind Medicine, It's Also Good For Your Heart

David DiSalvo, Forbes 10/26/2014

New research has found a convincing link between mindfulness and improved cardiovascular health. Researchers from Brown University say they’ve uncovered evidence suggesting that “dispositional mindfulness” is directly associated with scores on four of seven cardiovascular health indicators, and better health overall. Dispositional mindfulness is defined by the researchers as “an awareness of what we are thinking and feeling in the moment.”

Most research on the health benefits of mindfulness has focused on mental health and pain management. But this study, lead-authored by Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology, asked whether tangible heart-health factors like blood pressure, obesity and fasting blood-glucose might also be influenced.

Research participants, all part of the larger New England Family Study, were asked to answer 15 questions from a questionnaire designed to measure mindfulness, called the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS).  Questions are phrased to assess how well someone can tune into what’s going on internally in any given moment, such as “I tend not to notice feelings of physical tension or discomfort until they really grab my attention,” with responses ranked on a six-point scale ranging from “almost always” to “almost never”.

The participants also underwent an assessment to gauge their cardiovascular health across seven indicators: level of physical activity, avoidance of smoking, body mass index (BMI), fruit and vegetable consumption, cholesterol, fasting blood glucose, and blood pressure.

The results showed that people with the highest MAAS scores had an 83 percent higher level of overall cardiovascular health, with particularly high scores on four indicators: level of physical activity, avoidance of smoking, fasting blood glucose and BMI. The results held true when controlling for other factors like age, sex, education and race.

In practical terms, these results suggest that a heightened ability to notice and address moment-to-moment thoughts and feelings is like having an in-built health intervention mechanism; positive health behaviors are boosted while negative behaviors are undermined.

It makes sense, the researchers added, that cholesterol and blood pressure wouldn’t show a direct influence from mindfulness since neither can be affected by moment-to-moment changes in thinking, although they may benefit from longer-term changes across other indicators. Level of fruit and vegetable consumption showed a positive but not statistically significant correlation.

Professor Loucks explained to me by email that there are a few different ways we might choose to elevate our dispositional mindfulness, including formal routes like mindfulness training or increasingly popular classes in Hatha yoga, which strongly stress a mindfulness component.

“The primary method researched to date to develop mindfulness is mindfulness meditation itself, which can be trained through secular programs such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR),” says Loucks. “MBSR is offered in thousands of medical and community settings around the world. The developers of MBSR also recently released an online course that is more affordable, although the effectiveness has not yet been assessed.”

Loucks added that physical activity itself might offer greater access to mindfulness, particularly forms that require tuning into our internal landscape. “As an illustration, I used to race in triathlons at a fairly high level. The races would be over two hours, as often would be my training sessions. I think this may have been my gateway into mindfulness practice, as I found myself helped by constantly monitoring where my thoughts and body were, in order to maximize performance. If, for example I was moving into anaerobic territory, I would note that, and pull back on my pace; similarly, when I found my mind wandering to something else, my pace could slow and I would note that, and bring my attention back to my mind and body to maintain optimal performance.”

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that mindfulness isn’t a set or predetermined factor — it’s something we can affect. “Mindfulness is changeable,” according to Loucks, “and mindfulness interventions are available.”

The study was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Mindfulness Mission

Alysha Greig, founder of Yogis at UW and the UW Mindfulness Project, is working to establish a mindfulness center on campus. The center would aim to help students reduce stress through relaxation and self-reflection.

Alysha Greig, founder of Yogis at UW and the UW Mindfulness Project, is working to establish a mindfulness center on campus. The center would aim to help students reduce stress through relaxation and self-reflection.

Photo by Jessica Kim

October 15, 2014 at 12:00 AM | Jessica Kim

Last year, when Yogis at UW (YUW) reached its 300-person capacity within the first month of school, the club founder, Alysha Greig, realized that the UW needed something bigger than a Registered Student Organization (RSO) to take care of students’ mental health.    

“It was exciting but overwhelming,” Greig said. “… We had to turn away 100 students because we were too full [due to space and instructor limitations]. It made me think that something like this has to be offered on a larger scale, and not necessarily just yoga, but things that help students relieve stress, slow down, and connect.” 

