Friday, August 26, 2011

A Well Trained Teacher

The Huffington Post just published my article on the 13 Essential Tips for Dementia Caregivers, a summary for lay people about the main principles of the Presence Care approach. Here is an excerpt of the post, regarding the mindfulness practice part of the Presence Care training:
1. Start your day with a few minutes of sitting mindfulness practice, and end the same way.
Mindfulness practice, even for a few minutes a day, can reduce stress. It is also a good way to start your day from a calm, centered place, which is what your loved one needs most from you. If you're not sure how to practice, simply find a quiet place, close your eyes, sit in an alert yet relaxed posture, take a few minutes to check in with yourself and then turn your attention to your breath. Let your body breathe, and simply watch the in and out flow of your breath. You will notice thoughts and sounds coming and going. That is a normal part of the experience. When that happens, simply return to observing the breath. Sit like this for a few minutes.
2. Incorporate mindfulness into your routines: walking, doing chores, caring for loved one, etc.
The same way you were observing your breath while sitting, you can also pay attention to the sensations of your feet on the ground while walking. You can practice while walking alone or with your loved one -- the slower the better. While washing your hands, you can become aware of the sensations of the water running over your hands. While assisting your loved one with dinner, you can focus on the experience of filling up the spoon, bringing it to the person's mouth and their experience of eating. Remember, it is about being present for the experience in the moment, all of it and regardless of what it is. You may do this as often as you want throughout the day.
3. Practice recognizing and being with your emotions, including difficult ones.
When caring for someone with dementia, you are bound to experience many -- and sometimes difficult -- emotions: grief, anger, boredom, tiredness, fear, anxiety, frustration. A very powerful and simple practice is to simply acknowledge the emotion and its physical manifestations in your body. Where am I feeling it? How does it feel? What are the sensations? Also, recognize whether it is pleasant or unpleasant and feel the whole extent of the pleasantness or the unpleasantness. And when you need a break, focus your attention on the breath and watch it come and go. Lastly, identify the thoughts that come with the emotion and see where you are getting caught. Are there changes you can make in the outside world, or do you need to change your attitude?
4. Practice loving kindness for yourself, and also for your loved one.
When the fear or the anger get to be too much, mitigate with some kind energy of your own. Think about someone, something or a place that is very dear to you. Feel the love and kindness emanating from your heart and send it to yourself. While you may not "believe" in it at first, trust that it will make its way through to you eventually. You are working on rewiring your brain, and it takes time! Quietly say something like this to yourself: "May I be at peace, may I be at ease," and repeat a few times, wishing you well. You may then send that same kind energy to your loved one, this time repeating the words, "May you be at peace, may you be at ease," wishing him or her well. This is a simple yet very powerful practice if you do it often.
[ . . .  ]
What I did not mention in the article was the importance of having a teacher well trained in mindfulness practice in order for students to properly learn and integrate these practices.  With the popularity of mindfulness-based classes of all sorts growing, the risk of being taught by persons with a wrong or superficial  understanding of practice is also on the rise. For instance, the fact that an MBSR teacher has undergone the MBSR teacher practicum is no guarantee that that person has properly understood practice. I have met quite a few people who have come out of an MBSR program with a false impression of what it's like to do sitting meditation.  

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