The health coach journey began with a dare 40 years ago from a college classmate:
I'll bet you could never keep your mouth shut long enough to sit in meditation for twelve days in noble silence!"
The rest is history . . . not only did I sit for one retreat, but I found the mindfulness meditation to be so calming and transformative that I sat for two more twelve day retreats within a year. The eloquently simple mindfulness and compassion meditation techniques held the keys to being 'in the zone' rather than ruminating on the past or future catastrophizing.
Mindfulness allows me to tap into an innate relaxation response that is naturally connected to 'that which is greater'. It is skillful means to be the eye of the storm rather than the storm itself and to witness from this still place the ever-changing flow of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and outward events. It creates a spaciousness around the narrow confines of life and opens up the capacity to respond to life from a place of compassion rather than out of fear and resentment or habitual patterns of reacting that are now longer serving me well. Mindfulness fosters the relaxation response and our creative potential - the parasympathetic nervous system rest and digest, mend and befriend response that allows for the body to actually heal rather than be constantly mobilized for fight, flight, freeze with the sympathetic nervous system epinephrine/cortisol awash in our bloodstream that keeps us in an endless cycle of being either wired or extremely tired:
The meditation training taught me to fish rather than assume that the answers to my challenges were outside myself.
In my first retreat I discovered that it didn't matter whether I 'kept my mouth shut' or not because I quickly discovered that there was a constant chatter taking place in my own mind. The mindfulness saved my life at a time that I was caught in what seemed like an endless cycle of seeking escape from facing the pain of denied grief from my mother's early death from cancer and other life challenges.
It gave me the keys to transform negative self messages into nurturing and transformative ones. It helped me to recognize how to relax and align with a place of wholeness, insight and inspiration where life flows more effortlessly. Over the course of 40 years mindfulness became an integral part of my daily routine creating a sense of safety, refuge and rejuvenation with raising a family, caring for aging parents, evolving my career and coping with personal health issues throughout the constantly changing seasons of life.
My husband and I live on an old farm where we've restored the farm field with native prairie plants. Mindfulness practice reminds me of the resilient prairie plants whose seed bank can that can remain dormant for years through drought and fires only to sprout with the right conditions - mindfulness provided the right conditions for tapping into my innate capacity for health and happiness and for continued nurturing and growing the seeds of happiness.
What is mindfulness anyway?
Modern day mindfulness practices are rooted in the ancient contemplative practice of meditation which is common to many religions. To begin with it may be helpful to know what mindfulness is not - mindfulness is not a religion or cult, but a very specific physical practice that enriches our capacity for reflection on life and teaches us to be the eye of the storm rather than getting caught up in the storm itself. The Asian symbol for mindfulness consists of two pictograms that represent both mindfulness and heartfulness interchangeably. Tara Brach Psychologist, mindfulness teacher and author of Radical Acceptance encapsulates the essence of mindfulness with this metaphor:
The two parts of genuine acceptance—seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion—are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together, they enable us to fly and be free.”
Mindfulness has become mainstream over the past 40 years. The pioneering work of Jon Kabat-Zinn helped to harness the positive effects to research and bring it to the attention of the medical community. Jon Kabat-Zinn received his PhD in molecular biology from MIT and founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, and the Stress Reduction Clinic in 1979 at University of Massachusetts medical center. He taught relaxation skills using a secularized form of mindfulness meditation and yoga. His early mindfulness research and book "Full Catastrophe Living" helped to establish mindfulness as an evidence-based modality for coping with stress, pain and illness with the medical community and the mainstream. His groundbreaking 1998 study showed that the effect of listening to mindfulness tapes and guided imagery during UV light treatment for psorias resulted in psoriatic clearing approximately four times faster than the control group.
The calming mindfulness and compassion practices have helped me to improve my ability to listen and to heal relationships, manage physical health challenges such as chronic eczema, migraines, a ruptured cervical disc, a torn meniscus, and to heal from trauma such as the early loss of a parent to cancer.
Mindfulness helps me to expand my ability for joy and to transform the negative emotions that so easily lead to endless cycles of rumination on the past or future catastrophizing. Practicing mindfulness helps me to allow everyday stress and pain that is part and parcel to the life cycle to waft through me more like a screen door rather than getting stuck and heaping more suffering onto the initial pain. Mindfulness creates a sense of spaciousness where we once were stuck and limited - Viktor E. Frankle, Austrian Physician and holocaust survivor, captures the essence of mindfulness with his quote:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
The beauty of mindfulness is that it's a practical, simple to learn on-the-spot practice that you can use wherever you are so you don't necessarily need the vacation, or the gym, or your media devices with your favorite music or podcast for peace of mind. You can be in a traffic jam or in the grocery check-out line or doing the laundry and benefit from its powerful effect. Mindfulness is not something that we have to go out and get- it's a technique that taps into the body's natural relaxation and healing response.
The trick is to begin to harness and get to know our innate capacity for the peace and compassion that we already contain within.
When we lean in and begin to notice the felt sense of our body and breathing with a gentle attention and without the usual judgement this is the first step to calling ourselves back - to freeing our awareness up from being wholly focused and identified with our thoughts, emotions, and environment. It's easy to get hooked on the Covid news and our media devices in the fast-paced digital era and the mindfulness is a skillful means to counter the stress and expand our capacity for health and healing exponentially.
Sports Coach, George Mumford, taught the Chicago Bulls, L.A. Lakers and other teams to be "in the zone" with mindfulness skills in order to be able to optimize performance and the ability to get your head in the game and to think clearly in the moment. Like strengthening a muscle mindfulness practice gets easier with practice until it becomes more of a default mode for navigating everyday life.
Mindfulness is not a cure-all yet has the potential to change the bottomline of how we respond to stress and reverse stress-related symptoms. Mindfulness is the key to becoming unstuck from chronic patterns of negativity and stress. It helps us to realize and achieve our goals for health and happiness along with the other healthy lifestyle components of our daily routine such as diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, positive social support network, and routine medical care.
I chose the Health Coach Institute Certification training as a means to bring my mindfulness background together with a system of motivational coaching that incorporates healthy whole foods nutrition and guided experiential skill practice with dedicated support and accountability so you can take what you learn into your daily life for sustainable transformation one step at a time in the direction of your vision for your optimal life.
My goal is to facilitate you to learn the skills for yourself to continue to realize and embody your potential for thriving long after the 90 day program. I love sharing the transformational mindfulness-based coaching with both individuals and groups. My work with mindfulness based healing ranges from sports massage with the San Francisco 49ers and restorative yoga for pregnant moms and kids with cognitive disabilities to restorative retreats and classes for hospital staff.
I design sessions for individuals and groups according to your unique needs - each session is aimed to work with exactly where you are and to support you to take charge of your own transformation and live to your full potential in a fun and insightful way.
Sessions are held at the Prairie House with lovely views of the prairie and Lake Sinissippi conveniently located 50 minutes equidistant between Milwaukee and Madison.
For questions about specific wellness services or to discuss designing a wellness session for staff retreats please contact:
Laurie Sullivan HCI Certified Health and Life Coach, RYT, LMT, non-practicing MD