College students lead high-stress, fast-paced lives. Even as a high-schooler, Greig was a type-A, perfectionist, grade-zealous student for whom yoga class was the only time she didn’t have to compete and could focus on herself. It wasn’t until yoga and mindfulness helped her through her depression that she became invested in practicing both, motivating her to start YUW, an RSO dedicated to yoga and its philosophies.

According to Meghann Gerber, a mental health therapist at the Hall Health Mental Health Clinic, the demand to perform is exceptionally high for college students. They often study too much and sleep too little under the pressure of getting good grades, getting into a major, and figuring out life after graduation.

That’s why Greig is starting a new RSO, the UW Mindfulness Project, this year.

Greig, a senior majoring in philosophy, said she doesn’t see a proactive place for mental health care on campus. She believes that the Counseling Center and the Hall Health Mental Health Clinic aren’t enough.

“The majority of students are either not going to ask for help because of the stigma behind it or because they are going to wait until things are at their absolute worst,” Greig said. “So part of my hope and goal is that there would be a space on campus where people can go on a regular basis, every day or three times a week, in the same way you would go to a gym, to keep their stress in check.”

The effects of mindfulness-based practices are supported by scientific studies; research at various institutions such as University of Massachusetts and UCLA have shown practices help with depression and anxiety. According to Gerber, therapists and psychologists are using various kinds of mindfulness-based intervention programs for depression, anxiety, and even eating disorders.

Gerber has been teaching a mindfulness-based stress reduction course at the Mental Health Clinic at Hall Health, adapted from a course originally developed as a chronic pain management program at the University of Massachusetts. However, she pointed out a problem with offering stress relief programs at a mental health clinic.

“One of the elements of mindfulness is accepting and understanding yourself, but the fact that the course is offered at the Mental [Health] Clinic says that there is something wrong with you,” Gerber said. “It’s contradictory to try to get people to consider that anxiety and depression are normative responses to stresses while having them come to a place that says there’s something wrong with them.” 

Gerber said she wonders whether more people would participate if such a program was offered under a different context. That’s where Greig’s vision comes in.

The UW Mindfulness Project’s long-term mission is to establish a mindfulness center on campus that is dedicated to mental health care, incorporating not just yoga and meditation but also activities such as creative arts and writing, and would engage people in self-reflection and self-expression. It would also involve therapeutic and counseling services.

Greig admits her goal is ambitious, but she believes it is essential for the UW.

Juliana Borges, the former president of Huskies for Suicide Prevention & Awareness (HSPA), agrees with Greig, pointing out that mental health care services at the UW are too individualized.

“Right now, it’s very much, ‘You have a problem with your mental health, you go fix it by yourself,’” Borges said. “But the crucial part of mental health care is that you bring it to the community. We as a community need to work together to better each others’ mental health, which would come to life with the UW Mindfulness Project or the HSPA.” 

Gerber believes stress is a universal and normal mental health experience that needs to be taken care of, just as one should exercise to maintain the health of the physical body.

“No one says just because you go to the IMA that there’s something wrong with you,” Gerber said. “People go to the IMA to maintain their health and get healthier.”

The UW Mindfulness Project is currently in the development stage. Approximately 10 members, including Greig, are doing background work for the project, raising awareness, writing a business plan, and submitting a resolution to the ASUW for support. 

The project has gotten much positive feedback, but progress has been slow. 

“The UW is a huge institution and it’s been really challenging to figure out who to talk to to make this actually happen,” Greig said. “I’ve talked to tons of people and almost all of them have [said], ‘Yeah, we like the idea and we’re all excited,’ … but very few administrators have actually stepped up and said, ‘I will help you out.’ We really can’t get a place like this without someone doing that for us.”

As they try to gather more support, the group is focusing on a shorter term mission, which is to get one room on campus where they can implement some of their programs and begin offering meditation, yoga, as well as seminars to engage students in the project. Although this wouldn’t be enough to serve as much of the UW student population as Greig would like, it would be a starting point. 

