With one son under my wing, kids seemed pretty easy. Then I got pregnant with twins. By the time the twins hit middle school, I found myself headed to see a neurologist to rule out a possible brain tumor. Why were the wrong words coming out of my mouth? “Maginal” instead of “magical”? “Capitino” instead of “cappuccino”? “Bunky-burvy” instead of “topsy-turvy”?
Being with the kids was driving me right over a cliff. One minute everyone was getting along, then boom — anger and insults flying everywhere. I have never been comfortable with anger (my own or someone else’s) since childhood. Anger always morphed into depression for me. Consequently, this period of my life, when my kids entered adolescence was marked with intermittent depression. (Thank goodness I had the privilege of seeing a great therapist.)
The neurologist did a complete exam and a personal history. The diagnosis was that my brain didn’t have a tumor; it simply had way too much going on all the time. Three teenagers with ADHD and everything else I was doing had sent my brain into overdrive.
When you are in a constant state of stress, your brain is sending cortisol and adrenaline throughout your system. Stress is a contributing factor to heart disease, depression, and many other physical and mental ailments.
The neurologist prescribed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is taught at hospitals all over the world. Jon Kabat-Zinn created MBSR in 1979 at University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Much of MBSR is taken from Vipassana meditation (which originated in Asia) and Aikido, a Japanese martial art started by Morihei Ueshiba. These techniques are steeped in traditions that are thousands of years old.
Since MBSR has been used in clinical settings since 1979, it has been vetted by solid science — a huge selling point for me. One of the seminal studies showing the health benefits of mindfulness meditation taught in MBSR was published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2003. It indicated an increase in immune function and in activity in the part of the brain that corresponds with positive affect.
Since that study, countless other studies have revealed that MBSR decreases anxiety, depression, and blood pressure and increases well-being, concentration, interpersonal relations, and the ability to manage pain.
I registered for MBSR at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, and after eight weeks of training, I knew that a whole new world of education and practice was opening up for me. Five or six years later, the UCSD Center for Mindfulness began teaching a new curriculum written by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff. It was called Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), a research-proven program teaching inner resources and skills to soothe a person during times of stress or pain. Studies done on the MSC curriculum showed similar results as the studies on MBSR: decreases in anxiety, depression, and stress, and increases in relationship satisfaction, emotional well-being, and maintenance of healthy habits, such as diet and exercise. Mindfulness Self-Compassion was MBSR with the extra component of compassion practice. Adding a self-compassion practice gave me the capacity to take my healing to the next level.
After Mindful Self Compassion Teacher Training with Chris Germer, Kristin Neff, and the staff at UCSD, I began teaching Mindful Self-Compassion in San Diego. It was as if everything I had been through in my life coalesced and brought me to this path.
When I started taking courses in mindfulness mediation and attending teacher trainings and retreats, I was searching for something to help me live better in this world, to no longer be at the mercy of the “wild ride,” but to respond to it with conscious intent and deliberate action. I found it. Now, it’s time to share it with you.
About: Mindfulness expert and author Julie Potiker is an attorney who began her serious study and investigation of mindfulness after graduating from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of California, San Diego. She went on to become trained to teach Mindful Self-Compassion, and completed the Positive Neuroplasticity Training Professional Course with Rick Hanson. Now, she shares these and other mindfulness techniques with the world through her Mindful Methods for Life trainings and her new book: “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm In the Midst of Chaos.” For more information, visit www.MindfulMethodsForLife.com.