Focus: Mindfulness workshops at BLOOM 2016

We are very excited to share that Dr. Catherine Phillips, Physician at Femme Concierge will be joining us to speak and lead a workshop at BLOOM.

Mindfulness is trendy but that doesn’t mean it’s easy Mindfulness has gone from fringe activity to self-improvement trend of the decade. But some of its core principles are getting lost in the noise.

Long before mindfulness became a craze that included colouring books and a gazillion apps, Catherine Phillips would shut herself in her living room in Edmonton and sit, with her eyes closed. It was the mid-1980s and meditation was still considered weird; it carried a stale whiff of the flower-powered ’60s. “My family and friends thought I had joined a cult,” she says, “and told me in no uncertain terms all the bad things I was doing to my brain.”

But having experienced the benefits of training the brain to be more aware of the present moment, she stayed with it — though she kept it to herself for a few decades. (Despite being a psychiatrist, she refrained for years from talking about it with colleagues.) Phillips now teaches mindfulness meditation at the University of Alberta and runs the nearby Mindfulness Institute. Those benefits she found so helpful — clarity, focus, a greater facility to deal with stress — have become hot commodities.

Her workshops at BLOOM include: 1. Mindfulness: Journey of Self Discovery 2. Teaching Mindfulness Based Programs

Here is a interview of Catherine that was recently interviewed with Chatelaine Magazine.

Q+A: Ways to quiet a mind in overdrive

What exactly is mindfulness meditation?

It’s not just a time out. It’s not a relaxation exercise. Sometimes people think of it as clearing their mind, getting rid of their mental clutter. It’s not about that at all. It’s the practice of being as fully present in the moment as possible with openness and curiosity — and meeting ourselves, just as we are, with acceptance, patience and kindness.

Why is it so effective?

By practising paying attention and sustaining that attention, we’re working with executive brain function. And whenever we notice that the mind has wandered, we exercise our working memory. This contributes to increased self-regulation and emotional regulation. When you’re aware of your internal and external worlds, you have the opportunity to consciously choose to respond skillfully and creatively.

The Goal: Be More Mindful

Allow the mind to rest on the breath, not letting yourself get caught up in thoughts,” the voice purrs in my earbuds, from my meditation app.

Okay, I’m breathing, I’m totally breathing.

“The moment you realize you’ve been distracted,” the voice continues. “Just bringing the mind back again…”

It’s hard to stay focused when the meditation instructor’s grammar is so messed up.

Breathing in. Breathing out.

You know who else is breathing right now? José Bautista. He’s probably much better at concentrating than I am.

Let’s try this again. Still breathing… okay hold that thought.

My motto has always been: Why waste time doing one thing when you could be getting three things done? A proud multi-tasker, I used to take this more-is-more approach to an absurd level. Once, feeling particularly productive, I caught myself thinking about seven things at the exact same time, eight if you include the tallying up of thoughts. But the mind has a way of playing tricks on us. Was I really thinking about eight things, or was I simply spinning through my Rolodex of worry?

Wanting to try to find a little more space in my mind, I begrudgingly began to meditate. I was highly sceptical, so I started small: I made myself sit down a few times a week and concentrate on my breathing.

To my surprise, it wasn’t pure torture. In fact, I started sleeping better. I decided to take things up a notch. I started to meditate for longer periods of time and generally try to be more mindful outside of meditation. Instead of being glued to my phone on the subway, I’d focus on my breathing. Whenever I’d sit down, I’d concentrate on precisely what that felt like. I’d analyze the glorious flavour explosion of every single Nerd candy (don’t judge — they are delicious) I ate in minute detail. As Catherine Phillips, a psychiatrist in Edmonton told me, “Practising mindfulness briefly throughout the day is going to have an effect on your neural development — it’s going to have an effect on your capacity to self-regulate.” I set a goal of soon being a superhero of self-regulation.

Easier said than done.

Sometimes my 30-minute meditations were great, and afterward I’d be raring to apply my laser-like awareness on the world. Other times, the guide’s charmingly chipper British accent on my app would become insufferably smug — and I’d start checking what time it was every 45 seconds. (I’m pretty sure reading e-mail, mid-meditation, is the wrong kind of contemplation.)

There was a week when it all seemed to click. I’d be fretting about the amount of plastic in our oceans or replaying my embarrassing attempts at small talk — but then I’d be able to catch myself before my mind disappeared down its rabbit warren of worry and shame. I still worried, but I was no longer consumed by it. I felt lighter yet stronger.

Then my nascent ability seemingly evaporated over night: I completely zoned out when my daughter was telling me something that was no doubt very heartfelt and important. I snapped at a man-bunned barista for no reason. And there was that time on the subway, when instead of mindfully breathing my own business I tried to pull Jedi mind tricks on a woman playing Candy Crush on her phone. (Move the red candy. The red candy right there. Right. There.)

“The brain is a very complicated apparatus, and the mind — whatever its relationship to the brain is — is even more amazing.” So says Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the world-renownedMindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts. To get to know it intimately, he said in a lecture “may be the hardest work in the world.” That might be an over-statement, but it is far more challenging than I thought possible.

I have much to explore and many things to learn, but I’m curious to keep going. Meditation has afforded me glimpses of just how chaotic the mind can be. And how, with lots of practice, it’s possible to develop an ability to navigate that chaos. “Progress isn’t linear,” Phillips assures me, making me feel better about my Candy Crush slip-up. “The idea is we work with ourselves exactly as we are on any given day.” I’m going to go all Scarlett O’Hara on this one: Just as tomorrow is another day, the next moment is another chance to try to be more present.

Where was I… breathing in….

Kathryn Hayward is a fortysomething senior editor at Today’s Parent, and a mom of two.