One of the smaller projects, currently in the works for November, is a mindfulness pledge. This would involve handing out approximately 400 bracelets to those who pledge to a list of mindful practices, such as, “I pledge not to walk with my cell phone in my hand.” 

In the meantime, taking care of mental health doesn’t have to wait until a mindfulness center comes around; it can start right now.

According to Greig and Gerber, “mindfulness” is consciously paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It is being present and connected to what is going on with oneself and one’s surroundings. It is making active choices about how one wants to live.

Greig addressed the general perception that mindfulness is a boring sitting-meditation that wouldn’t work for active people; according to this veteran of the practice, mindfulness can be applied to anything, from walking across the campus to eating. One can take any activity, such as eating an apple, and apply awareness by focusing on how it tastes and how the body reacts to it. 

“When you have this heightened sense of connection with yourself and the world around you, you feel more fulfilled with life,” Greig said. “It helped me to become grateful and develop a stronger sense of purpose without having the urgency to have a plan and know what I’m going to do right away. Being mindful has really helped me to take things step by step and trust the process.” 

Reach writer Jessica Kim at features@dailyuw.com.

The Meaning of Life (from the NY Times)


October 15, 2014 3:30

Whether or not the latest wave of self-helping meditators or corporate practitioners of ‘mindfulness’ know it, the spiritual enlightenment sweeping America has strong ties to Buddhism, thanks in part to one huggable ex-monk in California.

Over the last decade, without much fanfare, the core tenets of Buddhism have migrated from the spiritual fringe to become widely accepted techniques for dealing with the challenges of daily life. Feeling overwhelmed? “Watch your breath,” “stay present” and focus on “mindful action.” Grappling with difficult emotions? “Seek awareness” and “acceptance.” Dissatisfied with life? Surely you’ve heard the idea that dissatisfaction is endemic to the human condition. While not always labeled as such, these are, in fact, the key principles of Buddhist teachings. And they couldn’t have come at a better time, when so many Americans are overscheduled, overstimulated and generally in need of anything that might cultivate a sense of internal calm.

Beyond the beliefs, the practice of Buddhist mindfulness-centered meditation is also undeniably having a moment. Corporate mindfulness programs, such as General Mills’s pioneering at-work meditation program, in which participating employees begin the day listening to the sound of bells ringing, are increasingly popular. Google’s seven-week course for employees, “Search Inside Yourself,” is oversubscribed. Similar programs have begun to crop up in universities and public schools, as well as in the United States Marine Corps, to help deal with stress. The explicitly nonreligious nature of mindfulness meditation makes it an easier sell for those who are allergic to all things New Age; Buddhism has succeeded in part because it does not directly challenge the nation’s dominant Christian faith but still gives nonbelievers a spiritual centering. Someone like Al Gore can call himself both a Christian and a meditator. More cynically, meditation might just be this decade’s fad, one of many throwbacks to the 1960s and 1970s, like the renewed popularity of muscle cars. Whatever the reason, the guiding ideas and practices of Buddhism are currently sweeping the culture.

Much of the credit for this inward awakening should go to a small group of men and women who spent years in the 1960s in the remote monasteries of Burma, Thailand and India, and who brought their findings back to North America. Among their numbers, Jack Kornfield, the 69-year-old co-founder of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California, has emerged as one of the leading ambassadors of Buddhism in America. On a beautiful summer day I met him at Spirit Rock, located about 20 miles north of San Francisco, in the grassy hills typical of California wine country. Kornfield, who has a bushy mustache and large ears, is a quick thinker with a warm, fatherly presence. While strolling around the monastery, I asked if we needed to be silent among the students. “Let that be their problem,” he answered, chuckling.

