Posts Tagged ‘MD’


“Mindfulness and education are beautifully interwoven. Mindfulness is about being present with and to your inner experience as well as your outer environment, including other people.  When teachers are fully present, they teach better.  When students are fully present, the quality of their learning is better. It’s a ‘win-win’ equation that can transform teaching, learning, and the educational landscape (page xi).”[1]

Mindfulness is the newest craze in America, although it has been around for many centuries throughout many cultures, religions, and countries it is becoming more available to the secular world every day.

As a Zen Buddhist priest and college professor I have been incorporating mindfulness exercises in my classes and workshops for many years.  Regardless of whether I am teaching a live group in a classroom setting or out doors on an adventure training course or online the principles are applicable.

It really began for me when I was asked to teach developmental English at Broward College.  The first day in the classroom I could see the students were scared to death of me and the course.  Every student in the room had failed the English part of the entrance exam and thus could not take for credit courses unless they passed my class!  Wow.  Scared is probably not even a powerful enough word!

I was mindful as the students entered the room and watched their body language, facial expressions, and heard what they were saying to each other.  I thought about what I could do to help them get calm and ready to learn and I remembered a simple little exercise that I came upon one day in a great little book of Buddhist exercises—How To Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays, MD.  “Just Three Breaths” gave very simple directions she wrote:

The Exercise: As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest.  For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent. It’s like turning off the inner radio or TV for a few minutes  Then open all your senses and just be aware—of color, sound, touch, and smell (page76).[2]

I revised it just a little for my classes by leaving out the part about thinking!  I never start a class without first taking 3 breaths and I invite my students to participate with me.

Read these steps aloud and do the exercise along with the class. After the exercise is completed get their feedback on how they feel and how it may help them during the class:

  • Shake out your hands to release the tension in them then place them comfortably in your lap or on the desk or table where you are sitting.
  • Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so as it will help keep out the visual distractions. If you are not comfortable with that keeping them open is okay as well. Simply focus your eyes on one small object.
  • Take three slow deep breaths counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.
  • Be careful not to breathe in so deeply that it makes you cough.
  • Is everyone ready—then let’s begin.

This helps me be a “mindful teacher” throughout the class and helps the students open their minds to learn!  Try it and let me know how it works!

In gassho,


[1] Schoeberlein, D. (2009) Mindful Teaching & Teaching Mindfulness: a guide for anyone who teaches anything. Somerville, MA:Wisdom Publications

[2] Bays, J.C. (2011) How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness. Boston, MA:Shambhala



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The holidays are a very stressful time for most people.  Holidays are also times when those who suffer from depression, suffer even more acutely.  Patterns of the past brought into the present often harm us more than they help us.  The ideas below are not meant to replace your prescription medication or advice from your doctor– they are simply to be in addition to them.

Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn wrote these wonderful words in their book The Mindful Way through Depression (2007). “What if, like virtually everybody else who suffers repeatedly from depression, you have become a victim of your own very sensible, even heroic, efforts to free yourself—like someone pulled even deeper into quicksand by the struggling intended to get you out?”

This may seem like a very disheartening idea, and you are right—it is.  But there is a way out if you will only take the time to look at this very difficult life’s situation through new eyes, with new thoughts, with new information, and with new light.  You all have heard this funny yet ironic definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different end result.  Today is the day to begin anew, to begin doing something differently and watching and waiting for a fantastic, positive, new end result: peace, prosperity, and happiness!

The authors share with us these two very important ideas:

  • At the very earliest stages in which mood starts to spiral downward, it is not the mood that does the damage, but how we react to it.
  • Our habitual efforts to extricate ourselves, far from freeing us, actually keep us locked in the pain we’re trying to escape (page 2).

They also caution us as well when they write: “Exactly how you will experience the profoundly healthy shift in your relationship to negative moods and what will unfold for you in its aftermath are difficult to predict because they are different for everyone.  The only way anyone can really know what benefits such an approach offers is to suspend judgment temporarily and engage in the process wholeheartedly over an extended period of time—in this case for eight weeks—to see what happens (page 3).”

