By Lauren Brooke
Have you ever desired to transport your mind’s energy to a state of calmness and tranquility? If you answered yes, then MBSR might be the right journey for you to embark upon. MBSR stands for mind body stress reduction, and as a participant, I can say it certainly is. The MBSR course, originally developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s by professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, is designed for participants to become aware of the mind-body connection and through the various practices to become mindful. As you explore breath work, meditation and mindful body movements, you can learn new tools to not only reduce stress, but to also be present in each moment.
As an individual who has been living with arthritis since my teenage years, I am well-versed in the effects stress can have on my body. Stress equals more pain, tightness, the ever-looming fear of a flare and more. It also increases my anxiety and makes me feel “stuck in a loop” with my own thoughts — which I can’t say is always the best place to be. It is precisely for these reasons that I decided to sign up for the eight-week course, with the hopes to become a new and better me.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect — I had tried meditation and yoga in the past and not much came of them. These practices seemed great in theory, but in real-life applications they came with much difficulty. So, what would be different this time? The answer: everything. Instead of attempting yoga or meditation classes in person, which often resulted in uncomfortable chairs or positions, this course was offered on Zoom. This meant I could participate in the comfort of my own home and in my comfortable chair! Next, you have the option to turn your cameras on and off. Want to close your eyes and embrace focusing on your breathing without worrying if others are looking at you? Feel free. Do you want to be in comfortable clothing or even pajamas? Be my guest. For me, I liked having these options and it really made my experience that much better.
Now, let’s talk about the energy from the instructor and participants that was present throughout the course. If you’re thinking that energy can’t be felt through Zoom, think again. From the first class, the instructor creates a safe and judgement free space. There is full acceptance to be who you are, just as you are, with absolutely no judgment. Sounds pretty amazing, right? Well, it is! My fellow students were either Live Yes! Connect Group facilitators or caregivers for someone with arthritis. This make-up created a haven for people who truly understand what it is like to live with arthritis — they get it. Is that something you crave? To be seen and understood? For me, it was essential and I found it within this cohort. We were free to explore our feelings and discuss our experiences without any judgement. In addition, we were greatly respected and dignified by the instructor. He didn’t make us feel like we were just patients, but rather strong warriors whom he wanted to learn from!
Also, through the use of body scans, I learned to label sensations I felt, as just that — bodily sensations. Instead of catastrophizing what I am feeling or getting all caught up in the worry of a sensation, I can now calmly say this is a sensation that will pass — and it eventually does. By learning how to focus on my breath during meditations and use it as an anchor when I am stressed, I can regain a feeling of being centered. When I practice yoga, I can honor my body and provide the release it needs through various positions to ease muscle tightness.
But perhaps one of the best things that I learned as a student, was that I am in control
of me. Not others, not my arthritis, me. MBSR taught me that I have a choice. I have a choice on how I want to respond to stress. By making a choice, not only am I able to have more solutions, but I am empowered.
As a graduate, I am now able to practice mindfulness on a daily basis. It has been ingrained in my mind to be present in each moment. To say MBSR has allowed me to become a new and better me, would be an understatement. It has been life-changing and I am forever in gratitude for this incredible opportunity.
Lauren Brooke is a facilitator for the Live Yes! Connect Group in Monmouth County, New Jersey. She is passionate about arthritis and invisible disability awareness. As a writer, she focuses writing about her journey of living with arthritis.