Kornfield grew up in the 1950s in a Jewish family with a father he has described as brilliant but violent and abusive — an upbringing he admits might have unconsciously driven him to spiritual practice. At Dartmouth College, dropping out of the pre-med program to pursue Asian studies, he became entranced by the classical stories of adepts who sought out Buddhist masters in the hinterlands. After graduating, he traveled to Southeast Asia to see if he might find a living master for himself. Amazingly, he did: His Holiness Ajahn Chah, the master of a small monastery in northern Thailand, who was dedicated to preserving, in pure form, the mindfulness practices the Buddha himself pioneered. “He was probably the wisest person I’d ever met,” says Kornfield, who decided to take vows, put on the robes and become an ordained monk. He remembers Master Chah looking him over and saying, “I hope you’re not afraid to suffer.” By monastery rules, Kornfield was limited to one meal a day, to be obtained by begging. Among other trials, he spent an entire year in absolute silence, learning the skills of deep-concentration meditation. When he emerged after four years of training, he was changed. “It was just the medicine I needed,” he recalls.

Having returned to the United States, Kornfield, together with two other Americans who had monastic experience, Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein, co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in 1975, in a former Catholic seminary in Western Massachusetts. There, they began to pioneer a native mindfulness practice that they felt was both loyal to its Buddhist roots and adapted to American ways in terms of duration and openness to women. Then, in the 1980s, he fell in love, moved to the West Coast, had a daughter and opened a new and even larger meditation center, Spirit Rock.

The mindfulness retreats at Spirit Rock are modeled on monastic practice. Students typically come for five to seven days, during which time they take a vow of total silence and meditate for as many as 14 hours a day, pausing only for simple meals and one daily talk given by a retreat leader. The accommodations are comfortable if not luxurious. The approach is less rigorous than at some Asian monasteries but, as Kornfield notes, “the silence alone is a formidable thing.” If all goes according to plan, spending days here leads to time slowing down, creating a real awareness of what is happening, moment by moment. His settings forge, in other words, the experience of mindfulness.

Some of the ways in which Buddhist mindfulness practice had to be adapted for America were as simple as introducing chairs to the meditation hall. Others reached deeper. In the West, Kornfield says, “we encounter a lot of intense, striving ambition, and a lot of self-criticism, self-judgment and self-hatred.” Concerned, he initially turned to the Dalai Lama for advice, but self-hatred was such a foreign concept to the Tibetan Buddhist that he wasn’t able to offer any real insight. Over time, Kornfield and his colleagues began to believe that Americans needed a particular meditation practice closely linked to the concepts of self-forgiveness and “loving-kindness” — a training in the unconditional acceptance of imperfection. Without such a foundation, says Kornfield, meditation can easily become yet another form of striving — “another thing you do to make yourself better,” instead of a path to true contentment.

Unlike Kornfield and his fellow practitioners, more recent popularizers of mindfulness have sought to minimize or disavow Buddhist origins in the hope of reaching a broader audience. Consider Dan Harris, the co-anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” and the author of the bestselling “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.” A former student at Spirit Rock, Harris hopes to divorce mindfulness from what he calls its “cultural baggage.” “Meditation,” as he puts it, “suffers from a towering PR problem,” being associated with “bearded swamis, unwashed hippies and fans of John Tesh music.”

“So that’s what worked for him,” Kornfield says neutrally. He views the spread of mindfulness techniques as a “great success,” comparing the movement to the “mainstreamification” of yoga, which benefits many, even if its Eastern roots are minimized. “There’s a yoga studio next to every Starbucks,” he points out. He also celebrates corporate programs and mindfulness in the military. “You put heavy weapons in [young men's] hands, and you don’t want them to have emotional regulation, some inner sense of how to still themselves?”

Ultimately, for Kornfield, the techniques matter more than the packaging. “I really trust the integrity of these practices and teachings themselves,” he says. “They are self-corrective, in a way.” Given adequate dedication, he insists, they will work. A true spiritual awakening or the experience of Nirvana is, he believes, “within the reach of anyone.”

A version of this article appears in print on 10/19/2014, on page M2176 of the NewYork edition with the headline: The Meaning of Life.

Research in Support of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention

Mindfulness therapy helps prevent drug and alcohol relapse

By Andrew M. Seaman

NEW YORK Thu Mar 20, 2014 6:03pm (Reuters Health) - A treatment program incorporating mindfulness meditation is better over the long term than traditional approaches at preventing relapses of drug and alcohol abuse, according to a new study.

