By Lindsey Yamada, University of Washington News Lab
Anxiety and increased stress are two common reactions we have when under pressure. Many people experience these automatic reactions, but the practice of mindfulness can help prevent us from doing that.
Seattle Mindfulness Center, located at 6306 Phinney Ave. N., is one of many organizations offering mindfulness meditation classes.
Neharika Chawla opened the center in 2014. With her background in clinical psychology and mindfulness meditation, she offers a service she has seen help in both her personal life and her research.
The center offers a variety of courses addressing habits that often cause suffering, including depression, stress, anxiety and addiction.
“I think the intention across the board is for people to have a greater awareness for what’s going on for them internally as well as externally,” Chawla says in a relaxed and calming voice.
Mindfulness is the central practice in all of the courses, but it’s tailored towards different issues. The goal is to help individuals break free from habitual responses that may cause unwanted results and respond more thoughtfully instead.
“It gave me more tools to observe my thoughts a little more from a distance rather than to be gripped by them compulsively,” said a student who recently graduated from the Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention class. The student, who requested to remain anonymous, attended the classes to help with a previous substance abuse habit.
“There’s a special feeling to it and I miss it,” described the student, explaining that the class was built on a sense of community and acceptance that everyone there was struggling with something.
“Certainly it’s not for everybody, but an awful lot of people have found it to be very helpful,” instructor Sherry Williams said.
Williams instructs a five-week Introduction to Meditation course and an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class.
The Introduction to Meditation course includes readings, group discussions and guided mindfulness practice in addressing thoughts, emotions and the body. The purpose is simply to become more present and aware with our thoughts and more passionate with ourselves and each other.
The stress reduction meditation course combines a variety of guided mindfulness practices including yoga, seated meditation and body scans.
Body scans require you to lie on your back and slowly start focusing on one part of your body – usually you begin with your head and slowly move down through your neck to your shoulders and continue until you end at your feet. The point is to relax every part of your body, recognize its existence and identify how it feels.
Another part of the meditation practice is analyzing how we communicate with others and how we habitually react to stress. This course is tailored to help people break those habitual reactions and address negative thoughts and feelings in a better way.
“It’s not the sort of thing where you should believe somebody; it’s really a personal exploration for your own life to see whether these kinds of approaches have value and if they actually help you in some ways,” Williams explained. She said it’s a way of life and that people will have very different takeaways and learning experiences.
The courses range in price and length, usually between five to eight weeks, but they also offer community drop-in meditation classes every Tuesday evening from 7:30-8:30 p.m.
The Tuesday class accepts donations, but remains open to everyone regardless of ability to pay.
Lindsey Yamada is a journalism student at the University of Washington. UW News Lab students provide stories to local media as part of their course work.