An exercise in mindfulness

Posted:  Monday, October 9, 2017 - 8:15am

Over 160 people from 70 professions attended a conference on “Mindfulness: An Integrative Approach to Care,” at Spruce Point Inn’s Pemaquid building Friday, Oct. 6. Attendees came from fields ranging from medical to social work to education and over 50 organizations including Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 93 and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The day opened with a brief welcome from Coulombe Center Program Manager Anni Pat McKenney and LincolnHealth Chief Operations Officer Cindy Wade.

“For the past year, mindfulness has been a target focus for the Coulombe Center itself,” said McKenney. “That’s bringing mindfulness to teachers at the AOS 93 school … last spring which was very successful. We wanted to look at how to bring mindfulness to this community, to look at two different professions – teachers and the medical profession.”

After diving into addiction psychiatrist George Dreher’s “Introduction to Mindfulness,” morning keynote speaker Judson Brewer, director of research at the Center for Mindfulness and associate professor at UMASS Medical School, took the floor. His presentation, “Understanding the Craving Mind,” described the formation of habits, the intersection of modern and archaic psychology, and the neurobiological research behind the changing of brain processes due to mindfulness.

Next, attendees could choose from three, one-hour breakout sessions including Catherine LaPointe’s “Mindful Eating,” George Dreher’s “Experiential Workshop in Mindfulness” and John Yasenchak’s “Mindfulness and Yoga in Recovery.” When the sessions broke, attendees enjoyed an hour-long lunch.

“It’s great, it’s been a good blend of different ways of presenting (mindfulness),” said James Stevens of LincolnHealth. “We actually had started a little bit at the school with a class … with teachers … We want to also open it up to the community so that we get some of the parents involved, then the parents will know what the kids are doing at school. I could see it being across the board, get it into some of the training with sports. The big guys in sports have to do all this stuff (as) part of their sports training. That’s one way to get kids hooked into it and then they accidentally start using it to make better choices.”

Afternoon keynote speaker Tara Healey, program director for Mindfulness-Based Learning at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, presented “Mindfulness in Healthcare: Talking to Patients and Clinicians.”

Healey first had audience members do a basic exercise centered on their breathing and concentration on the moment. People’s posture improved.

Healey asked, “How many of you notice, throughout the day, that sometimes you’re lost in thought?”

Virtually all raised their hands.

“So, if we’re with a patient or a family member or a colleague and we’re thinking about dinner or worrying or whatever, we can catch it and intentionally come back to where we need to be at that particular moment. Knowing where our attention is is good training because it allows us to be more deliberate with it. It’s called meta-awareness.”

Healey then summed up the definition of mindfulness as “… a quality of mind that’s awake, aware, and alert with receptivity, curiosity, and interest to whatever is happening within and around. Whether we’re practicing mindfulness or meditation, we’re entering the terrain of our mind and body.”

The presentation concluded with a longer exercise of mindfulness meditation in almost dead silence as Healey occasionally instructed each participant to take their wandering thought, acknowledge it, and continue by, once again, concentrating on their breathing.

Breakout sessions afterward had Erica Marcus on “Teaching Mindfulness to Children,” Mary Bitterauf with her “Introduction to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” and another round of John Yasenchak’s “Mindfulness and Yoga in Recovery.”

After a short break, Haley Bezon, founder of Hearty Roots, led an open discussion with the audience.

“I think this conference has been interesting,” said Holly Brewer of LincolnHealth. “The research is very applicable, now, and I think more people should actually attend some of these conferences for all different aspects of their life. We’re here for healthcare, but I think other people, no matter what they do, can be more mindful in their life.”