One year after treatment for substance abuse, far fewer participants who got relapse-prevention training including mindfulness techniques had used drugs or alcohol compared to those given relapse-prevention therapy alone or a standard 12-step program.

"Addiction is really a tough one," Sarah Bowen told Reuters Health. "The relapse rates remain really high even after decades of work by the best scientists out there. We need to keep looking at more options."

Bowen, from the Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors at the University of Washington in Seattle, led the new research.

"We need to keep looking at innovative approaches of addiction treatment," she said. "I don't want to say mindfulness is better for everyone, but it's another option."

Bowen and her colleagues write in JAMA Psychiatry that about 11 percent of people in the U.S. with substance abuse problems seek treatment every year, but between 40 percent and 60 percent relapse.

Relapse prevention therapies are meant to help people avoid falling off the wagon after they're released from an intensive treatment, such as a rehabilitation program, or "rehab."

Traditional approaches to reducing a person's risk of using drugs and alcohol again include a 12-step program based within a support group structure that emphasizes abstinence.

Another popular approach to relapse prevention is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people how to confront and cope with particular situations, such as refusing drugs and alcohol.

The mindfulness-based approach builds on that kind of relapse prevention program by also teaching self-awareness through meditation. Those techniques allow people to understand what drives cravings and better deal with the discomfort they can create.

Another recent study determined that mindfulness meditation helped stave off chocolate cravings, for example, by letting people distance themselves mentally from the feeling of craving (see Reuters Health story of March 13, 2014 here: reut.rs/1m3Jr2P).

For the new study, Bowen and her colleagues recruited 286 people who had successfully completed substance abuse treatment and randomly assigned them to participate in one of three treatments for eight weeks.

One group did a standard 12-step program, another group did a cognitive-behavioral-based relapse prevention program and the third group did a program combining relapse-prevention with mindfulness techniques. All the therapies were administered through group sessions.

The researchers then followed the participants for 12 months to see how many used drugs or alcohol.

After three months, participants in all three groups were performing similarly. But after another three months, both of the relapse-prevention groups began performing better than the 12-step program participants. At the one-year mark, the mindfulness-based relapse-prevention therapy outperformed the other two approaches.

About 9 percent of the participants in the mindfulness group reported drug use after a year, compared to about 14 percent in the 12-step program group and 17 percent in the traditional relapse-prevention group.

Only about 8 percent of the participants in the mindfulness group also reported heavy drinking after a year, compared to about 20 percent in the other two therapy groups.

"Adding these skills to the training program clearly left a mark even if it wasn't discernible right away," Dr. Elias Dakwar, who was not involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.

Dakwar is a specialist in mindfulness training and substance abuse in the Division of Substance Abuse at Columbia Psychiatry in New York.

"What the finding suggests to me is that adding these mindfulness skills to the relapse platform has a measurable effect 12 months later," he said.

Bowen said it could be that the mindfulness meditation techniques are more applicable and adaptable than the techniques taught in traditional relapse prevention.

"In a relapse prevention group the skills are very specific," she said. "I think sometimes what happens is the skills are so specific to certain situations they may not generalize to what happens when you're out of treatment."

"In the mindfulness group, the practices that are learned are generalized to everything," Bowen added. "It's about paying attention to your experiences."

She cautioned, however, that not everyone did great in the mindfulness group, and the findings need to be confirmed by more studies.

"I think it's very exciting to see results like this a year out, but every study has caveats," Bowen said. "As with all science, we need to look further and be careful of absolutes."

SOURCE: bit.ly/OFd9Nj JAMA Psychiatry, online March 19, 2014.

For more information about MBRP, go to www.mindfulrp.com.

How I Meditate: Samara Serotkin

By Erin Frey, Published on August 18, 2014 (from Lift.do)

Meditation has helped me learn to filter out judgmental self-talk that would otherwise get in the way of my own creative process.