You may be saying, “Eight weeks! Yikes I can’t do anything for eight weeks are they crazy?”  Maybe, but how about trying it out by starting with one day, and if you feel even one tiny bit better, do it for another day, and if that day goes just a little better why not try it for a third day?  Make no plans or promises longer than 24 hours.  No one wants to get depressed about setting a goal and then not achieving it that’s for sure!  So let’s not set ourselves up for failure once again.

So let’s begin with one simple mindfulness exercise that we can do beginning today.  The authors go on to write, “Mindfulness is not paying more attention but paying attention differently and more wisely—with the whole mind and heart, using the full resources of the body and its senses (page 55).”  So there are several different exercises that you can do to practice mindfulness even when you feel sad or depressed.  You can focus on your breathing, eating, or singing for a start.

One of the ways I get my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, out of one of her loops is to do what we call “pattern interruption.”  I ask her to sing one of the songs I know she can sing or to recite one of the poems that she has written and memorized.  Within a few short minutes she is able to go onto something different and her breathing slows down, her mind is less confused, and she can think more clearly.

The authors also share some important information with us when they write, “The difficulty occurs when we confuse the thoughts about things with the things themselves.  Thoughts involve interpretations and judgments, which are not in themselves facts; they are merely more thoughts (page 59).”

As a teacher many times my students have shared with me the fears and thoughts that they have about taking tests, writing papers, or giving presentations in class.  For them the thoughts about those things are making them more difficult than they should be, especially if they have prepared well for them beforehand.

For these students I have them use the “Three Breaths Exercise” from Jan Chozen Bays wonderful book How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (2011).  Dr. Bays says, “As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest.  For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent.  It’s like turning off the inner radio or TV for a few minutes.  Then open all your senses and just be aware—of color, sound, touch, and smell (page 76).”   Begin by closing your eyes, and counting one on the in breath, and two on the out breath, just for three full breaths.  Once you have done that observe how your mind and body feel.  If three breaths don’t work, take four, or five.  Then observe how your mind and body feels.

Do this as many times a day as you feel the need to.  When you get stressed, the mind starts to get into that “monkey talk” or “fear talk” or “anger talk.”  This is a perfect time to stop and take the three breaths.  You can even do them right in the middle of a meeting with your eyes open, or you can take a break and go back to your office or desk or to the bathroom and do it—then  observe the results.

For me I find that after only three breaths my blood pressure calms down, my mind calms down, and I feel significantly better than I did before the three breaths.  I am now able to go back to what I was doing with calmness and peacefulness.

If I am eating I take the time to eat mindfully, focusing on each mouthful, the taste, smell, texture, and feel of the food.  Doing this helps me focus on the food instead of my thoughts, and helps me quiet my body, mind, and spirit.  Try it.  I think you’ll like it.

Anyone of these things can help you in a small way during this holiday season to return your focus to the good, the wonderful, and the new opportunities that lie just ahead. Being mindful about simple things can help you be mindful about complex things when they enter your life.  Stop the struggling—start the mindfulness—and watch that depression melt away slowly like caramel in your mouth—with sweetness and light.

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Dr. Jan Chozen Bays in her book How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness created an exercise she calls “Listen like a Sponge.”  She describes it thus: Listen to other people as if you were a sponge, soaking up whatever the other person says.  Let the mind be quiet, and just take it in.  Don’t formulate any response in the mind until a response is requested or obviously needed (p. 158).”

I use this exercise in many of my workshops and trainings regardless of the topic.  I don’t care if the class is on English grammar, listening, communication, supervision, customer service, or team building—everyone needs to improve his or her ability to listen and think, to open the mind, to listen and think outside the box, to take the time to listen and think without judgment, and only then to evaluate the other person’s words before speaking.

