Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Princeton Packet: WELLNESS: Cultivating mindfulness

By Deborah Metzger
Princeton Center for Yoga & Health

Daunted by meditation?

You can learn a great deal about it simply by eating a raisin. Read on.

If the thought of meditation conjures up sitting in a lotus position for hours or chanting something unintelligible with our knees aching and our legs falling asleep, let’s dispel that myth right now.

The fact is that most of us cannot sit still for even a nanosecond without “time traveling” in our minds — those concerns about the future, those lingering thoughts about the past, that itch that comes up within seconds and just won’t quit.

Let’s let go of any notion that we “can’t” meditate.

One technique that we teach at the Princeton Center for Yoga & Health (PCYH) is Mindfulness Meditation, which trains the mind to focus so that we can live our lives more fully. It’s about doing things and noticing that you’re doing them.

Mindfulness practices aid us in stopping and focusing our minds. Mindfulness helps us to turn down all the noise in our heads — the guilt, anger, doubts, and uncertainties that upset us moment to moment. It is a technique that encourages us to stop and smell the roses. Developing our ability to stop helps us to reduce the amount of stress in our lives and be more available to the present moment. It creates opportunities to see reality as it is and to experience life in its fullness.

Though it sounds simple, mindfulness takes practice, and the longer we practice, the easier the process becomes.

We typically begin our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programs with a raisin-eating exercise. It’s an easy introduction to the practice.

Try this. Take a raisin (yes, just one) and hold it in the palm of your hand or between your finger and thumb. Imagine that you have just dropped in from Mars and have never seen an object like this.

Look at this raisin. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examine the highlights where the light shines, the darker crevasses, the folds and ridges, and any unique features.

Feel the weight of it. Turn the raisin over between your fingers. Notice its texture, its “topography.” Hold the raisin to your ear. Squish it a bit. Does it make a sound?

Hold the raisin beneath your nose. With each inhalation, drink in any smell, aroma or fragrance that may arise, noticing as you do this if anything interesting is happening in your mouth or stomach.

With awareness, slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it, perhaps noticing that saliva starts to secrete just as you bring the object toward your mouth.

Gently place the object in the mouth, without chewing, noticing how it gets into the mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.

When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin. Then, very consciously, take one or two bites into it and notice what happens, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Resist the urge to swallow. Notice the sensations of taste and texture in the mouth and how these change over time, as well as any changes in the object itself.

When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow.

Finally, swallow the raisin — see if you can feel the raisin going down toward your stomach — even entering your stomach — and noticing, perhaps, what it feels like to be one raisin heavier.

Sense how the body as a whole is feeling after completing this exercise in mindful eating. Notice your thoughts.

Notice that there is nothing magical about mindfulness. Most of us do a lot of different things when we’re eating —read, talk, watch television. Notice how slowing down and really tasting your food helps bring you into the present moment.
Often, when we do one task, we are already thinking about the next task. So, relax, slow down. Stop and smell the roses — or taste a raisin.

PCYH will offer its two eight- week programs in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), beginning Sept. 15, and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), beginning Sept. 12. T

MBSR provides training in meditation, mindful-yoga, and relaxation to mobilize your mind/ body resources to work with stress, pain, and illness in new ways that can promote growth and healing. MBCT is a groundbreaking depression treatment that has been scientifically shown to cut the rate of relapse in half.

The Princeton Center for Yoga & Health is located at 50 Vreeland Drive in the Montgomery Professional Center. For more information, call 609-924-7294 or visit

PCYH founder and director Deborah Metzger, ACSW, RYT, is a certified advanced Kripalu Yoga teacher, a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist, and a licensed social worker, holding an MSW from the University of Pennsylvania.

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