Samara Serotkin is a Lift accountability coach and mindfulness expert. She studied under Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and wrote her doctoral thesis on creativity, self-actualization and mindfulness. She explained to us why she started meditating and how meditation boosts your creativity. Also, if you’re looking for an accountability coach, you can hire her here.

Why did you start meditating? What was your goal?

I was first introduced to meditation 15 years ago when a friend of mine showed me a book about Buddhism and how meditation can be a tool to relieve suffering. The idea that we have the power to change our thoughts had an enormous impact on me. The more I looked into areas of my life I felt needed improvement, the more I saw my own habitual thought patterns getting in my way. And the more I saw them, the more I was able to practice pruning them out of my life. The goal of my practice has been to support my self-improvement process. My aim is to be as clear as I can about my deeper core values, and to always be working to make sure my day-to-day behaviors are aligned with those core values, to the best of my ability at any given moment.

How does meditation improve your creativity?

Almost by definition, mindfulness meditation is all about developing a creative perspective. It is about approaching each moment with curiosity and a sense of openness. You don’t assume what each breath is going to feel like, you try to stay with the moment, really just experiencing the moment for what it is. It’s so easy to jump ahead into habitual trains of thought, though! Mindfulness practice is a kind of exercise. It trains you to notice those habitual trains of thought, to choose to not entertain them for the moment, and instead explore what else is there. It’s about developing your ability to approach each moment with a sense of openness and creativity. And neurologically, that’s what is happening too.

One of the benefits of mindfulness meditation is that it actually can impact the neurological structure of the brain. Our brains, to a certain extent, rewire themselves to support what you are paying attention to. The very structure of the brain is changed when you meditate. Mindfulness meditation helps you to be more thoughtful before jumping on those neurological superhighways that hijack our thought processes.

Can you tell us how meditation has helped you during the creative process?

Meditation has helped me learn to filter out judgmental self-talk that would otherwise get in the way of my own creative process. It’s amazing how much anxiety I used to have when faced with some blank paper and a crayon. I know that when I was a kid, I spontaneously drew pictures all the time. At some point though, I started making some assumptions about my ability or my right to have anything to say with the medium. It became about so much more than just a crayon and some paper.

Mindfulness practice has helped me to become more aware of the internal commentary that I have going on when I try to make something, and it has helped me make more conscious choices about what kinds of thoughts to entertain and what thoughts to let go of as quickly as I can. By shifting that self-talk to supportive of my creativity instead of stifling it, I was able to have fun with the creative process again. And the effects aren’t limited to artistic creativity, by the way. It has changed the way I live my life – I feel like I am able to approach my life more creatively, and it helps me find new approaches to situations I come across, both at work and at home.

Do you think meditation gives you a competitive edge?

Yes! Totally! All change happens in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is the best tool to get you there. It can help you cultivate enough self-compassion so you can learn freely from your past experiences without getting too caught up in beating yourself up. It helps you stay clear about your long term goals so you can can keep your behavior aligned with your deeper core values. And it helps you optimize the opportunities the present moment brings to you by responding to the moment with as much awareness as you can cultivate.

What is your meditation routine?

I meditate with my clients at the beginning of every session, usually just for 5 minutes or so. I usually do some sort of a practice in between clients, too, even if it is just listening to the sound of the bell one time. It helps me refocus my attention.Beyond that, though, my practice varies from week to week. Sometimes I do more sitting meditation for longer periods of time. Other times, I practice mindful walking, mindful eating, or mindful creativity. Sometimes I have reminders chime on my phone throughout the day to remind me to take mini-mindfulness breaks. It all depends on what I need that particular week.

Seattle Mindfulness Center Launches, Offers Mindfulness-Based Therapies

The front entrance of bright yellow Seattle Mindfulness Center is welcoming

Written by: Mary Roy, MSW; Printed in Northwest Dharma News (Spring 2014, Volume 27, #1 )

What started out as a recurring fantasy for clinical psychologist Dr. Neha Chawla is now the Seattle Mindfulness Center, which opened its doors Jan. 1.

Chawla’s vision was to create a cohesive, reliable and trustworthy place for people to turn to for secular mindfulness instruction, classes and mindfulness-informed therapy.