Sadly though, we do not!  I know that I have been, and sometimes still am, a very poor listener.  I can remember many times in the past when one of my friends would call while I was in the middle of doing something on the computer and I would be “listening” to him or her and would still be typing or “so called” multitasking at the same time.  One day my girlfriend hollered out, “You’re not listening I can hear you typing in the background!”  She was right, I really was not listening.

I can recall when I was a young child, needless to say I was a talker, and I would come home from school and tell my mother everything that had happened to me from the time I got on the school bus till I returned home.  One day I was sharing my story while my mother was peeling potatoes at the sink and I asked her a question.  Much to my chagrin she did not answer.  So I asked the question just a little bit louder, and once again she did not answer.  So I gave a third try, and still no response.  So I yelled out, “Mother you’re not listening!” She spun around with potato peeler in hand and said, “If I listened to all five of you kids every time you talked I’d be in the nut house already!”

Wow, what a rude awakening I had that not everything I had to say, or every thought I had in my head was important or needed to be said out loud!  However, if my quiet and shy sister had come in and said something I am sure that my mother would have spun around with potato peeler in hand and listened intently.  Why?  Because she only spoke when absolutely necessary, she was slight on words and expressed herself often through drawing and art.  At one time in my life I thought she might even become a famous cartoonist.

So how good are you at listening?  Dr. Bays goes on to write, “Good psychotherapists use absorptive listening.  They are attuned to the subtle changes in tone or quality of voice that indicate something deeper than the words, even belying the words, a sticking place, hidden tears or anger that needs to be explored (159).”  How many times have you greeted someone in the morning and said, “How are things going today?”  Their response was “fine” or “okay.” And then later in the day you found out from someone that the person was not “fine” or “okay” and that something tragic, or sad, or painful had happened to him or her.

How could you have missed it–because you did not listen like a sponge.  You did not, as the good psychotherapists encourage us to do, use absorptive listening; you did not focus on the deepness of the words, the tone of the words, the hidden tears in his or her eyes.  Indeed, you may not have made eye contact with him or her at all!

The opposite is also true, you may have found out that something fabulous, fun, or life changing in a positive way had happened to him or her.  Yet, you were so engrossed in not listening or seeing the joy that you only found out about it from a co-worker or friend after your initial cursory/obligatory greeting in the morning.

Dr. Bays asks us to think about how many times we “check-out” while someone is speaking.  In the middle of a conversation you’re thinking about your grocery list, or what you are going to have for lunch, or about that golf game you played on Saturday.  Being a great listener is not easy!  But it is imperative if you want to be a good friend, family member, teacher, boss, employee, counselor, minister, store clerk, or gardener.

To be a good listener we have to “want” to listen.  We have to find something to focus our attention on, to find some good reason to listen.  I remember many years ago I had this wonderfully intelligent minister who was a master teacher of metaphysics, yet every Sunday I found his talks to be disjointed, jumping from one idea to another without any links or connections as to how he got from one thought to the other.  I began to “not listen” to be thinking “I wonder when this is going to be over so we can go to brunch.”  Then one day I found something important in his talk that changed something for the better in my life and I was so glad I had listened at that moment.

I learned a great lesson that day, and from that day forward I made a plan to become a better listener.  I set a goal for myself that each Sunday I would listen wholeheartedly to find one gem, one diamond amongst those words that could potentially change my life, or help me deal with a challenge in my life, or to help a friend or family member over a hill they were trying to climb.  And guess what?  I did and I could.  From that day forward every Sunday I found some simple words of wisdom in his talk that made my life easier, better, happier, or simply gave me a chuckle or a laugh.  My life was ever changed for the better!

You too can learn to “listen like a sponge.”  What does a sponge do anyway?  It absorbs everything that comes its way.  I encourage you to make a sign to put over your desk and on your bathroom mirror that simply says, “listen like a sponge” and whenever you see it ask yourself—how  absorbent have I been today!

Hey, I wish you good luck with that…did you hear me?  Good luck with that…

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