The Seattle Mindfulness Center is housed in a two-story yellow 1902 house in north Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood.

Newly remodeled, the building includes five therapist’s offices, a large waiting room, and a suite for a massage therapist or acupuncturist. It also provides a community sitting room for meditation, and for secular mindfulness-based classes.

Visitors, who packed a recent open house, shared in the excitement about the center.

Chawla said the group room, with a large window overlooking Seattle’s Green Lake, symbolizes the heart of the center’s mission. Several of the nine therapists who share offices there begin the noon hour most days with silent meditation together, and then share lunch afterward. This is also the room where classes and community sitting groups are being held.

The center’s mission is to offer high-quality treatment, training and education, which integrates mindfulness skills with psychotherapy and counseling. Despite the popularity of mindfulness, and the number of Seattle counselors and therapists who incorporate mindfulness into their work, there hasn’t been such a place before.

Center offerings include individual, couple, and family therapy; mindfulness-based classes; community meditation groups, and professional training. The therapists there practice independently in different specialty areas, but they collectively support the center’s mission through ethical action and by practicing meditation together.

The therapist team meditates together. From left to right: Mary Roy, MSW; Neha Chawla, Ph.D.; Lucianne Hackbert, Ph.D.; Teresa Williams, MSW

Chawla earned her doctorate in psychology at the University of Washington, and did her pre-doctoral internship at Yale University School of Medicine. As a graduate student and post-doctoral fellow at University of Washington, she and research colleagues Dr. Sarah Bowen and Dr. Alan Marlatt developed a clinical application of mindfulness they dubbed “Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention,” or MBRP.

Several years ago, after a year of questioning her direction, Chawla left academia to build a private practice. But her dream of creating a center, which would house therapists’ offices and a community meditation space, persisted.

“The center began coming up in conversation as far back as eight or nine years ago,” she said in a recent interview in her new office at the center. “I remember being in a stuck place for months, and then I had this moment of, ‘Maybe I should just do it, maybe I should create the space and trust that it will come together.’ ”

Despite the tremendous amount of work to organize the center, and financial commitment required, the ease with which it has so far unfolded has only strengthened Chawla’s trust.

She bought the house after sending letters to different owners in the neighborhood, found an interested seller right away, then began renovations when the previous tenants’  leases were up at the end of August. Contractors started work the next day and finished in December, two weeks ahead of schedule.

Chawla is well aware of the current concerns about secular-based mindfulness practice, which is that mindfulness may become watered down as it enters the mainstream, and that mindfulness may be appropriated by people with little experience of it.

Her experience training people to facilitate Mindfulness-Based Relapse Reduction  has taught her that without an ongoing practice of their own, people can’t effectively teach mindfulness. This is because mindfulness is not based on a theoretical model, but rather on direct experience that a teacher references in guiding others.

With this in mind, she offered spaces only to therapists with a strong commitment to their own practices.

Chawla’s own experience with meditation practice began with a Buddhist psychology class and an intensive 10-day Vipassana retreat in 2003.

Although she dabbled in different traditions for a while, she has since practiced primarily in the insight meditation tradition and participated in several retreats at Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass., and at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center in Washington.

“This whole movement of the integration of meditation practice, Western psychology, science, and mental health work is its own tradition,” she said. “It’s its own new tradition that is really applicable to our culture and times, and is relevant for our day-to-day lives.”

Wise counsel has also supported her along the way. When Chawla and her colleagues were developing the Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention model, they called on Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in the secularization of mindfulness, to consult with them.

When raising the issue of whether only Buddhist teachers should be teaching mindfulness, he offered a response she has never forgotten: “Just do your work and let the dharma take care of itself.”

While so far all of the therapists at the center are women that’s not purposeful, but likely reflects the fact that the profession has a high proportion of women.

For any mental health clinicians seeking part-time space, there are still sublet opportunities available for people who fit the values and intentions of the center, and who maintain a regular meditation practice of their own.

The center’s website lists current offerings. These include a Tuesday night community sitting group for those wanting ongoing support for their practice, which will include basic mindfulness meditation instructions.